Newbie looking for some help

Discussion in 'Fish' started by poof, Jun 24, 2013.

  1. I am looking for some tips and advice, along with answers to a few questions I have.

    I am now using a Smokin-It #1 electric smoker for the first time, after using various grills and bbq's over the years to grill fish, poultry and pork with a touch of added smoke, I am only familiar with smoking on a grill setup.  This is quite a different beast.

    As I am new to the electric smoking world I am facing a bit of a learning curve, so I have been reading tons and tons of forums and many posts on this forum.

    I am thankful to all of the help I have already received by the great posts here!


    I attempted my first salmon smoke over the weekend.  I used essentially the AKhap method which I found to offer the best directions and sound reasons for the correct way to hot smoke salmon.

    I did the 90 Minute brine that AKhap lists with just 3 salmon filets (aprox 3lb total).  2 Fresh out of the package filets and 1 thawed from my freezer that was about 2 weeks old. Sockeye Copper River Salmon to be exact ($10.00/lb at Costco right now!)

    After brining and rinseing. It took about 90 minutes to get the pellicle to for. In hindsight I am not sure if I had enough pellicle at all - but it looked nice and shiny and covered the whole surface with a very nice sheen. I placed it inside my kitchen on some racks next to a couple of open windows, it was about 70 deg F, with a small breeze in that location.  I need more help with the pellicle formation - any tips?

    They then went in the smoker. I used 2oz of various wood chips (1oz of Alder, 1/2oz of apple, 1/2oz of cherry).  The oven temps bounced around a bit, and I ran out of wood after about 2 hours. I found it settled in at around 150° degrees, after first going as high as 180°, once the wood started smoking steadily.  I couldn't get the smoker to the target of 140° easily, but I will work on that.  I added some wood chips later in the process as I couldn't see any more smoke, and It was stalling with the fish at about 136°.  The oven temp would spike with the new addition of chips (2x), and the fish would then very slowly go up in temperature - I finally pulled it out at around 144° internal temperature after about 3-1/2 hrs (it looked pretty dry at that point, and there were some very small white "buggers".  My Maverick temp probes are new and test fine.  I think using wood chips is fine for a different meat like ribs, but I think I need chunks so they don't burn as hot and fast as the chips seem to.  The oven would spike up to 200° if I put in a 1/3oz of new chips in the tray.Water did appear on the surface in some of the cracks where the fish was a bit damaged (I tried to purchase the smoothest filets I could find) one had a pretty good tear it it that probably made my fish dry out.

    The final verdict is that the salmon, while it tastes good and looks about right, I am not totally satisfied with it.  It is a bit salty for my taste, a bit dry, and a bit too smoked...

    So here are some questions:

    Is it better to use frozen salmon compared with fresh (AKhap mentioned that in one thread)?  I can't tell the difference in the pieces I smoked, but since they are poor quality examples it is not a good test.

    How long of a temperature stall is normal (if any) - this time it spent the last aprox 2 hrs at 136-140 - I am used to a temp stall with pork at a higher temps?

    Chunks better than chips? Yes or No?

    Tips for less salt and a sweeter flavor?

    By the way my wife loves the fish, I think it is OK, and my son thinks it is too smokey...

    Thanks again for any tips and help!
  2. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Where in the bay area are you located.  It might be much easier to simply chat vs text.   I just smoked a crap load of Salmon which you will find in the general smoking board.
  3. I am in Santa Cruz
  4. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Humph!   I was hoping you were a little closer so that the local winds could carry the scent of my smoker over to you in order to give you some ideas. [​IMG]   oh well.

    Pellicle - I like using a fan to really put a lot of breeze on the meat.

    I have always used previously frozen Salmon.  Even with all the fresh Salmon the wife is catching, we will normally freeze it after processing the fish.  Then when ready to smoke, I normally pull the fish out approx. 24-36 hours before brining and let it thaw out in the refrigerator.

    I have two very old Big Chief electric smokers dedicated for fish only.  I use chips exclusively.

    If I remember correctly, AKhaps recipe is 2/1  (brown sugar/salt) ratio which is way too salty for my particular taste.  I'd go 3 or 4 /1 ratio.

    My dry brine is 4/1.

    Wow, if your son thinks AKhap's recipe is too smokey,  he'd gag big time over my fish.

    Say hello to the boardwalk for me.
  5. chef willie

    chef willie Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Not sure about the frozen vs fresh. I get my salmon at Costco usually and, sad to say, it's the usual farmed slabs. I'm not able to pop 10 bucks a pound for fresh. Here's a thread I did on one using the Smokin It came out very OK for me and I ran at about 200 degrees to an IT of 150 for a more 'jerky' style as opposed to a moister style for dinner. I normally use chunks as opposed to chips and not much IMO is needed in the SI smokers. As you can see this is a very subjective issue.....the wife liked it, you weren't that happy with it and your son didn't like it to smokey.

    You'll find the happy medium eventually.
  6. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    The issue is the pellicle... At your relative humidity (ain't Google grand for some things?) of 70% there is no way 90 minutes will give you a proper pellicle without a fan and perhaps a dehumidifier...

    Because the sealing properties of the pellicle were not in place the water was evaporating from the surface and cooling the fish substantially.

    That led to temperature excursions in the smoker because so much more wood had to be added.

    The much longer cooking time sucked a great deal more moisture from the fish, shrinking it, and concentrating the salt.

    The very moist surface created by the water being mobilized by heat to come to the surface and evaporate made a surface that just sucked up the smoke. Much in smoke is water-soluble and once it hits the wet surface it is there.

    Chips or chunks does not make much difference except in how they work in your firebox. The wood should be soaked in water to slow the burning rate down and even out smoker temps.

    We have found brining is more uniform with previously frozen fish... the difference is not huge, but we feel it is real.

    A proper pellicle and you will have no stall as the water is sealed inside and very little gets through the pellicle.

    I never get complaints about salt except for those that like it REALLY salty and I smoke many hundreds of pounds in the average year.

    Sorry you had the issues and I feel responsible in many ways. That is why I always stress that pellicle is the single biggest obstacle to good smoked fish. Get it right and it is hard to mess up your fish.
  7. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Salmon jerky is not made by raising the temperature. It is a result of drying at far lower temps than a hot smoker can produce. When cooked at higher temps it will shrink only so much and the wetter and larger inside will hold the dry outside in a plumped condition. As the fish inside dries it will shrink until the dried outside will not let it shrink anymore. The inside will then "collapse" and turn into stringy dried fish. It is not a desirable result. Stopping short of collapse is far short of "jerky" moisture content.
  8. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Raising the sugar content in the brine will reduce salt that gets into the fish by a little bit, but realize it is a rapidly declining ratio you are looking at and commercial smokers have issues when they go to 1:4. The salt take-up is reduced and the sugar acts a bit differently in the fish. It allows water to wick through a perfect pellicle a little bit and that leads to issues with temperature control and the potential for a serious problem when doing commercial quantities.

    I generally stay away from 1:4 but 1:3 is okay... and on a small scale either should be fine. But the chances anyone can taste the difference are slim...
  9. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Meant to add a smilie face after that last line... :biggrin:
  10. Thanks everyone - I guessed my issues were mostly due to poorly formed pellicle.  Good to hear chips are OK as I have a large assortment of them.  I think I might transistion to some chunks to see if they preform more uniformly in my smoker in the future.

    By the way AKhap I think on Saturday here we had about 30-40% humidity - it was a dry hot day, no marine influence at all.  Now it is raining and looks like Seattle or Portland outside (liquid sunshine!).  It is the start of the June Gloom around these parts (our cold foggy summers start just as soon as school ends).

    With a change to a 3:1 ratio on the brine should it still be done for 90 minutes?

    How long can the salmon sit out to form a pellicle if it is 70° in the house?

    Preheat the smoker - or start cold?  Or say start at 125° for the first half hour to prevent a heat spike and too much smoke at the beginning...?

    Final question for now - can I freeze my brine to use the next time?  Seems a waste to throw it out...
  11. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    AKhap might be able to answer this better since it is his recipe, but I'd keep the brining time to 90 minutes.

    How long did you allow the pellicle to form this last time?   I'd say 2+ hours but with a fan on it.

    I normally preheat just for a few minutes and then toss the fish in.

    As far as freezing the brine, I'd start making notes of how much brine you are using vs how much fish so when you need to make another batch you can modify the amount of water/sugar/salt ending up with not too much extra.
  12. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    cmayna got everything about right above...

    The brewery in Kodiak does a Liquid Sunshine I rather like! A suggestion I have likely made her before that I have used a number of times is to put your racks on a bed of ice-filled Zip-Lock bags. It will keep the bottom side of the fish very cold while the top dries. At 40% R.H. you will get a pellicle in two hours under a fan.

    Heat works for and against you during the pellicle formation... Warm fish and the water in it is more active, bad thing. Warm air and the water will evaporate faster, good thing. The ice gives you a little more comfort in leaving fish out...

    I have messed with reusing the brine and think it is not worth the effort. You should be fine with brining 3 pounds in a gallon Zip-Lock and using a half-gallon of brine. 1/2:1 1/2 cups salt and brown sugar in a half-gallon of water. Keeping it frozen will be tough as it does not want to freeze which could lead to spills and messes. And then you need to test it to ensure there is still an appropriate amount of salt and sugar...
  13. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Oh, and I brine in multiple food grade 5-gallon buckets, so your brine use is as nothing! :biggrin:
  14. Thanks again so much for the help.

    I think I have a better handle on things - I will attempt to do it a little different next time.  Putting ice under the fish is a great idea (will also keep my wife from wondering if I am trying to poison her).

    Fingers crossed it works a little better! 

    I will probably be doing another round in a few weeks.  I have some extra filets in the freezer so I will try out the better methods once the family is ready for more...
  15. Oh and I brined in big tupperware container, but put the brine in a gallon bag that held the previously frozen fish, thinking I might as well toss it int he freezer for the next brine. You know that 1/2 cup of salt and 1 cup of sugar is pretty expensive :)
  16. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    Yeah, buy a couple hydrometers and test cylinders for a hundred bucks to save a couple bucks.

    I sure wish I did not know EXACTLY what that feels like! :icon_rolleyes:
  17. akhap

    akhap Smoke Blower

    sent you a PM
  18. Hey, just wanted to follow up with a winter reply.  Thanks to the amazing advice here we have been able to enjoy our summer smoked salmon thru the holidays.  We just finished up one of the last salmon filets I had help smoking over 6 months ago.

    In hindsight I think it is better now after being frozen and in the grips of our terrible winter (read historic drought) - beach weather really!

    I am still working with my smoker - and while learning how to do better pork, chicken, and duck  - among other things  - I am really looking forward to fresh salmon this spring and summer to hopefully improve my smoking techniques.

    Thanks to everyone (AKhap especially)


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