New to smoking fish, want to be safe.

Discussion in 'Fish' started by yjay, Apr 29, 2014.

  1. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    Hi all,

    I recently purchased a new digital smoker for fish, and want to make sure I am doing it safely.

    I have read a ton on line, bought a book, talked to friends who do it all the time, etc., and have some concerns. I went to the local spice company who specialize in smoking meat, curing, and sausage making and they say to be safe to use Prague #1 (Nitrite) in your brine to kill certain bacteria. And things I've read say the same. But I don't know anyone who does this. And I've also read that nitrites aren't really good to consume often. What do those in the know here say?

    If it matters, I'm going to be smoking kokanee salmon fillets. I can it often, but want to smoke some as well. Freezer's getting full [​IMG]

    Thanks for any advice.

    Last edited: Apr 29, 2014
  2. waterinholebrew

    waterinholebrew Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Welcome to the forum, what kind of smoker ya buy for the fish ? Also, I do know you have to be very careful with nitrates.... There are some very knowledgable folks on here that can help ya out, myself not being one at this point.... Hang out a bit & they will chime in and steer ya right !
  3. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    I bought a Masterbuilt 30" Sportsman Elite. Seems like a nice unit for the dough. Electric powered, digital thermostat, timer, meat probe. I had a big metal fridge I was going to use and actually had it ready to go but wanted something with better control.
  4. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

  5. fishwrestler

    fishwrestler Smoking Fanatic Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    I have been smoking fish for over 20 years. I have used all kinds of brines, Never used any cure. I have taking yoshidos and just watered it down and let it brien the fish over night, My wife does not like the sweet taste so I adapted and used Bearcarvers brine

    Put 1/2 quart of apple juice in a pot on the stove, bringing to low boil & then down to simmer.
    Add to this;
    6 ounces of soy sauce
    1/2 cup of non-iodized salt
    1/2 cup of brown sugar
    1/2 tsp of Garlic powder
    1/2 tsp of Onion powder
    1/2 tsp of Cayenne pepper
    1/2 tsp of Dried Bay Leaf Flakes (or 2 or 3 fresh bay leaves)

    Stir until salt is dissolved. Then add 1 1/2 quarts of water & ice to cool quickly.

    Leave the Salmon pieces submerged in this brine for 6 hours in fridge. I just let it go overnight and have never has any isues.  Overnight was too long. 4 hours was not long enough.

    After removing from brine, rinse each piece well, pat dry, and lay on paper towels.

    Get however many smoker racks you will need. My batches just fit on three racks. Spray each rack with Pam to limit the amount the fish will stick to the racks. Dry the thickest pieces one at a time again with paper towels, and put these pieces on one rack. Dry the thinnest pieces, and put them on a different rack. Dry the rest of the pieces, and put them on a third rack. I put the three racks in my extra fridge overnight (uncovered) to dry & form pellicle.

    The next day: (Time to smoke the Salmon)
    Put the rack with thinnest pieces on top position of your smoker, medium on next position, and thickest on third position.
    NO water in water pan.
    Exhaust vent fully opened.
    Put meat probe in center of thickest piece of fish.
    Set smoker to 100 degrees.
    Put hickory chips & a couple chunks of Hickory in smoking pan.
    During smoking, when smoke stops, add Apple chips & chunks.
    Use Hickory only for first couple hours.
    I try for a light to medium smoke with my MES.
    A little burst of heavy smoke doesn't seem to hurt.
    Don't need any smoke after first 4 hours.

     Here is a big batch of coho salmon i did a while back
  6. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    Thanks for the reply. I have a freezer bag of kokes thawing in the fridge for the trial run.

    So you don't ever turn the temp up over 100 degrees? I thought you had to get your internal temp to like 160 for a period of time to ensure no bacteria. Can I smoke at the higher temp and just shorten the time?

    And why no water in the pan?
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  7. fishwrestler

    fishwrestler Smoking Fanatic Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    Sorry yeah slowly bump up the temp every hour by 10 degrees until you get the smoker to 180, I always pull off then i get the texture i want.

    Another suggestion, if you can't smoke the fish right away, espexially trout, kokanee coho, smaller fish i brine first then freeeze. I find the thawed fish has a different texture that i don't like, jsut my opinion. I always use my big chief to smoke my fish, and that unit is a very low heat unit.
  8. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    Cool, thanks. I have kinda committed to thawing the fish then brining at this point so we'll see how it goes.

    Last question, do you scale the fillets, skin them, or can they be smoked scales on?
  9. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    The use of cure is kind of dependent on what you want to do with the fish. Fishwrestler's method results in a fully cooked, smoked but not preserved fish. Many on here use similar methods. From what I've learned you can cure/cold smoke/preserve fish without the use of nitrite, though most advise against it. My favorite method is to make a smoked Gravlax I learned here from a member named Bbally in this very informative thread. If you've never tried Lox/Gravlax, you really owe it to yourself to make at least one small batch. It's really one of the best things I've ever made, and it's not at all difficult, just requires careful attention to detail. Bear in mind, this is not suitable for room temperature storage, though it will last a good while in the refrigerator.

    Here is my last batch of smoked lox. I raised a few questions about curing and got some very good answers. Plus, there are a couple really pretty pictures of my smoked gravlax, I'm just sayin...
  10. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    this stuff is pretty good if you are short on time and ingredients. Works equally well on fish.
  11. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    I just made the brine as detailed by Fishwrestler for brining late tonight and smoking tomorrow, but do you guys smoke with scales on, scales off, or skinned?
  12. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    I like to filet and then leave the skin on. Keeps it all together so none falls through the grates. That said with bigger salmon and steelhead I filet and then make steaks again with the skin on. I have never scaled a freshwater fish. I have an open mind though if there is some good reason to maybe I might try it. I have a very good brine recipe for salmon and steelhead if you would like it. I will see if I can find it. It is very sweet with a little heat. My friends call it candy. It is.
  13. Vjay,

    Welcome, I am a little jealous that you have a whole freezer full of Kokanee. They are splendid eating, fresh or smoked. I live in AZ but spend 10-14 days fishing Kokes in Oregon every summer for the last few years.

    My wifes cousin who lives there always has smoked mine for me, I fillet them but leave the backbone and ribs in and leave the skin with scales on. Only reason to fillet them is so they are not so thick (nice fish).

    They are wonderful smoked in alder as it is a mild smoke flavor.

    I too just bought a Masterbuilt 30 elec and will be hauling it to Oregon so will be doing my own smoking this year.

    This is a link to the recipe I am going to use: Thanks to Walleye1 for getting this to me. Thanks to Walleye1 for the sharing the recipe and photo. Makes my mouth water!

  14. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    Great. I will do this batch with the scales on. I'm glad Alder works good because that's what I will be using.

    And yes, we are very lucky to have an awesome kokanee fishery 20 minutes from my house. I go every week (at least once) and have lately been catching limits (15 per angler in Idaho) of 15" kokes with ease. They began putting them in Hayden lake a few years ago and they have really done well. This is the second year of catching adult fish.  By June/July they will be 17 to 18 inches. They are all planted and are what is known as early spawners that spawn in streams as opposed to the typical late spawners that due so in the lake, so they are not successful due to temperature. All the fish are planted so the population is controlled so they get big because they have ample food.

    Do you by chance fish Wallowa? If so, I am jealous.
  15. I do fish Wallowa for a week each year mid June, but, they run of huge fish they were having is pretty much over. There are all kinds of theories as to why but it is. Last year the majority of the Kokanee we caught were 8-9 inches. I go there because we have a family reunion there the first third week in June each year. We leave AZ around the 5th of June and head that direction (slowly) and then we spend 3 to 3 1/2 months in Oregon. Our favorite lake has become East Lake for Kokanee, limits are the rule and the fish are healthy and most all are caught side drifting flys. They are fun on a fly rod and love to perform acrobats all the way to the boat.

    Last year I spent the last two weeks of August on the Columbia fishing Chinook, first time for me, boated 11 with largest low 30 # . This year I will be there for a month.

    Let us know how the fish turns out. I will be doing a batch on salmon middle of the week!
  16. hap12

    hap12 Fire Starter

    I have never had kokanee salmon before, but I do Atlantic salmon once in a while, farm raised as Atlantic salmon are protected here in Maine. I usually just brine overnight in salt water and put a little spice on before smoking. I do mine with skin removed now, but used to leave skin on and score through it for better smoke penetration. The skin would peel right of after smoking, but I smoked mine for cooking not preserving.
    I also do alot of carp and make pate with it, I know what you're thinking, carp gross, right. But the pate is a big hit whenever I make it and some people who generally dont like fish still love my pate spread on crackers. Anyways, I always brine right away after cleaning fish while there still fresh, and they freeze well after brining. Freezing fish is something I don't care to do as it changes texture, but when we catch a bunch of carp at once, some of it ends up in the freezer for smoking during the off season.
    Reminds me, I found some carp steaks in the freezer that needs to get smoked up. Have get thst done this week, tis the season to catch some more!
  17. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    The early spawners here start to turn about that time, but can be fished into July. I've heard it said that they still smoke well when they turn orange, but I don't know.

    I do a bit of Columbia combat fishing in the Hanford Reach area [​IMG]
    There is no accounting for taste I guess. I know people who refuse to eat Mackinaw (Lake trout) because they say it's too oily. I personally love the ones in the 8 lb range for baking, and hopefully now smoking. Just like carp, people probably have never tried it properly prepared.

    Well, here goes. Brined for 5 hours, rinsed, patted dry, and currently forming pelicle.
  18. hap12

    hap12 Fire Starter

    Smoked lake trout (togue as there called here in Maine) are delicious. I did some last year in my charcoal smoker. They were smaller ones, about 4 to 5 pound range. I see you refer to them as Mackinaw trout. You from Michigan by chance?
  19. yjay

    yjay Fire Starter

    No. Eastern Washington. I fish for them in Priest Lake. They are more or less considered undesirable around here because they are non native and eat kokanee, but I love fishing for them. The first time I fished for them we got a 28 pounder.
  20. hap12

    hap12 Fire Starter

    They get quite large in Michigan. Occasionally a big one caught out here in Maine. I grew up in Michigan, funny yellow perch filets cost more than salmon in the supermarket, here in Maine they're considered trash fish and people pitch em out to the coyotes. I love em though. I'll try just about any fish before making up my mind about them. Except ells. We catch some bigguns out of the river and people tell me they are quite delicious on the grill, just haven't been able to bring mysrlf to clean one yet. But one of these days I'll have to give them a try.

    It's good go find others who target invasives, it helps keep their numbers down.

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