A DIY Guide to Excellent Smoked Fish
This DIY smoked fish method can be achieved over the course of 24 hours with nothing more than some salt, sugar, water, a gas grill and some wood chips. We provide time stamps to give you a start and end time for this DIY smoking method.
What fish species are best suited to smoking? Both sablefish and most species of salmon have a high level of fat that lends itself to a great final smoked fish product.
Whether you like the convenience of a subscription box or want to try a one-time order, our wild-caught seafood is perfect for your home smoking needs.
The main elements you can experiment and play with in this method are:
- Salinity and sweetness
- Length of the brining process
- Length of the pellicle formation
- Smokiness of the fish
- Moisture levels of the fish
Step 1 (8PM) Brine:
- Create a brining solution for your salmon or sablefish. Use a 6:1 ratio of water to salt/sugar and whisk until fully dissolved.
Brining Solution Ingredients:
- 6 cups of cold water.
- 1 cup of coarse salt.
- 1 cup of your choice of sugar.
A helpful salinity testing method for your brine is the “Egg/Dime” test. Once the sugar and salt are dissolved in the water, carefully drop in a full raw egg (in the shell) and it will begin to float. You are looking for the surface area on the top of the egg to stick out of the water that equals roughly the size of a dime.
If more than a dime sized area appears above the surface of the water add a bit more water. If less than an area of a dime appears, add a bit more salt. This method is a great base to start your brine recipe.
- Transfer brine to a non-reactive container with a lid. Place your fish (frozen or thawed) into the brine. The fish needs to float in the brine so that you get an equal salt absorption from the top and bottom of the fish.
- Cover the container with a lid and place it in the refrigerator for 10 hours.
Step 2 (6AM) Begin Pellicle Formation (refrigerator):
- Drain the brine and gently rinse the fish with cold water. Then pat it dry and place it on a rack or a plate in the refrigerator for another 8 hours.
This stage is a big part of the curing process and jump starts the formation of what is called a pellicle. A thin, shiny layer on the outside of the fish, necessary to keep in moisture, enhance overall preservation, deepen the color of the fish and help the wood smoke adhere to the flesh of the fish during the smoking stage.
You may find an additional 1 to 2 hours in the fridge is necessary during this first stage of pellicle formation.
Step 3 (2PM) Finish Pellicle Formation (grill):
After at least 8 hours in the refrigerator, the surface of the salmon should have a shiny appearance, a deeper color, and feel tacky to the touch. Now we are ready to start the 2nd stage of pellicle formation out on the grill.
- Turn on one burner of your grill and start with the lowest flame possible. The goal is to create a low and slow, indirect heat source in the chamber that can hold a steady temperature of around 110F for 1.5 to 2 hours (depending on the amount of fish you are smoking).
- Place a layer of soaked wood chips (cherry, apple, alder or hickory) on the bottom of a pan positioned directly over the low flame.
- If using a covered grill you can fill a heavy duty tin foil pouch with wood chips and poke multiple holes on the top to allow smoke to escape or use a disposable pie tin covered with perforated tin foil and place that over the flame.
- Place the fish on the rack with a thermometer that has a sensor at the tip directly next to the fish.
- There should be at least 8 inches of space between the wood chips and the fish.
- Make sure you can close the chamber, but still read the thermometer. It's OK if there is a slight gap in the chamber.
Don't worry about creating smoke during this step, maintaining a temperature of 110F is more important. Monitor the temperature over the next 1.5 hours and when the surface of the fish becomes dry to the touch and develops a thin, shiny layer, you have successfully created a pellicle and are ready to move to the final smoking phase.
Step 4 (3:30PM) Smoke:
- Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the fish and slightly increase the level of the flame to activate the wood chips and produce smoke.You only need a little smoke to create a perfect smoked fish.
- Close the lid of the chamber and slowly increase the temperature in the chamber to a maximum temperature of about 150F over the next two hours.
- Add more dry or soaked wood chips and adjust the flame a few times during this stage if necessary.
- If the fish releases a white, coagulated fat substance (albumin), then you have the heat too high and will need to immediately lower the temperature in the chamber. This may also be a sign you didn't fully develop a pellicle. But it's OK, just lower the temperature and carry on.
- During this smoking stage you can open the grill or remove the cover a few times and brush on some diluted honey and water to give the salmon a nice shine and also add some extra sweetness.
- Once the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145F, set a timer and maintain temperature for 17 minutes to eliminate any bacteria present and fully cure and preserve your fish.
Step 5 (6PM) Rest & Enjoy!:
- After 17 minutes, remove the fish and place it on a plate to cool for at least 20 minutes.
- When you gently pull apart the fish, you should see a paper-thin layer of a stiff, skin-like pellicle on the top of the moist, flaky meat.