Smoked Fish

It’s been a beautiful week on Moosehead Lake. It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. There is a feeling of change in the air, of seasons shifting and changing weather. It is about this time every year that I smoke the salmon and trout that has not found another purpose in our summer menu.

Every year I have been here, I have learned a little more about this process. Every year I have made minor adjustments to my technique that improved the final product. This is my fifth year cleaning, brining and smoking fish from Moosehead Lake and I am thrilled to report that it is the best ever. I am excited to share my technique with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Smoked Fish

Total time: 5 hours

Step 1: Make the brine


8 Cups Water

1 Cup Kosher Salt

2 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 Bay Leaf


Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature or colder.

The quickest method I have found for cooling the brine is in an ice bath. Fill a large bowl or other container  halfway with ice and place a slightly smaller bowl or container on the ice, pushing it down so the ice comes up around the sides. Pour hot brine into the smaller bowl and leave to cool. The brine should be chilled in about 30 minutes.

Step 2: Clean the fish

It is important when smoking small to medium fish that the skin be kept on. This will help the fillets keep their shape and insulate them so they do not dry out.

If you are working with fish that still have the head attached, position your fillet knife just behind the gills and the front fin. Cut through the skin and follow the bones to remove the fillet.

If your fish already have the head removed, I find it is easier to remove the fillet from the tail end.

Simply start at the tail and follow the bones to remove the fillet.

Repeat this process on the opposite side to remove both fillets.

Finally, remove any bones along the belly you may have missed while filleting the fish as well as anything else that looks like it should be removed.

Step 3: Brine the fish

Lay out your fillets side by side in a roasting pan or other shallow container. Completely submerse them in brine and allow to sit for one hour at room temperature, or longer if your fillets are particularly thick.

After one hour in the brine, remove the fillets and place them on a rack for another hour. Do not rinse them .

After an hour drying on the rack, the fillets should have a shiny appearance and feel tacky. They are now ready for the smoker.

Step 4: Smoke the fish

I like to use an electric smoker because A: I have one and B: It maintains a constant temperature with minimal effort on my part. If you do not have an electric smoker, there are many alternatives available that are just as good or even better. Feel free to use the resources that are available to you.

I use alder wood because it is a traditional choice for smoking fish. It has a sweet, mellow flavor that does not overpower the fish. Feel free to experiment with whatever hardwood is available to you and decide which one you like best.

I like to fill my chip pan all the way and get it smoking before I put the fish in. That way I can be confident that the smoker is doing its job.

When the chips are smoking, I open the door and place the racks with the fish already on them in the slots nearest the center of the smoker. I like to keep them away from the relatively higher heat of the top and bottom of the smoker.

After closing the door, I smoke the fish for 3 hours. During this time, I change the chips in the smoker twice, about once per hour. This relatively short smoking time creates a product that is tender and moist but still has great smoke and fish flavor. If your fillets are very thick or you prefer a drier, smokier product, increase the smoking time accordingly.

After two hours, the fish are ready. Remove them from the smoker and cool on the racks. I find it difficult to keep myself from enjoying them right away but they will keep in the refrigerator at least a week and up to a year in the freezer.


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