prefered brine for smoking

whipachawwhipachaw Posts: 505 Officer
I have a brine I use, but if I let it brine to long, it gets WAY too salty. Usually over night is best, 24 hours max. Its when I forget or get busy and go over I have issues. I have saved some batches of fish by making dip, or coating with honey but I figured I would ask about other brines. The one I use is 1/2 gallon water, 1 cup non iodized salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, garlic juice, onion powder, white pepper, seasoning blend of choice (I use everglades but it called for allspice) and a splash of lemon juice. I have thought about just reducing the salt but I was unsure if the pellicle wouldn't form properly. Anyone ever done a rub like you would on red meat?


  • aboveboredabovebored Posts: 1,272 Officer
    Rinse fish off with fresh water after brining
  • whipachawwhipachaw Posts: 505 Officer
    I do, at least when it goes more than over night in the brine. It did not save my last batch. Granted, its been years since I have smoked fish, so maybe I was just rusty, but it may as well have been a salt lick.
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    IMHO a proper brine for fish can only be made by getting the s.g. correct. It is correct when a potato will float in the brine. That test must be done before any of the other ingredients are added such as the sugars.

    Additionally, if you want a quality product the fish should never be in the brine more than 1 hour. A complicated brine like OP posted is IMHO and overkill and a waste of spices. The purpose of the brine is to change the structure so it will hold moisture, enhance the flavor of the fish itself and the smoky characteristics and not to camouflage them.

    I have done literally thousands of pounds of fish over the years. We put up 2500# of Yukon salmon alone every year.

    Here a couple of pics of my "teachers" fish camp where I learned.
    Port Charlotte, Florida
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    Brine (simple and quick)
    • 2 Qt. cold water
    • ¾ C Canning Salt
    • ½ C Brown Sugar
    • ¼ C white sugar
    • ½ tsp crushed garlic
    The brine needs to be strong enough to float a potato and that is important. This recipe will yield the correct density and the potato will float to the top of the brine. If you want to verify check it before adding the sugar as that will alter the specific gravity and give a false salt content.

    How we do the brine
    Mix all the brine ingredients until perfectly dissolved. Check the density with a piece of potato (important). When it is correct completely submerge the fish for 45 minutes, remove and set on a sheet of aluminum foil. DO NOT rinse or dry. If the fillet or chunks are thin like the far tail or belly meat reduce the brine time to 30 minutes. If it is exceptionally thick, (over an inch) add 15 minutes.

    Dry and form the pellicle
    Remove fish from the refrigerator and pat dry. Place on the smoker grates or BBQ grate with a sheet of parchment paper and allow to completely dry and form a pellicle. Use a small fan if you have one to speed it up. The pellicle is important for proper smoke and the fish will have a tacky dry feel to it when it is correct … about 1-2 hours without a fan.
    Port Charlotte, Florida
  • whipachawwhipachaw Posts: 505 Officer
    Thanks a lot. Very helpful information Rexlan. Curious as to if you were cold smoking for preservation, or hot smoking which 99.9% of us in hot states do.
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    We cold smoked the salmon strips for 6 weeks with the same brine and used drift wood from the river! We ate and sold the strips.
    Used the carcasses and heads for dog food.

    I do a couple hundred pounds a year now in my smoker since I am in Florida but I keep the temps in the 180° - 200° range unless I am doing an acidic cure/cook in fruit juices with a long 160° finish and 2 hrs of smoke.

    For me, I like to smoke the fish, not cook it with some smoke. The smoke will cure it and a good brine will enhance the natural flavors and amplify the subtleness of the smoke. Nothing is worse that over salty fish (or anything) and a heavy smoke. The smoke should be a light blue color and a steady small trace in the smoker during the process ... not bellowing out the top and sides with a thick dense gray/white.

    The problem for me with long brine times, other than being unnecessary to achieve the goal, is it makes the fish mushy or rubberizes it. Totally changes the texture. If the brine is salty enough, and correct, a short shot will do it - guaranteed. As you suggested the pellicle is very important and it will not take the smoke properly without that step.

    All personal preference however.
    Port Charlotte, Florida
  • whipachawwhipachaw Posts: 505 Officer
    Thanks man. While I had used the recipe I posted many times over the years. I did end up on more than one occasion making the meat too salty. I saw a recipe online using a apple cider brine. I take it that is a acid cure?
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    whipachaw wrote: »
    Thanks man. While I had used the recipe I posted many times over the years. I did end up on more than one occasion making the meat too salty. I saw a recipe online using a apple cider brine. I take it that is a acid cure?

    No it is not. If you use straight lemon, lime and orange (fresh) and other fruit juice then you have the acid. Apple cider is not near acidic enough.

    Apple cider mixed into stor bought BBQ sauce at a 1/4 rate make a killer mop BTW. I use Cattleman's with the cider and have not found a better mix.

    Juice ½ of a lemon, orange and a lime in a bowl and mix well. Drizzle the citrus mix on the fish (I prefer salmon) and coat it well. Close in the foil tightly and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to an hour allowing the fish to absorb the flavors. This will actually “cook” the fish because of the acid and it will look pale when done.

    From there a good basic BBQ rub and in the smoker at 160° until it is ~ 130° IT. Don't put more than 1 hour of smoke on it. After an hour kick the smoker up to 175°. The entire cycle will only take about 1 1/2 hours.

    Serve it over yellow rice with a thin cream cheese white sauce, fresh broccoli and asparagus. PDG!
    Port Charlotte, Florida
  • whipachawwhipachaw Posts: 505 Officer
  • XafXaf Posts: 1,051 Officer
    Wondering whether the process described above used for smoking salmon might be different then the process for smoking fish like Kingfish and Amber Jack? The salmon I've seen smoked is cut into much thinner strips then when I smoke kingfish/AJ.

    I use a simple brine, 1 cup each sugar and salt to 8 cups water. I cut out the blood line leaving the skin on, then cut the fillets into 3-4" long pieces, which I usually brine over night. The only time it has gotten too salty is when I did not rinse the brine off properly. I like to smoke it low and slow with mesquite for 3 - 4 hours. I read somewhere that mesquite is too harsh to use with fish but I like it. Can't think of anyone who likes smoked fish that doesn't like the way mine turns out. I also use it to make a killer fish spread.
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    A lot is personal preference. However, the purpose of the brine is not to add salt to the fish. It is to break down the proteins and remove water while the sugars will help retain the moisture. My experience says that a long brine is neither beneficial or good for the final product.

    The longest I have ever left fresh fish in a bine is 3 hours and that was Halibut. Halibut is a very lean meat and actually does not do well smoked. Much too touchy. I also tried some black tip shark and it was just OK. AJ's, like salmon and trout, is an oily fish and smokes very nicely. However, excessive brine seems to add little to the finished product unless it is just the salt taste you're after. That of course can be added during the smoke process by sprinkling a fish rub on it.

    Your brine is also pretty strong. I use 3/4 cup with 8 cups of water which is 2 quarts.

    I also stopped leaving the skin on, except for trout, decades ago. There is a fat layer under the skin and I don't care for it, especially the salmon.

    I wonder if your 3-4" long pieces are actually presenting the meat to the brine as a thinner piece of meat?

    But if you are "selling out" with every batch then you certainly should not change your method.

    Smoked fish always makes a good spread or dip. Cut into smaller chunks it works well with a pasta salad too.
    Port Charlotte, Florida
  • ProduktProdukt Posts: 592 Officer
    Sorry to derail the original thread but I smoked some kingfish last night at 170-185 (that's the lowest I could get my propane smoker to go, by putting the flame as low as possible and leaving the door open) for about 5 hours. I left it on the rack to cool and split open a piece this morning. It is still very "wet" and flakes apart. I can't "cut" it like a drier piece of meat into slabs. Can I return it back to the smoker after it's already come off? What's the best way to dry it out more? Bake it? I appreciate any times.
  • FlashFlash Posts: 11,162 AG
    First off, I do not brine anything. Tried it, did not see any real difference, but more an issue is the extra salt. Not good for me.
    Produkt, yes you need more time. I know with the blues, spanish and mullet that I do, 3 hours will get you a wetter, edible smoked meat. But if I am making dip form it, I want the fish drier, so it gets an additional 30 to 45 minutes longer to dry it out some. Of course these fillets aren't as thick as king, so you will just have to figure out how much time that is. I smoke around 200-210 on my propane. It also helps to let it rest a bit, even putting the fillets in the fridge.

    Never seem more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning like a pocket watch and keep it hidden. Do not pull it out to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked. --- Lord Chesterfield
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    I agree with Flash on the time. The lower smoker temps I only use if I am doing an acid type cook first. Normally I run around 200° on the smoker and generally I don't use a water bath on thicker pieces. Salmon I sometimes will run ~ 225° and cook it by eye hot and quick. I personally like a moist fish and not a cooked or dry fish. Kingfish is a good choice and should be very good.

    I would use your oven and put a 200° dry heat on it at this point. Leave it out to get to room temp before introducing to the oven and have the oven warm first with the door cracked slightly to vent it. You can use a wooden spoon to crack it open. As soon as the fish is warm to the touch it should be close.

    How thick was it? 5 hours at that temp is a LONG time! It should have been done in 3 hours pretty easily.

    Leaving the door of the smoker cracked is never a good idea. You need the draft through the smoker to pull the moisture out. My gas smoker ... if I turn the valve like I am shutting it off, not to the low direction, I can pull the flame down to next to nothing before it will go out.

    I suspect you may have had a draft problem and or the actual temp the fish saw was not what you saw.

    That moist fish on a bed of yellow rice with a lazy dayz sauce over it and some fresh green veggies might be spot on. Catch another and try again.
    Port Charlotte, Florida
  • DrKDrK Posts: 242 Deckhand
    Great thread!
  • whipachawwhipachaw Posts: 505 Officer
    Lots of great info here. Thanks for all the replies. I have been eyeing smokers, from electric (set it and forget it) to propane and charcoal. I find aspects of all appealing, so no matter your preference, if you had to chose one of each type, what would be your choices?
  • RexLanRexLan Posts: 868 Officer
    Electric .... BUT there is no such thing as set it and forget it. The Masterbuilt units are horribly inaccurate on the temps, as in not even close and their meat probe is even worse if that is possible. I used a Maverick remote read thermometer and then figure out your temps with it. You will also need an AMPS smoke tube w/pellets. It will not work in charcoal or propane units (which are hot).

    I use my electric the most but have re-wired it and added a PID controller which is spot on accurate and I also added a small fan to the side.

    If you buy a Masterbuilt be sure to get the 40" ... not the smaller one.
    Port Charlotte, Florida
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