How to smoke salmon carcass aka "dumpster salmon"

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Original poster
Aug 18, 2021
If you're in an area where people catch a lot of salmon, this is probably a pretty common sight. Here in Northern California we call this "dumpster salmon" and you can guess why.


There's *lots* of excellent meat left on there, and you can certainly grill it:


Then put it on a taco or over rice or whatever you like.


That's always been my favorite. And that's great, but it's hard to handle more than you can cook right away. But as I recently discovered you can easily smoke it too! It makes what I call "salmon m&m's":


It's mostly as good as regular smoked salmon, the only downside is that it's not in big sexy pieces. But the meat sure is plentiful. And if you ask someone who just caught some salmon if you can have their dumpster cuts they'll usually be glad to give them to you, since no one likes wasting any meat from these amazing fish.

Here's how I've been doing it, very open to suggestions.

- start with a salmon carcass. Some people filet their salmon with the guts in, and if that's the case you'll need to clean out the guts.

- then tidy it up as much as possible. I like to chop off the head and tail.

- it's much much easiler to remove the meat from the ribs if it's cooked, so I throw it on the bbq for a bit. Doesn't have to be too long, just trying to firm up the meat.

- then pull the meat from the bones using a fork. It should come off really easily, if not throw it back on the BBQ.

- then put it on a brine. I've been using a 6:1 brown sugar to non-iodized salt brine with a bit of water added to make it a liquid. I think the liquid permeates the fish a bit better. I've done quick brines (4 hours) and long brines (18 hours), both are good.

- I've been lightly rinsing the brine off in a collander, but curious what people recommend for this step.

- then into the smoker it goes. One thing that really helps is those bamboo rollers that sushi chefs use, which hold the meat nicely on the smoker racks. I've been smoking for 5 or 6 hours at 140 degrees F using apple wood pellets.


Here's all the meat I got from 3 carcasses after BBQing. It's hard to tell from the pic but that's a tall pile.


Smoking it up!


Here's those 3 carcasses on the smoker racks:


And I've been adding bellies and collars too, giving it a quick grill and adding it to the goolash. But these can of course be smoked whole if you'd like.

Anyone have any suggestions?


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Nice looking fish bones. We scrape our Salmon bones while raw and keep the scrapings and collar chunks to make Salmon Patties in the off season. I use to smoke all my Salmon bones, but started having too much to smoke.

I must say, for my tastes, your "smoking it up" pics has way too much smoke. I hope you can get that under control. Didn't you order a pellet tube?
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Interesting. This is the inaugural run using the smoker tube and pellets and a mod of the mailbox mod (it's a small BBQ instead of a mailbox, deets here).

Got any pics of your smoker when you open it mid smoking? I see people here mention "blue smoke", I'm curious to see a pic.

And for this, I half filled a pellet tube then turned it on its side and lit it.

Anyway, curious to see what the optimal amount and color of smoke looks like.
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Lot's of white smoke because of the moisture level in the rinsed fish. I would pat it dry, then place it in front of a fan on your bamboo mats for a few hours before it hit the smoker, so it is nice and sticky and glazed before it hits the smoke.

I love gifting my salmon and tuna bones to anybody that wants them. I will bag them in clean bags before I put them in the trash because I know someone will grab them first and the flies haven't had a chance of infecting them that way.
Per the pics you provided, I do not see a pellet tube but instead a cast iron skillet with I assume is wood chips? I have no reason to open my smoker mid way during it's smoke. Yes, I do change the pellets from Alder to Apple midway but I only open the mailbox to do that. The smoker stay's shut until I am done puffin' :emoji_sunglasses:
Here’s a pic of some smoke coming out of my MES40, which is still a little too much smoke but did I just switch pellet trays? or opened the mailbox? or..........

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I only opened it for a pic. Only takes a minute or two to fill back up. The smoke coming out the top of yours is about the same volume as mine, at least I think it is, I'll take a pic of that next time I have it fired up. I think if you opened yours when that amount of smoke is exiting it would look like my pic? I'm certainly curious though and will do some tests.

In that batch (for that pic) I was using a pellet tube, filled halfway then turned on its side. I don't see a way to reduce it's smoke. Maybe less air on the vents on the bottom of the bbq. How much ventilation is coming in through your mailbox, just the cracks or any additional?

Does anyone else have a pic of their smoker with the optimal amount of smoke?
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