Smoking Fish &
All of us like to eat, matter of
fact it is one priority to sustain life. Those of us that do occasionally
catch fish might like to try different recipes at times. Fish can be
fried, baked, broiled, barbequed, made into a stew or chowder, then there is
one type that seems to excite many, and that is smoking.
There are probably about as many
methods and recipes as there are cooks. But first off maybe we had better
Smoking is the process of cooking,
flavoring or preserving food by exposing it to the smoke from burning or
smoldering plant materials, most often wood. Meats and fish
the most common smoked foods, though cheeses can be processed
also. Smoking alone does not preserve but has to be used in
combination with other techniques, most commonly salt/sugar curing. The
bacteria that cause spoilage can’t live above 140°F.
several-hours-long process that can be used to fully cook meats or fish.
is a form
of hot smoking. Generally, hot-smoking involves holding the food
directly above the fire, or in an enclosure that is heated by the fire.
The cooking temperature in a hot-smoking environment is usually between
175 and 225 and don't exceed 250 degrees. The temperatures reached in hot smoking can kill
microbes throughout the food.
This is the process that most fish/sausage would be smoked at.
You may want to baste some of
these pieces but use a basting liquid that does not contain too much
sugar because sugar may burn or blacken on the grill.
"Cold smoking" is an hours-or days-long process in which
smoke is passed by food which is held in a separate area from the fire.
Generally the food is held at just above room temperatures 60–80°F as it
is smoked. Since no cooking takes place, the interior texture of
the food generally isn't affected, neither are any microbes living
within the meat or fish. For this reason, cold-smoking has
traditionally frequently been combined with salt-curing in such foods as
hams, bacon and cold-smoked fish like lox or smoked salmon.
A number of wood smoke compounds also act as
preservatives. Phenol and other phenolic compounds in wood smoke
are both antioxidants, which slow rancidification of animal fats, and
antimicrobials, which then slow bacterial growth,
but smoke alone is insufficient for actual
preserving of food. Use a meat thermometer if you aren't sure and is a good and safe
way to make sure it is cooked. The meat thermometers usually indicate
the right temperatures for different types of meats.
main problem is that the smoke compounds adhere only to the
outer surfaces of the food, smoke doesn't actually penetrate far
into meat or fish. In modern times, almost all smoking is
carried out for its flavor, and not for it's preservative qualities
anymore like in the older days before refrigeration.
COOKING TEMPERATURES from USDA
Beef & Veal
Steak and roasts medium
Steak and roasts medium rare
Chicken & Turkey
Ground, stuffing, and casseroles
Whole bird, legs, thighs, and wings
Fish & Shellfish
Steak and roasts medium
Steaks and roasts medium rare
Chops, fresh (raw) ham ground, ribs, and roasts
Fully cooked ham (to reheat)
Woods Used for Smoking :
Common woods used for smoking that impart a flavor are
hickory, mesquite, oak, alder, maple and fruit-tree woods such
as apple or cherry are commonly used for smoking. However
for mild flavored white meat like fish, alder is my favorite
because I have found many of the others can impart a bitter
taste to your finished product. And once you pull your
bitter meat out, it is very hard to undo this situation.
Use Fresh Fish or Frozen :
Those of us that fish probably do not have the time
nor the quantity of fish to smoke
our fish when it is fresh, but will freeze it and then in the winter when
fishing time slows down will retrieve it from the freezer and get busy.
My wife recently went thru our deep freeze while cleaning it out to make
room for a beef we had butchered. Wow, did she find things we did not
know were there. Some, I hate to say it, but was up to 5 years
old. She found some that the vacuum pack had failed and
the fish was so locker burned that we used it for coyote bait.
We did put together a box of
salvageable slightly locker burned salmon, sea bass and ling cod.
I am amazed at what the vacuum packing can do in comparison to the old
wrapping method. Some of these pieces required trimming
off the edges and removing any of the dried out meat. These
probably were not the best meat, but after trimming, the inner meat
appeared salvageable, at least enough for me to use to learn on my new
Big Chief smoker. The photos below show the differences,
as on the right below, show
already trimmed fish, and on the left the 2 large pieces of locker burned meat.
Where the photo on the right shows the same 2 pieces but after
However be aware, that depending on
the degradation of the meat, the end product may not be the highest
quality (like being slightly bitter).
If it's bad enough to have freezer burnt
meat, and it's been frozen long enough that it's gonna thaw out a bit
soft/mushy... very difficult to trim/cut cleanly, even with a sharp fillet
knife. Therefore I would recommend trimming this freezer
burnt meat while the fish is still partially frozen as it's a lot easier
if you do this when the
fish was about 1/2 thawed out.
|Locker burned fish on the right
fish after trimming off the burned meat
With the advent of modern small smokers has about killed the old time
outdoor "outhouse" smokers that were common on about all the farms
in my area in the 1930s and up until about 1980. I remember cutting special wood
it separate so it was not burned in the heating stove. For a
while dad tried vine maple or crabapple, but finally settled on dry Alder,
which he learned from a local commercial smoker. We would
get up in the middle of the night at times and then early in the
morning to stoke the fire in the smokehouse with new
wood. You did not want a large fire but one that just smoldered,
so you adjusted the air intake in the bottom.
smoked hams and bacon in the fall of the year after butchering time.
We even made polish sausage by the #2 wash tubs full. It took me 5
years trying to get my mother-in-law to come up with a recipe for
She always said "a couple of hand fulls of salt, some pepper, boil
squeeze a few garlic cloves". I finally after writing down what
she put in each year over the years managed to compile a close
resemblance of her recipe. We would mix it by hand, squeezing the
meats to dissipate the ingredients, then finally when your hands were
so tired, fry a sample for a
fried taste test. More pepper. More mixing, another test taste. We
did find that the salt would
later dissolve and dissipate into the meat where the end product become saltier than the
fresh fried sample.
I raised sheep for a while and even some of the older ones worked out
well when mixed with venison for sausage.
not begin to count how many smelt and salmon were smoked in the fall of
Now these small smokers are usually electric, however some are propane.
The Luhr Jensen "Little and Big Chief" smokers shown in
this article, seem to have revolutionized the
average fisherman's desires to smoke fish. We don't have
to go out and cut smoking wood anymore, just buy the chips in a bag.
One of these bags will fill these chip pans about 7 times. I
usually prefer Alder chips which gives a milder flavor for my fish.
Hickory chips would be my second choice, but probably better for
The smoker shown below is the Luhr Jensen Big Chief with a front
loading door (they also make a top loader model, but it is harder to
access the trays). In the left photo, the thickest pieces here may be 3/4"
off smaller 8-10# Coho salmon. In the photo on the right,
you will see it full of finished Kokanee. These fish were 14" to 16"
range and the trays were lacking just one fish of being full with 14
fish in the smoker. For these thinner fish, the smoke / heat
time is about half of the larger pieces.
just placed on the racks to dry for a couple of hours, with sea bass on
the upper racks
smoking Kokanee, ready for testing
To give me some consistency in my final outcome, I installed a
Bar-B-Que thermometer in the top of this unit. With electric power to the unit for
an hour, the temperature usually reaches 150 degrees. If I want to up the temperature hotter,
initially, I had built a heavy cardboard box to slip over the outside
(no top) giving about 1
1/2" of clearance to somewhat insulate and keep any wind or night air from cooling
it down. I later purchased and made up a 3/16" sheet of plastic type thermal insulation
and fitted as an outside cover which was duct taped in place. At this
insulation time, I also added a top aluminum sheet cover spaced 1" off the
original top so as to not interfere with the top louver vents.
With this new cover on and ran continuously
(with no opening the cover) even in winter weather, after 6 hours
the temperature will usually reach from 165 to 172 degrees. The
larger pieces of meat will now read 155 degrees, on the
meat thermometer (well above the USDA suggestion of 145). So by my experimenting, I can now open the chip pan door or pop the front
loading door slightly to regulate my internal meat
temperature. You can not just load it and walk away, as you need to
monitor it every hour or so. Also in addition to colder outside winter air, WIND of
any slight amount will cut your heat down considerably, so I try to find a
protected corner in my patio.
The thinner pieces may not achieve this temperature, but USDA recommends 145 for
fish and they will be done a few hours earlier anyway.
Now I have found that the electric
heating element on this smoker, will over time, deteriorate and produce a colder
temperature. Like the
last batch I did, it would only come up to 145 degrees and then with a
cardboard box around the outside. But if you are having problems
getting the temperature up high enough, here is an idea that may help.
Before you add the chips, place a Charcoal Briquette in the pan, then add
the chips. This briquette will burn hotter
enough to raise
the temperature a bit along with maintaining the heat for a bit longer after
the chips are used up, maybe under the right (or wrong) conditions, you will even want
to add two of them.
In trying to compensate for this cooler
condition until I could purchase
a new element, after what I considered the proper time, but it was not
really done to my satisfaction, I placed the
smoked fish in my Bar-B-Que grill at 225 degrees for
an half an hour. However, it may be best to only run only 1 or 2 of the 3
burners, and part way through the cooking to rotate the meat to somewhat
even the heat distribution. This came out fine for the thicker parts, but
overcooked the thinner flank meat. So there is a learning curve
to most things.
Considering the time it takes, you can not be near the
smoker all the time it is operating, so it may be hard to actually be able to keep track of
In the LH photo below, you will
notice the meat has dried out and is separating down the center, which for
these thin pieces would be normal. When removing it from the rack, the
skin can/will readily be removed without sticking to the meat. The
thin tail sections will of course be overdone and somewhat hard, but sorry,
that seems to be the way of life. In the RH photo below these pieces were
cut about 1 1/2" wide. The skin was removed soon after taken from the
smoker (while still warm) and the dark meat (fat, which tends to be bitter) was removed at the same
Here the Kokanee fillets are about right
Here are results of a 11# Coho salmon
If I had not placed the thermometer in my smoker, I would
have not known for sure, only suspected that I did not leave the fish in
there long enough. With the thermometer operational, I found from 7 hours on one batch, and 9 hours on another
was about right, with the thinner pieces coming off earlier. So a lot
of this depends a lot on the size and thickness of the fish.
These temperatures put me within the USDA
guidelines for safe food. However in the winter when I get around to thaw
out some salmon and smoke it the weather is cold enough that the temperature
were unattainable. So I purchased 6 1/2' X 24" of the thin double backed
aluminum covered thermal insulation and wrapped/duct taped it on the sides and back of this
smoker, cutting out holes for the vents. I also thought about adding this
insulation to the front door of my front-loader smoker, but could not find
a good method of attaching it. I did leave the top uncovered, mainly
because of the many vents there. I did later make a thin aluminum top cover that
is secured and spaced above the top by about 1". This allows the
smoke/heat to disperse and yet give it some protection, while providing some
insulation value. And as said above
it gets too hot, I can prop the chip tray door open or crack the main door.
Here we see the thermometer in the top of
the aluminum top cover where the probe is extended down into the center of the
Since your smoker (when operating) will be
unattended for long periods of time during this smoking, it is recommended that
you do not place it inside a building because of a potential
fire hazard. One thing that I did find, once the electrical power became
burned badly at the smoker end plug to the heat element. Maybe it
would be wise to purchase a spare power cord.
Most people will tend to overcook their smoked salmon, so it may
be best until you get the hang of it to pull some out 2 or 3 hours before the
time and test it. You can always start the heat back up again, but it is rather
hard to soften a hard piece of smoked salmon. AND different meats will
come out different.
It seems best to not try to use full fillets
or even half fillets, but to cut them crosswise in about 1 1/2" strips.
They will smoke more thoroughly and are easier to handle later, making more of a
bite size snack product.
This formula below is for a mild flavored outcome.
SMOKED SALMON & FISH (DRY PACK MIX)
This is enough for 4# of salmon, sturgeon or tuna
fillets. The white meat fish needs to be sliced about ¾” thick.
16 oz (2 cups) Brown Sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup) White sugar
6 oz (3/4 cup) Salt
1/2 oz Garlic powder
1/2 oz Lowerys or Mrs. Dash seasoning
If you have enough meat to fill this above smoker then
you will need to at least double the above recipe.
Or if you need more, (this is 4 times the above).
4# Brown Sugar (1
1# White sugar
1 1/2# Salt
1/4 cup Garlic powder
1/4 cup Lowerys or Mrs Dash seasoning
Now I have found that it works better for me
to not put the seasonings in the brine, but save them (mentioned
above or others) for use after the brining
process and sprinkle them on after you put the meat onto the smoker racks,
which allows you to experiment a bit and not have all of the batch using the same
seasonings. But be very liberal in sprinkling them on because the
flavor does not have the same ability to soak in as with in the brine.
Trial and error will be your method until you figure
out what you or your friends want.
Mix these ingredients together dry, break up any of the
brown sugar that is lumpy. Use what you need to use for one smoking,
the rest of this dry powder mix into a tight fitting lid 1 gallon jug, OR zip-lock bags and freeze for future usage
In a crock pot, stainless steel or plastic pail, lay the fish fillets skin
side down, sprinkle 1/8" (or enough to cover meat) of dry the mix on top of
fillets, place another layer of fish, but this layer have the meat side down so
the brine is more of a meat-to-meat instead of skin-to-skin and again more brine mix on top. It is better to have slightly too much mix than to
skimp and not have the meat covered when it liquefies. Place it in a refrigerator to soak.
The mix will form a thick liquid brine,
there needs to be enough brine to cover the fish while soaking If
using fresh salmon or any oily fish, let soak 12 hrs for normal fillets (up to 1 1/4"
thick), or longer for thicker fillets. For thicker fish, part way thru the
remove and reposition top fish to bottom to get better coverage. One thing
I have found is that if you use frozen fish, it takes less soak time (maybe 4-6
hours less, like a total of 8, depending on the thickness, than fresh
fish (as in the final outcome,
the frozen fish seem to absorb the salt faster).
For white meated fish
like sturgeon, sea bass, tuna or even shark (if the shark is properly taken care
of right after landing, by continually soaking it in fresh saltwater, then
dumping that, then soak again). FOR THESE, I have found I need to cut the
brine soak time shorter yet, possibly to 5 or 6 hours when using thawed meat, as
this type of meat seems to accept the
Now a small but
important secret, when you remove the meat from brine, rinse it, then let it soak
for about an hour in cold water, move meat around to ensure it gets a thorough
soaking, then pat dry. If you do not let it soak, the salt seems to
become more predominate in the thinner pieces. Place the meat on the smoker racks skin side down
it set for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to allow them to dry or until they glaze over before you start the
actual smoking process.
Before placing meat on the racks, be sure they (the racks) are clean and it is best to
spray them with PAM, or at least wipe some olive oil on them to help alleviate sticking when removing the meats.
In placing the meat on the racks, separate and put the thinner fish on
upper racks, (they will be done sooner and it is easier to take them out first).
Cover the smoker pan tray with aluminum foil to help retain any oily drippings and to
promote a longer smoker life. However it is best that you replace
this foil after each session as the pan is right above the burner which can
cause enough heat to burn thru the foil, thereby allowing the grease to become
burned onto the pan.
After the first hour of smoking,
(first pan of chips) make up a small batch
(1/4 a cup) of thick basting solution using the previous brine mix, or be inventive.
For one of my last batches, I added (as an experiment) a teaspoon of Soy Sauce. Using a cheap 1" bristle brush,
baste this mix on the meat. This will give the meat a slight sugar glaze,
while also providing a base for sprinkling some garlic salt or pepper over fish if you like.
You will notice I said Garlic Salt not Garlic Powder as it can be easy to get
too much powder on. Replace the racks and continue smoking.
On white meated fish like sturgeon that has been frozen, I found that a repeat
of this process before the second pan of chips provides a nicer flavor.
If you were going to do another batch following this one, you could now use this
liquid brine again, but for health reasons, it would not be wise to refrigerate
and keep it for a longer period of time.
In a secure protected place out of the wind,
locate your smoker. Select your chips, fill the pan and set it on the
electrical hot plate coil in the smoker. For the Little or Big Chief
smokers, 1 full pan of chips will burn up in 45 min to 1 hr,
so then dump the ashes in a secure place, then refill the pan at least every hour (you can tell when the smoke
dies off) until you have used 3 or 4 pans of chips if
oily fish, 1 or 2 pans if white meated fish. Now remove chip pan and just run the
electric heat only.
So at this point, for oily fish like salmon you will have 3 hours of
smoke time, PLUS the heat only as described below. This heat only time
will also vary depending on your preferences as to moist or drier fish AND the
time of the year and how well your smoker is insulated. I
personally rather have a drier fish that I am sure is done inside. For me,
using Coho salmon fillets off fish in the 12-14# range a TOTAL of 8 hours works
out about fine on a warm fall day. Now remember this time may vary on the outside
and or wind, which could double if a cold winter time is selected and the conditions
are against you.
Below is for the
heat time only AFTER the initial 3 hour smoking process.
heat only, 2 more hrs for trout
heat only, 3-5 more hours for white meated fish depending on thickness, or oily
fish that are thin pieces
heat only, 6-7 more hrs for pieces of salmon 1" (thinner pieces
can be taken off
heat only, 8-10 more hrs for really thick pieces of salmon
I like to have my fish not soft or gooey inside, but done
and possibly a
little harder than some people like. So the heat only time can be
adjusted for your likes/dislikes. Test the smaller pieces doing a
professional sampling occasionally for taste/doneness. These smaller pieces
will be done before the larger ones. Then you have to understand that the
product will dry out a bit more after it cools down. You are not trying to
make jerky here, and until you get the hang of it, maybe it would be best to
stop the heat process, let it sit for a few hours at the end and sample a
piece. Remember, some people like it soft, (not completely done, while
others prefer it harder). If it is not totally done you can always place it
into a Microwave to finish it to your likings.
You have to understand that each time you open
the door, you have lost possibly 20 minutes of smoke/heat time and drop the
inside temperature from 20 to 35 degrees depending on the outside air
temperature. It is best
to test the larger pieces with a cable probe meat thermometer as you near the final time. I
try to achieve a minimum of 145 degrees with the probe in the center of the
larger meat. I have found that with all the time involved and the desire
not to produce a inferior product, that I now ALWAYS use a probe type
thermometer to test if the meat is done. It may be hard to get a good reading on thin pieces but they will be done
before the thicker ones anyway, (play it by texture/taste on these).
Like mentioned before, put all the thinner
pieces on a top rack, so they can be removed separately a few hours early. Just be sure
to take the fish out before it gets hard, as this warm state it will appear it need more heat, but it
will harden up as it cools. Most people tend to overcook their fish (me
included at times).
Oily fish like salmon is a little forgiving,
but if white meated fish, it will dry out considerably later.
It is best to plan it so you take the fish out of the
brine in the morning. You can do all your preparation and smoke time to have the fish smoked by late evening.
Some will place a electrical timer in line with the power cord and set it to turn
off instead of having to get up at 2AM and every couple of hours thereafter. It is
also suggested to not have the smoker near any wood product nor leave town while
it is running, as they have caught on fire and burned buildings down before.
Again for smoking white meat (sturgeon, sea bass or filleted
skinned bottom fish), soak in brine 1/2 the time or less as the (oily) salmon.
For white meat fish baste with cooking oil occasionally during smoking to keep
it from drying out.
The Big Chief smoker will accommodate 4 1/2, 8-10#
salmon or about 20# of filleted meat.
Little Chief Smoker ??
TO CAN FISH IN A PRESSURE COOKER AFTER SMOKING
Smoke your fish 1/2 the amount of time you normally
would for just smoking cure, then put in jars. Add 1/2 tablespoon olive or Wesson oil for
1/2 pints and a full tablespoon for full pints. Pack salmon
into jars being sure to get as much air out of the bottom of the jar as
possible. Also leave enough gap between the lid and the fish so it
doesn't interfere with the seal.
The above oil additives are needed for non
oily river Coho. Fresh ocean salmon or Springers require less or even no oil.
Optional to add to jars. One whole fresh garlic
clove. Or one whole or half a jalapeno, pickled or fresh. Some
also like a couple of white stalks of the green onions.
You will get a multitude of times for the canning if you ask, anywhere from 15
lbs at 10 minutes (sea level) or 10-11# at 90 minutes. This seems to
because some just smoke it a couple ofg hours to get the color and flavor, then
can it before it is done, requiring the longer canning time. However if
you take completely smoked fish, then just enough time to seal the jars is
needed. Personally my wife prefers
somewhere near the upper time as on my fish I only smoke for a couple of
hours just to impart the flavor. If in doubt look it up in a canning book yourself.
If you keep canned fish for a period of time, tip jar upside down occasionally to allow oil to
run over and thru meat to keep from drying out.
Sausage Making / Smoking :
Sausage recipe (mild) Polish Sausage rings
derived from John Hein's long-time German method
Salt 1 1/2 cups (my wife likes a little less salt, like about 1/2)
Garlic 2 teaspoons garlic salt OR 12 med size cloves
Sage 2 1/2 Tablespoons
Pepper 1/2 cup
60# meat total
80% deer or elk, the rest pork trimmings
or 50% venison / 50% sheep
10# pork trimmings @ $1.39 #
Grind the meat using a course plate opening (1/4") in the
grinder. Blending the meat and pork trimmings together as you grind.
In a large tub, add the seasoning and mix thoroughly. When I say mix
thoroughly, I mean by both hands. Roll it and bend from one side of the
container to the other, squeeze the meat as you blend. When you get to
where you think it may be mixed completely, fry a patty & taste it. Be advised that the salt will become
slightly stronger as it dissolves and soaks into the meat.
Grind the second time using a smaller plate in the grinder
(1/8") at the same time you stuff
These manufactured casings are designed to not be soaked, but
threaded onto the stuffer nozzle dry. Push enough on and as far on as
possible. Cut the casing off at the outer end when you can not get more
on. This needs 2 people, one to feed the meat into the grinder and man the
stop switch when the stuffer hollers. Start the grinder and proceed.
The person doing the stuffing needs to twist the outer end as the meat starts
out the nozzle. And put a slight amount of pressure on the casing so it
fills but not enough pressure to burst the casing. We have found that
making these links a max of 16" will fit my smoker racks quite well. When
the casing is filled to where you want it to stop, it may be best for the
inexperienced, to have the other person stop the grinder. The stuffing
person then needs to pull the now stuffed meat and casing out slightly then twist it
to close that end. You can now cut that link off behind the twist with a
scissors. Start over until finished. If you break a link, feed the
meat back thru the second time. You will have some shorter links possibly
when the end of the casing you threaded onto the nozzle comes to an end, or
because of a break in the casing at an unexpected time.
Stuff with Weston Brand, Collagen Casing 33mm purchased at Sportco
www.westonsupply.com Weston advertises these casings at $33.59 a package
The Weston Brand, Collagen Casing package says it will stuff 70# of meat.
Well maybe after you get the hang of it, as we were used to the old style pig
intestine casings and with these man made casings which do not stretch as much, we
apparently did not stuff them as tight and got only about 50# out of the package.
Big Chief smoker will take 25 links of a maximum of 16" long with one space between
on the grill to allow for circulation.
It took 2 1/2
fillings of the smoker to smoke 40#.
Run time --- burn one pan of Alder chips on the first startup,
run continuously with heat alone for 5 hours and another run of 5 more hours.
I thought of devising a thermostat on the electric heater
element, so that I can run it at a lower heat for a longer time, which may not
dry the links out and yet give enough heat to a complete cook job.
The time this batch of meat was left in may need to be increased a bit as it appears the
center did not get done enough, so we broil for 10
minutes or micro-waved for about 2 minutes. Now with the thermometer in
the unit and by checking with a meat thermometer, maybe this can be rectified.
sausage just about ready to come out of the smoker
My method of telling when fish is done on
the Bar-B-Que, is that I want to remove the skin after it is cooked and this
is my indicator of when it is done. If the skin peels off easily
without sticking, it is about right, if it is burned into the thinner meat,
you got it too hot, or on too long. Therefore it may be best if doing
it this way to cut the flank meat off the thicker and only cook that thinner
meat for for a shorter length of time. My time at a medium heat (350
degrees) will be pretty close to 10 minutes for the smaller Coho and from 12
to 15 minutes for thicker Chinook.
Here is another website about smoking fish
Copyright © 2007 - 2017 LeeRoy Wisner All Rights Reserved
Back to Ramblings
Originated 02-25-07 Updated 10-31-2017
Contact the author