Smoking Salmon, Steelhead & Trout

For over 20 years, I spent a month or more at a time chasing winter steelhead on the Oregon Coast, taking outdoor writers, fishing tackle buyers and industry VIP’s fishing. Since I worked for a fishing tackle company that made smokers designed for fish and game, I went out of my way to have fresh smoked fish available during our fishing adventures. The method that enabled me to fish friends and business associates each and every day and share fresh smoked fish too was the following:

I’d fillet my catch at the end of the day and place the best cuts for smoking (the bellies and collars) in my favorite liquid brine and refrigerate until the end of the next fishing day.

It’s then that I would remove the fillets from the brine, rinse well, let them air dry for an hour or two before sprinkling them with spices and placing in my smoker and letting the heating element burn two pans full of wood smoke during the evening hours (before bed).

Given that most of the smoking process, after the smoke from a couple pans of wood is applied, is just drying the fish to the right consistency, I’d just let the smoker run all night, while I slept, and unplug it shortly after the alarm rang the next early AM. It was then that I’d let the fillets cool before placing them in a paper bag with several layers of paper towels in the bottom.

Having fresh smoked fish in the drift boat while chasing fish each day was a big hit with everyone and especially those whose job it was to keep retail stores supplied with smokehouse products.

The home made brine that I mixed then and continue to use includes (remember to stir well):

1/4 cup non-iodized salt (iodized salt is bitter)

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 cup apple juice

1 cup sugar (brown sugar works too)

1 to 1-1/2 quart water (depending on amount of fish)

Immerse fish fillets in the above solution, refrigerate overnight (longer is OK), rinse thoroughly in fresh water, pat dry with paper towels, place on smokehouse racks (skin side down helps prevents sticking), sprinkle with ground garlic, onion and black pepper (or other favorite spices), and add a final sprinkling of sugar and let air dry of an hour or more before placing in you smokehouse.

Smoke until done, depending on quantity and desired texture– 6 to 12 hours usually works depending on outside temperature and the heat generated by your smoker.