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Pellicle Very tough. Skin seperates not at all.

Discussion in 'Fish' started by fpmich, Oct 31, 2013.

  1. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    Tough Pellicle, and tough off the skin, on my smoked salmon.  What am I doing wrong?


    My smoked salmon tastes good, but I'm having a hard time trying to get it smoked and up to safe temp (145*) in under 4 hours.
    So the pellicle is always VERY hard, plus it is hard to get it off the skin side too.  Any ideas/experiences you can share?
    I like my smoked fish to seperate from the skin fairly easy and not too much pellicle toughness,

    Here's what I did yesterday.

    Ya, I know I didn't start with pre-heated smoker.  I was hurting, and just wanted to get it done today.

    3:00 PM  Filled sfb basket 1/2-3/4 full with briquettes and dumped a chimney of flaming lump on top. Placed salmon fillets, halved, on racks in smoker.

    3:30 - smoker temp was 205*.  Added smoke wood.

    4:00 - smoker - 210*. Probed fish and IT was 120*

    4:30 - smoker - 210*.  IT 122*

    5:00 - smoker - 200*.  IT 126*

    5:30 - smoker - 200*.  IT 126*

    6:00 - smoker - 220*.  IT 133*

    6:30 - smoker - 190*.  IT 135*

    7:00 - smoker - 230*.  IT 142*

    7:10 - smoker - 212*.  IT 144*

    7:40 - smoker - 195*.  IT 144*  Took fish off smoker.

    My Maverick doesn't seem to like 145*.  jumps to 144 and to 146*  Seems to only read 2* diff.

    These smoker temps are between what the Maverick showed and what the two end therms showed.  Maverick was usually about 10-15* higher than the therm's showed.  Maverick was very near the fish.  I even took Maverick off the grate level clip, and stuck it on a potato so it would be same height and smoker probes.  About 2 1/2-3" off grates  Temp diff did drop about 5*, but still showed 10* higher or more.  Just double checked Maverick again last night in ice water and boiling water.  It's right on.  I will remove the smoker therms and recheck them as well, but I'm pretty sure they are very close, as I checked them before installing a few weeks ago.  I could be wrong.

    Any ideas as why at these temps, it should take 4 hours?  I'm trying to figure it out.  Almost the same as last time when I even rose the temps a little bit slower.

    Maybe it was because I didn't preheat the smoker before starting, or because you may be using insulated smoker & I'm using a CGSP. It's sealed up real good, but still different from insulated smoker.

    Finished product is good.  But still very tough pellicle, and very hard to remove from skin.

    Is preheating smoker, or cold smoking best for tender pellicle and skin removal when eating?

    Or is there a process I can use afterwards to correct this?

    Anyone can jump in on this.  I appreciate any, and all, tips of knowledge.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  2. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I question if you possibly started out too hot and kept the temp way up there.  I normally start out at 125f then bump it up 140ish then 160ish plus. Very rare  have I had to go higher than 180 in order to reach an IT of 140.   I normally pull my Salmon at 135+.  Wonder if going up to 144 as you did also contributed to your problem.

    Hopefully others will chime in with their opinions as well.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  3. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member

    I have never smoked salmon running the smoker at the higher temps like you are. 4 hours in a 220º smoker would turn that fish into jerky. Like Craig mentions I too never run my smoker hotter than 180º when smoking fish.

    Pre-heat the smoker and get good TBS going prior to placing the fish in.

    I would recommend verifying that your therms are correct (sounds like your Mav is okay)

    Also what is your brining method for the fish? We need to know your entire process to help.
  4. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    It looks like you are getting many different answers here, which is fine.  We all have ways that work best for us.

    This again is how mine is done.  Brine ± 12 hours, quick rinse under warm water, air dry with fan at room temperature for approx. two hours, place in cold smoker (not preheated) set at 200°.  When the 1 inch fillets reach 140° (1.5 hours) I back the temp off and let the carryover take the fillets to the safe 145°, by the time the temperature begins to drop, the fillets have been at 145° for the recommended 30 minutes.  2 inch pieces will normally reach 140° in ± 2 hours.

    It does seem strange that your fish went from room temperature to 120° in 30 minutes then climbed very slowly.  Are you opening the door at all?  If so, that could be your answer.

    Your pellicle should be firm and tacky.  The skin sticking might be caused by preheating the smoker.

  5. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    As long as you like it, it's good.

    I believe you already know I agree with Cmayna  & Case about the temps, but I know you were told to try that way, and if you don't try other ways, like I did when I started, you won't know what you like best.

    Where's the Qview???  Did the fat bubble out from the high heat?

  6. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    I cooled down fish for 30 minutes on counter, then on racks in fridge for a few hours, and then put into zipbag.  Tasted again next day, and flavor was still good, but fish like vulcanized rubber.  Cross between jerky and smoked fish.  Definitely not flaky at all.  Not even pull apart.  Just bends.  LOL  It flaked some when it was still hot from smoker.

    Mr T.
    I did NOT pre-heat smoker.  Stone cold smoker, and added coals and fish at same time.

    There is no "set" to my smoker.  As you recall I am using CGSP.  It is sealed up pretty well.  No smoke leaking, but still different than an insulated electric smoker.  Much more moisture escapes, I imagine.
    I am not opening chamber door at all, other than to insert meat probe after an hour in the smoker.

    My temps were mostly higher because even tho I closed the lower vent it still held too high.  So if anything, I would've expected it to turn out more like baked salmon with a smoke flavor after 2 hours.  But it never reached the IT of 145* by then.

    Here is what I mixed for brine based on another members recommendation.
    2 c. TQ salt
    1 gal. water
    8 c. sugars total. (6 3/4 c. Brown sugar, plus 1 3/4 c. 1 3/4 c. Real Maple Syrup) and 5 or 6 Bay leaves.

    I didn't say I liked it.

    I said I liked the flavor in the other thread. LOL    ...  It tasted good right off the smoker. 
    No white stuff at all on fish.  No bubbling and such.  At this point, I'm thinking I would like to see some bubbling of white stuff.
    At least then I'd know it'd reached safe temp.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013
  7. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Do you have a couple pics of your smoked fish? Cross section view?
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013
  8. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I can see now that you are cooking in a very dry environment.  This could certainly contribute greatly to your results if cooking for four hours.  I would suggest that you completely turn things around.  Instead of cooking at a low temperature, crank it up to 300°-325°, get a good heavy smoke going, not the TBS here.  Place salmon in with temperature probe, when the IT of the salmon reaches 140° remove to a foil pouch and place into a warm oven for 30 minutes.  Keep a close eye on the temp as it should be to 140° within a half hour.  You are then basically baking the salmon, but applying smoke along the way.  This technique should work beautifully with the added ingredients that you like.

  9. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    Have you ever used a smoker similar to a CGSP Tom?    I don't want to bake salmon with white smoke. [​IMG]

    I want to simply smoke it.  And there is no way I would ever start at 300-325* for smoking anything but fowl or a beef roast for dinner.  LOL

    cmayna, no pics.  sry.

    Tom's TQ to Sugar ratio tasted good when it was fresh off the smoker,

    but his temp thing I tried to do just turned it into vulcanized fish.  Tasted next day and it would bend, but not break or flake.  Guess I'll have to slice it up and put in dehydrator, and try my hand at fish jerky.  That's all this batch is good for.  I already tossed out all the thin pieces because you couldn't get meat off.  Lost about a salmons weight right there.

    Does anyone with a SFB CGSP, or similar,  who knows the in's & out's of it, help me out here?

    I think I will start a thread calling all SFB Smoker owners, to help me smoke fish.

    It may help me out next year.  I doubt that my son will give me anymore this year, after ruining 7 salmon for him.  3 of them can be eaten, but you better like chewy salmon.  I feel bad for my son.  He trusted me, and I took off in a direction of smoking temps I had never done before.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2013
  10. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member


    I wrecked a couple in my original tests too.

    You might have read in my "Smoked Salmon" Step by Step that my Son gave me 19 really big Salmon fillets, and I did them in 8 batches. The first 7 batches I changed all kinds of things, such as amount of salt in brine, temps of smoking from start to finish, with & without skin, etc, etc. Then after those 7 batches, I picked out everything that worked best, and did Batch # 8 just to confirm what was good. Then that became my Final Smoked Salmon method for my Step by Step. Everybody who has tried it, loves it. During that 8 batch process I had some thin pieces that were like leather, and I was going to toss them, but my Son scarfed it up. He loved it, and said he could gnaw for hours on each piece. He said if I ever screw up again, check with him, before I toss it!!!  LOL

  11. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Bear makes sense in trying different techniques in order to find what worked best for him.  It would have been nice to try smaller pieces until you found what works best for you, but that's water under the bridge.  We can suggest what works best for us till the cows come home, but your personal experience will help you more than anything. Everyone has their individual taste.  It's like they say "One's mans junk is another's treasure".

  12. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    LOL. yes I've had baked salmon, but I don't WANT baked salmon.  I want SMOKED salmon for snacking.

    I quit ordering salmon in restaurants years ago.  They seem to cook on the rare side, and for some reason, unless it's over cooked, whether baked, broiled, or grilled, it upsets my stomach.  Don't know why.  Now, if it's been baked and held at holding temps for some time, it don't bother me at all.  Smoked salmon has never once bother me, unless I make a pig of myself with it, then it's just a fast trip to the B R in the morning.  LOL

    Anyway.... moving on now.

    This last batch, call it batch #3 was a bust.  Taste good, but fish inedible.

    I tried drying it in jerky strips and still not edible.  Sliced some very thin and dried it to crispy, and it was pretty good, but you better have a good set of teeth and jaw muscles to chew it.  My son liked it.  I liked it, but don't have the teeth for it anymore.   I told him to use it like chewing tobacco.  Put some in mouth and enjoy while you're pounding nails on a roof.  LOL

    So here is my plan for another go at it.

    This will be for just a very small fillet for a test of method.


    1 gal. liquid  (3 qt. water 1 qt Apple Juice)   (I'm getting closer to yours bear)  LOL

    1 TBsp. Cure #1, slightly rounded. (Just under or equal to 1 ounce.)

    1 1/4 c. Kosher Salt

    3 c. Light Brown Sugar

    1 t. Ramp powder (wild leeks)

    1 t. Cracked Black Peppercorns

    4 Bay Leaves

    2 t. Old Bay seasoning (should've been 2 TBsp) But I sprinkled a little Old Bay on fish chunks as I put them on racks to compensate.

    Brined 7 1/2 hours. Rinsed, and did a taste test by frying a little bit of it. Tasted good, so rinsed, and patted dry and placed on rack in fridge.

    Then put my little 12v computer fan hooked to 9v supply (Red Green style) on it for about 3-4 hours.

    You can see my Kimchi in Jars below. Good stuff too!

    Then leave in fridge uncovered for a total of about 12 hours (including fan time).


    Smoke with Apple, Maple, & Hickory wood. (only 1 small piece of hickory, it's strong)

    #1 I would start at 130* smoker temp, without smoke for 1/2 hour, unless I already have good pellicle.

    #2 Then I would go to 140* for 2 hours with smoke.

    #3 Then go to 160* with smoke until it gets to 140* IT.

    #4 (a) Then if it's "semi-dry" yet, I'd go to 180* quickly, until they get to between 140*-145*

    (b) If it's "plenty moist", I'd leave it at 160* until I get it to 145* IT, or slightly above.

    #5 Then pull them as they get to, or above, 145* IT.


    Any flaws or tips, to point out to me, in my plan for tomorrows smoke?

    Welcome any and all comments!

    I usually put salmon on bottom of fridge for cooler temp, but today It just didn't work.  Jars wouldn't fit on upper shelf.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2013
  13. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    What do you think of my "red Green" approach to forming pellicle?   Got to find a better way of keeping it from tipping over.

    But what the heck, tape works too!  LOL  Come on now... I can't be the only one trying this chit!

    It's a 12v fan from a computer hooked up to an old 9v cell phone charger unit.   The 9 v slows down the fan speed and works just right.

    Thinking of using it on very still days when smoker can use a little breeze.  Just place it a couple of inches from intake vent, and there you go!

    Not enough to blow ash, but enough to keep things burning in box.  What do you think?
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2013
  14. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    Cool little fan experiment !!!

    I like your #1 thru #5 gradual smoker temp plan!!!   Stick with it---You'll love it !!.

  15. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    ~~Thanks Bear. It works very well, but I may have over used it today. I had it on about 4 hours last night, and then another 2-3 hours before smoking. It did work very well though.  Did you notice that I am getting closer to your recipe and methods?  Maybe by next salmon season, I'll be a full convert.  LOL  I've got to learn this smoker, and pellicle problem first though.

    OK. This batch turned very well EXCEPT for that darned old tough pellicle! Still got it.

    I do mean it is tough too! Can't eat it, just have to rip it off and then clean meat off it, and throw the pellicle away. To hard to chew.

    BUT... the flesh inside turned out very moist and tender. Of course it was still a little warm when I tested it, but after cooling and a little time in fridge, I expect it to be just right. Not too moist, and not dry. Taste is a little salty, so I added another 1/2 cup brown sugar to next brine for tomorrows fish. Flavor was very good, but smoke flavor was light inside. I think I'll start with one piece of hickory in beginning and then to maple and apple woods. Today I didn't use any hickory at all.

    As with all plans, nothing goes as planned.

    My temp plan was a good one, (thanks Bear) but with a side firebox horizontal smoker, it isn't so easy controlling exact temps as it is with a vertical electric or even vertical charcoal one. What? NO THERMOSAT CONTROL?!! LOL

    So my temps bounced a bit low sometimes and a bit high sometimes. But I stay pretty much in the ball park with them until...

    At hour 3 1/2 temps rose to 190+,  so I closed off the intake for 15 minutes and it dropped to 180*. Good, right? Nope,

    I opened it 1/2 way again, but temp kept falling another 20* in 15-20 minutes to 160*, and IT dropped from a rising 138*, to a falling 133* in just that short of time

    Added more lump opened intake all the way, and it climbed to 182-185* for 15 min, then quickly went to 198* for another 20 minutes even though I shut the vent again. IT reached 146* and I pulled it. Total time 5 hours.

    Without typing my whole log of notes. It went kind of like this.

    1st 2 hours between 135-145*

    next 45 min. @ 150-165* - IT 106* reached

    then 170-190* for next hour - IT 135 reached

    Temps dropped from 190 to 163* in 1/2 hour. IT dropped to 133* YIKES!

    Added coals, open vent more, and temp rose from 163 to 180 in 15 minutes - IT 136* reached

    Reached 190-198* final 20 minutes - IT reach 146* and I pulled it.

    The tough pellicle I am thinking, is due to a few things. (Help me figure this out folks)

    1. I may be drying it too much for forming pellicle before smoking.

    2. Too high of heat at end.

    3. Low humidity. It was in the mid-30's when I started and in the mid-20's outside when I finished. Breeze about 5 mph. Although I did use a bread pan of water directly over the firebox opening, and still had steaming water left when done.

    So for tomorrow, I'm not going to do my fridge pellicle forming thing. Just drain brine, rinse and leave in zip bag until I'm almost ready to smoke. then air dry it either with my small fan or just set it outside for 1/2 hour. Just barely tacky to touch, or less. Then in to smoke.

    As this batch came out moist inside, I'll try not to panic, and over react to so temps fluctuations.

    fpmich raises right hand, and promises. I will not exceed 180* at end. I also promise to try to leave at 160* if moist enough, until IT of 145* or more is reached, regardless of time. (I'm using cure #1 for just that reason. Time)

    Q-View No oozing at all. Pretty, except for the tough pellicle as you can see.

    Oops!  Q-View not working tonight?
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  16. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    Sheesh I hate this forum with how hard it is to post a photo.  Takes me forever having to use different server to upload too, the it won't link right and on & on & on....   Get VB or some other forum software that actually works and is easy to use.

    OK  here we go, trying again

    ~~Q-View No oozing at all. Pretty

    Except for the tough pellicle as you can see in this pic.

    meat is nice, moist and flaky.  But have to use chainsaw to cut pellicle.  You can see how thick it is.  Help me out gang.

    Hey!  fpmich made a Q-view!  LOL
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  17. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member

    Looking at your pics, I can tell you that yours has a harder outside, and a much more moist inside. Except for some thin edges on mine getting hard, the inside & outside is pretty consistent, with the outside only slightly harder. I can pick a whole piece up & gently break pieces off (with the grain), without the rest falling apart.

    I don't know what else to say---Maybe there is such a thing as drying too much when forming your pellicle. Your new plan should show that.

  18. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    Fighting [​IMG]  the pellicle saga continues.

    I made some headway today.  I think.

    I did not air dry fish overnight in fridge. Just slightly rinsed and left them in zip bags until smoking time. 

    Rinsed again, and set outside for 1/2 hour before into smoker. 6-8 mph breeze. 40* outside temp.

    I decided to use one large water pan, plus, a smaller pan of water under the grates. 

    I only used the small bread pan yesterday, and it wasn't enough.

    Side fire box opening is on the right.

    Preheated smoker and let cool to 100* before starting fish.  Added coals and let temp slowly climb to 147* for next 1/2 hour.

    Held at 140-145* range for about 1 1/2 hours .

    Bumped to 150* for 1/2 hour

    Then bumped to 160-170* for about 1 1/2 hours then FLIPPED Fish over to skin side up.

    Held in 170* range for 2 hours.

    Bumped to 180*.  Probed thinner pieces and pulled after about 1/2 hour @ 180*  IT thin was 146*  IT of thicker ones was 124*

    Held in 180* range to occasional 190* for 1 hour or so.  IT was 130*

    Bumped to 190* and held for about 3/4 hour or so until IT of thickest one was 147* and pulled them.

    This whole thing took 6 hour and 10 minutes, from when they went into smoker, until they came out.

    Yesterday's took 4 1/2 hours.  Maybe the water pans had something to do with that.

    They looked great fresh out from the smoker.  Let them cool on counter for a few minutes and bent one and low and behold,

    it broke the pellicle!  Inside was nice, pink color and moist, but not too moist.  YES! [​IMG]

    NO!  [​IMG]  Not so fast uncle Frank!

    After I let them cool and put in fridge on rack to further cool, I tried it again.  Ugh, not so tender of pellicle I thought.

    But it was much more thin than what I have been getting, so I'm getting happier.  I'm sure after they are bagged for a couple of days, or frozen and thawed, they will be very acceptable.

    As near as I can figure out it is, the vast space of this smoker, as well and the type itself, just suck all moisture from the air.

    Next fish smoke I plan on using a bathtub full of water.  LOL

    I think that flipping them over also helped let inside moisture keep pellicle from getting as deep as it was before.  I flipped them about 3 into smoke, but probably should have done it after an hour and a half.  As soon as a firm skin on meat was reached.

    And I think maybe starting out at a little higher temp may help too.  Something like 145-150* at beginning.  Then go to 170*, then 180*

    for a shorter cook and hopefully thinner pellicle.

    Anyone doing fish in Char-griller side box type smoker, please feel free to jump in with your experience!

    Q view hopefully will follow.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2013
  19. fpmich

    fpmich Smoking Fanatic

    After cooling on counter and then in fridge for a couple of hours, here's what it looked like.

    Excellent flavor.  3 1/2 sugar to 1 salt is the perfect balance for me.

    I have a couple of pages of notes on this batch to give me a starting point next year when the salmon season rolls around again.

    If I am able to, I may even go fishing myself next year again.  It's been awhile since I've done it.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2013
  20. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster OTBS Member


    Yup, that looks more like mine. I think you're right about your smoker drying it out more. That's why you need a lot of water, and I don't use any.

    We have to remember the differences between an MES (electric), and other types of smokers.

    They're all Great, but they have differences that need different handling.

    Looks like you're ready for next year!!