About to smoke my first salmon for the in-laws - question on smoker temp

Discussion in 'Fish' started by weevil, Jun 18, 2013.

  1. Hi!

    I agreed to smoke a salmon for my in-laws even though I haven't done one before.  Up to now I've been sticking to pulled pork with some experimentation with ribs and chicken.  After reading through some of the posts in this forum, I'm likely to follow AKhap's method here: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/127170/hot-smoking-salmon-throwing-down-the-gauntlet.

    However, the caveat is that I need to have it ready by 2pm and don't see myself being up at 5am to do the 3.5-4.5 hours of prep work and then a low smoke at 140-150 degrees.  I have no idea how long the smoke would take.  Heck, I'm not even sure if I can get my Master Forge smoker that low....

    So while I will follow AKhap's instructions to a tee for the brining and formation of the pellicle, my question is what will happen (and how long will it take) if my smoker is about 200 degrees instead?   Will this pretty much ruin/dry out the salmon by the time it gets to the 140-145 degree internal temp?  Or should I be ok and it will just get done sooner?

    I'd prefer not to screw this up for my in-laws but on the other hand don't want to be up before the sun is up to get things started. :)

    Thanks for the tips/suggestions/wisdom!!
  2. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Obviously the Low and Slow procedure that AK laid out makes great Salmon. But considering the best Restaurants in the world BROIL Salmon at 1000*F...You should be just fine Smoking at 200*F. Watch your IT and if you see the yellow/white Fat accumulating on the surface, your done. Remember, much beyond 140*F gets Dry fast. Avoid it but not a huge deal if it gets away from you as I have some good recipes for Salmon Spread.One of the others will have to give exact timing but I can't see it taking more than an hour or two...JJ
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2013
  3. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower


    There is a lot of confusion about cooking salmon! There are three primary ways of applying smoke to fish;
    Cold smoking to produce an uncooked product like smoked lox or dried fish (squaw candy as it is usually called here). It uses essentially no heat.

    Kippering or hot smoking as in the method I detailed. The product is mostly eaten cold or warmed slightly. It needs to be smoked and cooked a long time. and if it were not protected by the pellicle it would dry out way too much in that time. This is also the way it is done for canned smoked salmon which is only done about half way through the drying process and then either pressure canned or packed in Mylar retort bags and also pressure-cooked.

    The third style is plain old grilling hot. You do not need the pellicle because the fish will only be on the grill for 8 minutes or so. The searing done by the hot grill will prevent a lot of moisture loss, also. Adding smoke is optional and this is where the confusion arises, I guess.

    Combining methods is usually a recipe for disaster.

    If they truly want smoked salmon then do it ahead of time and warm it before serving. If they want grilled fish with smoke then do it at the last minute.

    A bit of chopped onion and garlic softened in a skillet in a LOT of butter with a shot of Worcestershire Sauce makes an outstanding simple baste, hot peppers optional. Flop the filleted pieces flesh side down on a hot grill for about 4 minutes. Then flip them onto the skin side and baste. At about 4 minutes the fish should be done. Some do not like their fish quite that rare, but that is where we aim for ourselves.

    When removing the pieces slip the spatula between the skin and flesh and lift it free of the skin. I leave the collars on salmon and the front pieces may resist the urge to come off clean from the skin. I think the best part is the fatty muscle that moves the fins, which is why I leave the collars on.

    Hope this helps
  4. What ever method you chose, once the meat becomes flakey when pried with a fork, it's done. Don't over cook it, it dries and looses the flakiness and can become a bit mushy and yucky. 
  5. Thanks for the responses and thank you Art for responding! :)  The smoked salmon I am cooking will be the main dish that is to be served hot/warm.  I want it to get some smoke flavor and didn't want to do the quick grill and done.  Is there a happy medium where I can use my smoker to cook it (at around 200 degrees) and have it stay moist?  And if I go this route, is it my understanding from your reply Art that I should not follow your process (such as forming the pellicle) because it is meant for kippering/hot smoking?

    When I have a full day to smoke I will certainly be trying your method Art by the book as it sounds very tasty.  For this time, I'm simply hoping for a happy medium where I can get the smoke flavor into the salmon and cook it at the same time within 1.5 - 2 hours.

    Thank you everyone!

  6. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    I thought I responded to this yesterday, but obviously I was mistaken... I certainly meant to.

    For something in between smoking and grilling there is planking. All it takes is a clean board soaked in water (or you can use wine or apple juice, or whatever) for an hour or so. Rub both sides with olive oil before using it. Then the fillet is placed on the board and placed inside a closed in HOT grill with lots of smoke running.

    After about 10 minutes move the board to a warm spot inside the smoker and allow I to continue cooking for about 15 minutes more. This is a tough way to tell someone how to do it because it is impossible to know how hot the set-up is and how long it will take the fish to fully cook. So the numbers I am throwing out are what I use on our grill. If it is flaking it is done. Concentrate on getting the salmon doneness down to your liking and realize undercooked fish may easily be returned to the grill or even microwaved. A dried out chunk of sawdust is hardly good for burning!

    A couple pointers... the board may catch on fire and to a point that is fine. But it should be extinguished with a spray bottle right away. That will increase the smoke. Lots of different species of board will work, though cedar is the standard. I prefer cherry or white oak, poplar, alder, or even maple. If you buy it at the lumber yard realize many boards are glued up from smaller pieces and I hesitate to burn glue to flavor my food! ;) We have a few boards and some of them have been around and used heavily for years. Some are not quite so lucky and go away in just a few uses.

    There are lots of ways to treat the salmon before or during planking such as marinades and/or covering it with all sorts of stuff while cooking. I suggest going bare the first time for a feel for the actual salmon. Next time start looking for things you may want to try. Sauces and such which can be added after the fact allow everyone to experiment with different flavors (or not) so not everyone is stuck with something they may not like.

    It changes the table conversation from "This is ... uhhhhh... uhhhh... good...yeah, good..." to "Which sauce is your favorite?"
  7. Thanks Art - I've done planking on the grill a few times with salmon and cedar and had good results. Practically, that is what I should be doing again this time.  In reality, my mother-in-law wants me to try smoking it in my smoker as cooked salmon.

    So I guess it really comes down to this:  if I'm going to actually cook it in the smoker using alder pellets with a AMNTS,

    1) Should I brine it first and if so, suggestions?  Would it be enough/too long to use the simple brine that Art uses for kippering?  I definitely want to keep it lower on the salt and no garlic as my mother-in-law is not fond of either.

    2) What's a good temperature to have the smoker to give a balance of infusing some of the alder smoke into the salmon before it is done?  i.e. I don't want to have the smoker too hot and have it done in 15 minutes without having infused any of the alder smoke.

    3) Based on the temperature from #2, if I cut the salmon (with skin on one side) into 8 oz chunks approximately how long would I need to cook it before it reached ~145/150 degrees internal?  I know the answer is vague but I'm looking for approximations so I'm not opening the smoker every 10 minutes to check the internal temp. :)

    Thanks everyone - sorry for all the newb questions.  Just trying to do what I can to make the mother-in-law and thus the wife happy. :D
  8. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Great! You know exactly what planking is and have that for a starting point!

    If you smoke it in the AMNTS you should brine and form a pellicle. You can do that a day ahead and set aside in the frig overnight... Rise early and ensure the pellicle did not get soft overnight... and put some more air to it. Should take very little time to get it firm and dry.

    I do not add garlic to the brine.

    Use the brine concentration I suggested, do a 90 minute brining, and rinse quickly in cold water before placing on the racks. Salt will be just right even for those sensitive to excess salt.

    Try to keep the smoker down to 150 or even 140 for as much time as possible. If you need to raise the heat to finish it the more time spent at 140 the better.

    Stop at 140 internal. In kippering there will be absolutely no indication of being raw and it will be flakey and just perfect.

    Assuming the relative humidity is fairly low (
  9. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Also, make sure the M-I-L gets the first piece up from the tail... Not the peduncle, or first piece just above the tail, but the next one up. It will have no bones and be thick enough to hide any minor baubles in the smoking and preparation.
  10. Thank you for the tips Art - and most of all, your patience!  :)  I got 4lb of fresh (farmed) steelhead from Costco, as it was either that or farm Atlantic (which had been fileted without skin).  I know  I wasn't ready to try Copper River at a premium price in the event I somehow messed things up.  However, given how simple your instructions are I don't see how I can!  I know you said you've had better luck with previously frozen; however, I wasn't going to freeze it for a day just to thaw it.

    Quick 2 questions on the brine before storing it in the fridge overnight:

    1) Should the brine be at refrigerator temperature, room temperature, or does it matter?

    2) When storing in the fridge overnight, I'm guessing that it should remain uncovered, correct?  Does it matter if it is on a tray or does it need to be on a rack to get circulation all around (just while in the fridge)?

    Thanks again!  I'll try to take pictures and will definitely post results.  It'll be an early morning to first get some ribs done and then put in the salmon later in the morning in time for lunch.

  11. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Steelhead is decent fish and it will make a reasonable substitute for salmon. :biggrin: I am going fishing for red salmon tomorrow and the rivers are so plugged this year that the daily limit has been raised to 6... And these run close to 8# average and are every bit the equal of Copper River reds. We are spoiled.

    Brine should be as cool as you can reasonably get it... But left at room temperature while brining. The pellicle should be formed BEFORE refrigerating overnight or you might not get a decent pellicle in time to smoke. Smoking before the pellicle is properly formed is a great way to ruin your fish... leaving it out to form a pellicle overnight is a better plan than trying to get it done in the morning.

    You are correct, uncovered in the frig and as spread out as possible, preferably on racks...

    In warm weather I have filled a plastic bag with crushed ice and placed my racks directly on it to keep the fish cool while the pellicle formed. In the morning I had very cold fish and a decent pellicle. I used a piece of blueboard insulation under the ice bag to slow down the melting. If you have access to glacier ice :icon_wink: it lasts much longer, too!
  12. So despite some mistakes, the salmon was still enjoyed by the in-laws.  the mother-in-law even asked to take some home. :)

    1) While the brine was room temp when I applied it, I put the fish in the fridge with the brine solution.  I wasn't sure and didn't see your reply until after the fact.

    2) Putting the salmon on a tray (instead of rack) in the fridge overnight and not doing the pellicule until the next morning.  However, I did have it under a fan for 3 hours before going in the smoker.

    3) Because of a time crunch, I had to smoke it for an hour at 140, 1 hour of 150-170 (gradual rise), 30 minutes at 190 and then 30 minutes foil covered in the oven at 225.  Even after that, internal temp was inconsistent.  Some pieces were at 145 while others were in the low 130s.  However, even those seemed to flake so I was uncertain.  To have absolute certainty, I pulled the done pieces out and put the rest back in the oven foiled at 325 for 20 minutes.  All pieces appeared done then.

    I did get some fat that rose to the surface on some pieces; while some might have been attributed to the higher temp I'm sure others were due to handling before I got it.

    Thanks again Art - I look forward to doing it by the book next time! :)  I'll try to get pictures offloaded from my phone soon.

    Last edited: Jun 23, 2013
  13. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Well, at least you dodged the first bullet! :biggrin: Most of the issues sound like the result of a questionable pellicle. Evaporating moisture does a fancy job of creating erratic temperature zones... Of course raising the temperature like you were forced to complicates that and you may have gotten away with your pellicle under ideal smoker conditions.

    Foiling salmon allows moisture to get to the surface and works against the whole idea of a pellicle.

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