Wet vs Dry, for Salmon. Fresh vs frozen

Discussion in 'Fish' started by fpmich, Oct 25, 2014.

  1. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    Your input is welcomed.

    I saw this on you tube.   It rather long video, so just skip ahead from time to time.  Make sure you don't miss too much though.

    I don't know who mods this forum, but I hope they will allow this link to vid.  

    I do wish, he would have done a shot of fish broken open so I could judge dryness/ and texture at the end.

    His reason as to use what type cure for salmon, struck a cord with me. 

    When I smoked my first few fish, it was fresh caught and "not frozen".  I used a wet brine, and it turned out fantastic!  No hard pellicle at all, dry enough to use for snack with crackers.  They weren't light and fluffy dinner type though.  Just like you buy in store, but better.

    Now last year,  ... as some of you may remember.   I had a very hard time smoking salmon.   But those salmon had been frozen 3 or 4 weeks, and I used a wet brine.

    Ended up with hard pellicle skin on top of meat, after smoking

    1ST QUESTION IS:  Would I be better off using a dry brine for previously frozen fish?

    2ND QUESTION IS:  How would I infuse flavors other than salt and sugar into fish?  Would dried herbs/spices/garlic added to mix, still be absorbed?  I've never dry brained before.

    3RD QUESTION IS:  Is he correct in 8 hours, to 3-4 days, in dry brine, not matter for flavor or saltiness.

    4TH QUESTION IS:  Am I better off starting at low 100* and gradually raise it to 200*, or just smoke at 150*-175*, or something like that, to oneness I like. 

    Keep in mind like I a semi-soft pellicle on top.  Not super hard like last year.   Will higher temp keep top pellicle skin softer, or rather a lower temp for longer time.

    PLEASE... ALL DRY BRAINING PURIST CHECK IN with recipes and knowledge.

    Keep in mind I am smoking on a cheap offset smoker  with lots of air flow.  (which I believe contributed to my tougher pellicle finish) Not one of those electrics, or pellet, or sealed up expensive smokers.

    Chimney vet wide open, and regulate heat from the fire box damper.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  2. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Not having watched the video, I can say that I do a lot of Salmon.  All of my recipes use a dry brine of 4/1 ratio of dark brown sugar / non iodized salt.  Lots of fresh minced garlic added as well.  Assuming you are referring filet, which take the longest to brine, I go no longer than 7-8 hours.

    Low and slow smoking.  I typically start at 125 and work my way up to 155+

    I use two pretty old and inexpensive Big Chief electric smokers.  Nothing pretty, but they put out.
  3. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    Thanks cmayna.

    I expected a few more replies by now, to some of my questions.   So I guess I'm on my own for the time being. 

    This is my first time experimenting with a dry brine.

    I will be smoking more fish in the next couple of weeks, so any input is welcomed.

    Here is what I done so far, and plan to do later today.

    Dry brine:

    2 cups dark sugar to 1/2 cup Kosher salt.  I added some fresh ground pepper, garlic & onion powder (out of fresh garlic), a touch of dried dill weed, and Old Bay seasoning.   I love that stuff for almost everything.  Can't believe I lived all my life, before discovering Old Bay recently.  LOL

    I put dry cure mix in bottom of glass pan, fish skin side down, and coated fish well with mix.  Added 3rd piece after coating and pressing in mix to flesh, skin side up on top of other pieces. Flesh to flesh with ample mix between, and then covered entire pan with rest of mix., covered with Saran, and placed another glass pan on top of it for a little weight.

    I am leaving in brine for 8 hours.  I just rotated & turned the pieces and redistributed the cure the cure on them, at the 4 hour mark.  These were 3 half-fillets of salmon about 8" in length.  In other words, 1 & 1/2 fillets from whole fish.

    I will rinse at 8 hour mark, cut into serving portions & put on racks in fridge for 8 - 12 hours.  Air dry with fan more if needed after fridge resting,  and then into smoker @ 80*-100* for an hour of cold-"semi-cold" smoke using one of Todd's gadgets, and increase chamber heat to 140*-160*.  Continue smoking until done @ 140* IT

    Any obvious flaws in this plan?  If so please let me know.  I plan on smoking about 3 or 4 PM later today.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2014
  4. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    Please let us know how they came out. Do u rinse after cure?
  5. superdave

    superdave Smoking Fanatic

    I think a lot of the notion of smoked salmon really lies in whether one is truly trying to smoke salmon that will last for days as a preserved piece of meat or smoke/cook that produced an outstanding tasting piece of fish but doesn't have the lasting power for preservation.  When I smoke salmon, it doesn't last more than a couple of days so the technical aspects are near as critical.  Everything I know about true smoking of fish is that the fillet is supposed to be exposed to moving air until the pellicle forms before smoking.  It is part of the process. 

    If one sees the proteins rising to the surface during cooking, it is a sign that the meat is cooking and further cooking will just dry out the fish. 
  6. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    "I will rinse at 8 hour mark, cut into serving portions & put on racks in fridge for 8 - 12 hours"   

    Whoa!  Why not cut into serving portions before you brine?  Otherwise you are exposing pieces of fish to the smoker which not all of their surfaces have been exposed to the brine.  What size are these serving surfaces?
  7. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    cmayna, the guy in the video also used a big chief to smoke his.

    Wouldn't being in salt/sugar dry cure mix for 8 - 8 1/2 hours, have penetrated ALL of the meat evenly?  I left it in fridge another eight hours after rinsing and patting dry, but the cure should still be penetrating the meat wouldn't it?  I assumed it would, but... as we all know assuming something, is not always the best idea.  Just the quickest one.  LOL 

    If there is a reason not to do it this way, then I will change my method.  I'm here to learn.


    I did rinse it before drying, but the guy in the vid said he doesn't.  He just squeegees it off with his hand.  I was afraid of it being too sweet, so I rinsed this time.
    SuperDave, I'm not entirely understanding your post.  Smoking at these temps will produce salmon to last several days when 40-45* cool.

    If your talking about backpacking/camping or something, that you want to it last a long time, then you would want it a lot more salty to preserve it at ambient temps for a few days.  Same for jerky.  Saltier/drier will last much longer then.

    As for air drying with moving air.  I believe I mentioned I would put it under a fan if needed.  And it was.  3 hours worth.

    I like quick smoked salmon, but I consider it dinner, rather than a snack to pull out when you feel like.


    Now about those other questions?

    1.  That guys claim to leave it in dry mix bring from 8 hours to 3-5 days, if something prevents you from smoking?

    2.  Using wet brine ONLY on fresh, non-frozen fish?

    3.  And how the heck do keep from getting such a hard pellicle? 

    I've done it low to med high temps, like yesterday, and I've done it at higher temps all the way though.  I've used water pans and no water pans.  I still get a very hard pellicle.  What's the secret?

    I'm beginning to think that it is just such a large chamber that turns the pellicle too hard for me.  May have to move to a smaller smoker for my fish.  Bear in mind that I'm using an offset smoker.

    Any help is appreciated.
  8. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    I'll post how I did my smoke today.   It may give you some info on what I may have done wrong or right.

    Dry brined 4 to 1 sugar to salt for 8 1/2 hours.

    Rinsed, patted dry, placed on racks in fridge for another 8 1/2 hrs.

    Air dried with fan on high for 3 hrs.

    Placed in cold smoker @ 72* with AMNPS for 15 minutes while I lit 5 good sized lump charcoal and added them after 15 minutes.

    Temp rose to 90*

    1/2 hr later added another 5 lit coal lumps.  Temp rose to 100*

    1/2 hrs later added 4 lit coals and a 2x3x3 piece of pre-burned cherry wood.  Removed AMNPS.

    1/2 hr later temp @ 160*  probed for for IT.  IT was at 91*  Added small chunk of pre-burned apple wood.

    1/2 hr temp was @ 165*  IT @ 108*

    1/2 hr @ 160*  IT @ 112*   Added 1/2 chimney of lit lump coal

    15 min @ 190*  IT @ 115*  Added 1/4 cimney of lit coals.

    1/2 hr @ 216*  IT @ 142*  Pulled fish.

    No breaks in pellicle, and no white ooze on top of any of them.  Even though I had not removed pin bones this time.


    Hope this helps you figure out how to help me with pellicle.  Tried a smaller piece and flesh was moist and tender.  Pellicle hard.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  9. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I smoke a lot of salmon and whether it is fresh or frozen I prefer to use a dry cure. I find that the results is a lot less salty. The brining process I use also does not take as long as shown the video - I leave it for 2-3 hours and the fish firms up nicely without becoming too firm.

    Dill, fennel, tarragon and fennel seeds (preferably fresh) all work well and impart a nice subtle flavour. I usually finely chop it and mix it in with the cure before adding the fish. The longer you leave the fish in the cure the more flavour it will absorb - however it will also become increasingly more salty (up to a point). Depending on the thickness of the fillet I find that 2-3 hours in the dry brine a cool place is about right.

    In my opinion even 8 hours in the brine is way too long. I don't think I would be able to eat it if it was left in for 3-4 days!

    Rather than hot smoking immediately you could cold smoke straight after curing. I smoke mine cold over hickory for about 8 hours (overnight) and then cook them at for about 12 minutes at 350 F just before serving. This gives you a salmon fillet with a good strength of smoke flavour that isn't salty. It is firm in texture, similar to Tuna steak, and does not go hard. I regularly supply a couple of local chefs with this salmon.


    After curing and smoking they will last a couple of weeks in the fridge or many months if vac packed and frozen

    I hope this helps
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  10. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    I went back through my records and note that for filet's, I brine 6.5 - 7 hours.  Not the 8 hours I mentioned earlier.   I question if you need to dry in the fridge for 8 hours then under a fan for another 3 hours.  I room dry filets for just 3 hours and it creates a fine pellicle. 

  11. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hi Frank!!

    You may have seen my "Smoked Salmon" Step by Step, but it took 8 full smokers worth of experiments & a lot of note taking to come up with my "Final" method.

    I freeze all my Salmon to below Zero for 30 days to eliminate parasites, because I don't plan on cooking it to 160*.

    I do a wet brine, and the length of time depends on the thickness of the pieces----Thinner than 1/2"---4 hours-----Thicker than 1/2" ---6 hours.

    My Smoked Salmon is not for Dinner either---It is for holding in your hand & snacking.

    Mine doesn't get a hard shell ion it, which I believe would be caused by opening the door too often, or like you said could be from to big a chamber which would also give too much air flow.

    Here is my Step by Step:

    Smoked Salmon      

  12. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    Bear I tried that brine 4 hrs and it came out too salty. Rinsed but didn't soak after brining. Had to throw the batch out. Will try the dry method in the video.
  13. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hmmmm, That's odd. I never soaked any & I didn't tell anyone to soak it, and you can see by all the comments from guys who followed it, theirs wasn't too salty.

    Sorry to hear you had to throw some out !!!!

  14. superdave

    superdave Smoking Fanatic

    I've had bad experience with table salt as listed in Bear's ingredients and only use kosher or sea salt now. 
  15. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    When dry brining the type of salt makes a big difference to the cure. The size of the salt crystal makes a difference to the speed of the cure and also the absorbtion of salt by the fish. I find that course sea salt works best for me. I cannot say whether this is the same is true for wet brining - probably not.

    You should try to use additive free salt whenever possible however I am not sure how pure you can really call sea salt - as it has a lot of interesting things in it and is not just sodium chloride. These are not really "additives" but are anti caking agents any better or worse ? I really don't know.
  16. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Non iodized salt is normally used, maybe for the reasons Wade is talking about.
  17. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    I really do not recommend the method used in the video.   For dry brining, way too long.  He doesn't bother to rinse before drying. 
  18. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I must admit that I too winced as I watched it - however I have not tried his method and so cannot really say what it must have been like. I can imagine though.
  19. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    No I tried the wet brine in Bear's recipe. That was way too salty. Maybe soaking a few hours would help. But it seems like digging a hole just to fill it back up :). I think the salt sugar ratio had something to do with it. I'm trying the dry 4:1 dry now for less time. 4 hrs. Will let u know how it works. Several people say the dry works great for them and consistently. I used to smoke a lot of fish but many years ago. Only recall it was a wet brine.
    Stay tuned.
  20. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    No problem bear. I may have done something wrong. Anyway it was pink salmon @5 bucks a pound at Walmart. I'd be upset if it was sockeye :).
    My old recipe I think was a cup of sugar and half a cup of salt in a quart of water iirc. And it always worked great. But always used fresh salmon.

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