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Fishing for a good smoked salmon recipe?

September 12, 2009

“Food is so primal, so essentially a part of our lives, often the mere sharing of recipes with strangers turns them into good friends.” Jasmine Heiler


I am going to reveal to you my husband’s, Paul Jones, famous smoked salmon recipe. Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating Paul’s smoked fish knows what I’m talking about. It melts in your mouth and overwhelms your senses. It is perfect.

Paul started commercial fishing at 16 years old in Northern California and that is about when he started smoking fish. He tried this and that recipe and was never satisfied. Every summer Paul would go up to Bristol Bay to commercially fish sock-eye salmon. He would make a point to taste everybody’s smoked salmon to see which one was the best. All the recipes were pretty good till he tasted this one, and he knew this one was the top dog.  The set netter, who graciously shared his family recipe, said it was born from lots of trial and error, and was, hands down, the best one so far. And it is.

This recipe uses a dry brine opposed to a wet brine. Now a dry brine is like a dry rub, no fluid is used in the brining process.

Bristol Bay Smoked Salmon

The things you will need;

Wild caught salmon

(if you are using frozen fish, thaw first)

Dark brown sugar

Kosher salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

A big bowl

A smoker,

(Paul prefers a “Big Chief Smoker” made by Luhr Jensen, that you can pick up at any sporting goods store for about $100. They also have smaller sizes to try out.)

Bag of alder wood chips

(You can get these at a sporting goods store)

Cut up the fish, leaving the skin on, into roughly 2” by 4” strips. Place a layer of fish into the chosen big bowl skin side down. Measure out 1 part salt and 2 parts brown sugar, so something like 1/3 cup salt and 2/3 cup brown sugar. Sprinkle the sugar first over the fish first then add the salt.

First sprinkle the brown sugar on the fish

First sprinkle the brown sugar on the fish

Then sprinkle the salt

Then sprinkle the salt

Pack it down firmly over the fish, then add another layer of the salmon, skin side down. Repeat the process with the sugar and salt with each layer of fish till the fish is all packed up like a bride’s suitcase.  Cover the bowl and tuck in the fridge.

Pack down the sugar and salt into the fish

Pack down the sugar and salt into the fish

Now here is the tricky part; brine the fish in the refrigerator, for 12 hours for fresh fish and 6 hours for frozen fish. Frozen fish is slightly broken down so it absorbs the brine faster. This is the place most people ruin their fish, they over brine. DO NOT OVER BRINE! There are lots of places in this recipe to play with your creativity, but this is not the place.

Take out the fish from the fridge and remove it from the brine. You will be amazed because the brine has now turned to syrup! As you remove the fish, rub off any surplus of syrupy brine with your fingers. Place your fish in a cleaned sink or on a cutting board and dap off the excess moisture with some paper towels. Get out your sparkling clean racks from the smoker and spray them with cooking spray. (Very important or the fish really sticks!) Layer the fish on the racks about an ½ inch apart for good circulation then crack fresh black pepper over it to your liking.

Cleaning the brine off the fish
Cleaning the brine off the fish

Cover and let it rest at room temperature for about one hour to prevent a film forming on the fish when you smoke it. The film doesn’t hurt the fish, just looks unappetizing.

Now for the big show! Place the fish in the smoker and fill the little pan provided with chips and turn on your smoker. Let it smoke for about an hour and a half till all the wood is used up. Unplug it and let rest for 1 hour, then plug it back in and fill the pan again, and smoke for another hour and a half. Do this procedure three times, then check your fish to see if it is to your liking.

salmon waiting to be smoked

The top shelf gets done first, so sometimes you’ll need to remove that, and run the fish through one more batch of smoke. The more salmon you have in the smoker the more batches of wood you will have to burn to get it all smoked to perfection. The time you let the fish rest is very important for the flavor and texture, so don’t forget it. The smoked salmon is good in the fridge for about a week or two and it freezes well vacuum sealed. We often give smoked salmon for Christmas presents. Most of all have fun and enjoy this beautiful delicacy.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2009 9:40 pm

    I’ve spent most of my life disliking smoked salmon. I think it’s time to try it again to see if that’s still the case. I will also use this as an excuse to finally convince my husband that we need a smoker.

  2. September 17, 2009 8:10 pm

    yes, indeed I was looking for a good smaoked salmon recipe and look! I found you. Thanks for answering my questions. GREG

  3. September 19, 2009 10:05 am

    I looove smoked salmon, it’s so pricey though.

    I’m in awe and am salivating, staring at the photo with the racks hehe. How often do you use your smoker? Can you make use of it with other meat? I’m so envious… Does it take a lot of space? Do you keep it outdoors? After reading your post, I’m tempted in getting one now…

    • ziabaki permalink*
      September 27, 2009 5:12 pm

      Hey Jackie. Yes you can use the smoker for many different meats and veggies and nuts! One of our friends smokes almonds in theirs on screens that they made of stainless steel and oh momma are those good! No salt or sugar on them. Yes, you do smoke things outside, don’t want all the smoke in the house, no no no. We have a batch of salmon on the smoker right now!

  4. September 26, 2009 2:38 pm

    I must now buy a smoker. Where do I put it? No matter…I need to have some of this smoked salmon. Plus, $100 is not bad. I always figured it would be too expensive.

    • ziabaki permalink*
      September 27, 2009 5:08 pm

      Hi Jessica! Yes smoker are so cool. We use our so much. In fact, we have another batch of salmon in the smoker right now. Yum! The smoker comes with a great recipe book that has all kinds of recipes for other things. Good luck!

  5. Sally permalink
    September 27, 2009 2:06 pm

    This is not my post, but yes you can use your smoker for other meats and vegetables

  6. October 3, 2009 5:51 pm

    Love projects like this. I also love smoked salmon, and wish I had an outdoor space to use my smoker! The salmon looks great!

  7. October 4, 2009 11:44 pm

    OMG. WANT. This looks so so so good. You two are quite the culinary pair.

  8. October 5, 2009 7:07 am

    This will be a priceless X’mas gift.

  9. October 18, 2009 6:04 pm

    I’ve not tried this yet but if it tastes as good as it looks, it will be a winner.

  10. Bormann permalink
    January 5, 2010 1:53 am

    Quick questions: Do you rinse the pieces of salmon upon removing from the brine, or basically just blott off the salt/sugar brine? Is the final product sweet or salty or “just right?”

    • ziabaki permalink*
      January 5, 2010 4:57 am

      You just basically blot off the brine after you rub it off over the sink. The end result is divinely perfect! Let me know if you have any more questions.

    • ziabaki permalink*
      January 5, 2010 5:23 am

      Howdy You do not rinse the salmon, you just rub off the brine and the blott it dry before you smoke it. The taste is perfect, kinda sweet, kinda salty. The flavor is quite balanced. Thanks for stopping by Dana

  11. manuel perez permalink
    February 6, 2011 4:56 am

    In 2007 I drove by your place off hwy 101 and smelled the smoke made a u turn to try some free samples no lie I never tried smoked salmon long story short I liked the five day smoked salmon stupid me only bought a $10.00 piece ate it on my back home (los angeles) I kick myself in the butt for not buying more I can’t stop thinking of that five day smoked salmon can u give me a tip on making five day smoked and what kind of salmon do I use. Thank you so much for famous paul smoked salmon recipe

  12. August 28, 2011 3:34 am

    Ok so I stumbled upon this yesterday…and I tried this (and two other recipes) and this was by FAAAAAAAR the best. It’s just classic smoked salmon and it hit all the right notes. I did add just a scant cinnamon …cayenne and garlic to the dry ingredients but I tend to like things spicy. Also – I couldn’t control my Bradley smoker very well and this recipe never said what temperature to smoke at…so I ended up averaging 150. In any event it’s excellent and kudos to the author for sharing.

    Reeve Baily
    24 lbs of Bright Silver “Chromer” Cohos from Illwaco WA

    • ziabaki permalink*
      August 28, 2011 4:37 am

      Yes, this recipe rocks. I owe it to my husband who got it from an old fisherman who got it from an old Eskimo. We think. We just had some steelhead yesterday that he smoked this winter and vacusealed. Whoa it was so good.Glad you found it.

  13. FISHING WILD permalink
    September 13, 2011 4:11 pm

    Giving this ago with PINKS from Campbell River BC can’t wait SMOKIN RIGHT NOW

  14. FISHING WILD permalink
    September 13, 2011 4:12 pm

    But MOST of all Thank YOU tight lines

  15. cichlid17 permalink
    December 31, 2011 5:54 pm

    just put a few pieces of frozen salmon in the fridge with the 2:1 brown sugar/salt brine – will be hot smoking a little later today – can’t wait!

    • ziabaki permalink*
      December 31, 2011 7:37 pm

      Good luck! Don’t over brine it! Frozen fish absorbs the brine really fast. Happy new years!

      • cichlid permalink
        December 31, 2011 9:34 pm

        Thanks – just pulled it out, dabbed off (actually rinsed a tad too because everything was sticking a LOT, and the salmon was really breaking apart).

        I brined for about 3 hours…given that the fish was thin and frozen, didn’t want to overdo it. Letting it sit at room temp for an hour or so, then going to hot smoke with some applewhood chips… 😉

  16. Dan permalink
    February 10, 2012 3:29 pm

    This recipe looks awesome. Trying it this weekend…

    • Dan permalink
      February 13, 2012 4:16 pm

      Made this recipe this weekend. It was really good and the fish didn’t last long once out of the smoker. I’ve got a good pic but don’t know how to post them here.

      • ziabaki permalink*
        February 14, 2012 5:20 am

        I’m so glad you loved it! We just got some smoked steel head out of the smoker this morning. It was awesome! Enjoy and thanks for coming by!

  17. April 20, 2012 1:48 am

    I blog frequently and I seriously appreciate your content. The article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to book mark your blog and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

    • ziabaki permalink*
      April 20, 2012 5:52 am

      Thank you so much for enjoying my labor of love!

  18. July 2, 2012 6:47 pm

    Not sure if you are still reading comments, but I came across your recipe after some internet searching and it by far looks like the best one. We had a very mild, lighlty smoked salmon thru a friend of a friend in Sonoma this year and wanted to recreate it. What temperature do you recommend smoking the salmon at (prob gas grill) and for how long. I look forward to your response. Thanks!

    • ziabaki permalink*
      July 2, 2012 10:54 pm

      Hi Kara. I really don’t recommend a gas grill. Do yourself a favor and invest in a smoker. They don’t have to be expensive. The Little Chief is only about $100 and it will smoke so many great meats. We have used ours for years and it is still smoking! Good luck!

  19. December 19, 2012 6:03 am

    what temp should the smoker be set to?

    • ziabaki permalink*
      December 30, 2012 1:24 am

      We have an old school smoker that has no temperature. We just plug it in and it starts smoking like a chimney. Consequently, I don’t know what temperature to set your smoker at. So sorry! Good luck!

  20. June 30, 2013 9:33 pm

    This web site definitely has all of the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didn�t know who to ask.

  21. November 6, 2013 7:17 pm

    I too have been smoking fish (especially salmon) for years. My recipe also came about slowly, over several years. All by trial and error. Both Paul’s recipe and mine have 2 things in common. The dry brine, prep, and smoke time are All nearly identical, and both are the Very Best there is. After the first smoke cycle, or pan full of alder chips, try doing this: Baste the salmon with Honey, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Repeat this process if a third smoke cycle is necessary (this would depend on the size of each piece, thickness, and amount). Also try a touche of clove and/or cinnamon. This is truly something amazing.

    • ziabaki permalink*
      November 7, 2013 4:31 am

      Great idea! We’ve actually started sprinkling the smoked salmon with brown sugar right before we smoke it and it is awesome! It was an accident as most amazing recipes seem to get born. We’ll try the honey too. Thanks! 😀

  22. Laura permalink
    July 16, 2014 5:53 pm

    Quick question about the salmon! I have a Little Chief Smoker, and smoked the salmon—–some pieces were thicker, perhaps 1 1/2″ – 2″ thick, this means, when smoking was done, those thicker salmon pieces were still a tad “gooey” on the inside, a tad raw. Do you ever worry about this? I wonder if there needs to be some ‘oven time’ to get the center of the salmon cooked up a tad. I’m sure raw salmon has been eaten for hundreds of years, with no problem! Just wondering if you’ve ever had this issue and if you knew the proper temperature for safety—–my friends are lining up for this salmon!!!

    • Dana Zia permalink*
      July 16, 2014 7:52 pm

      I know what you mean. Sometimes we take out the smaller pieces and then put the larger pieces back in for one more smoke. After we smoked the salmon we will put aside what we want to eat in the next week then seal-a-meal and freeze the rest. The texture is a little different but it is still amazing!


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