I purchased a used smoker Brinkmann "Smoke 'N Grill" from Craigslist and have been learning how to smoke fish. The actual smoker is available at many Outdoor/BBQ/Home Improvement centers, or directly from Brinkmann for about $60.
I've come up with a simple recipe for smoked salmon that all my friends love.
- I start with fresh salmon from our local Costco ($5.99/lb) -- I usually get a large package weighing about 3lbs. While you're at Costo, get a gallon of soy sauce, if you don't already have enough...
- In a large bowl I mix about 2 cups soy sauce, two table spoons of sugar and about 1/2 cup grapefruit juice. Stir it up a bit. That's the marinade.
- Rinse the fish and using a very, very sharp knife cut it into strips 1" wide. Cut across the fish, so your strips are about 7" long and an inch wide (for the most part).
Place the pieces into the bowl of marinade as you cut them.
- When all the fish is cut into pieces, you need to find a plastic or glass container with a lid you can store in your refrigerator. Put the fish into the container and pour in the marinade. Ideally the marinade covers the fish. If not, add a bit more soy sauce or a bit of water so that all the fish is submerged. Cover and let it the stand in the fridge for two days.
- After two days pick a time when you have a few hours when you will be around. Prepare the smoker:
- Take a large bowl and fill it half-way with water. Put in a couple handfulls of wood chips. Alder chips are traditional, but there are others too. I got mine at Pastime Hardware in El Cerrito, CA. You might find wood chips at any store that sells charcoal, and certainly at a place that sells smokers.
- While the wood chips are soaking, clean the grills and dripping tray from the last time.
- Line the dripping tray with aluminum foil (mine takes two sheets of foil).
- Put in a small pile of shredded or lightly crushed paper (e.g. a handfull.) Place lots of little sticks or other small kindling up against the small pile, to make a cone pointing up. Then place larger kindling up against that, to make a bigger cone, perhaps 8 inches high. Now place hardwood charcoal all around the outside and pile it up against the cone most or all the way. You need enough charcoal to burn for about 2 hours. For me, this is about a volume equivalent to a 4" cube of charcoal.
- Take an aluminum pie tin (a thicker pie tin, like you get when you buy a pie at a good pie shop) and place the soaked wood chips into it. Drain the pan if necessary -- you don't want lots of water in it, just wet wood chips.
- Light the paper. You may find one of those lighters with the long tip to be quite useful. Alternatively, you can light a long stick and use that to light the pile.
- Let the fire develop -- it should light the charcoal. You may find that when the paper is burned you can blow into the fire gently to add more oxygen and help the coals light, if needed. Don't get so close or blow so hard that you get sparks blown back into your face!
- When the coals are going, put the pan of wood chips directly onto the coals. Use the pan to spread the coals out until the pan is stable.
- Now put the dripping pan into the smoker (it goes onto the lower grill supports in my smoker).
- Now put in the lower grill and lay strips of fish onto it with about 1/2" between them. They may not be straight anymore -- you can straighten them somewhat, but try not to break them. Fill the lower tray.
- Put the upper tray in place and put on the rest of the fish. The top tray may be only 50%-75% full with 3lbs of fish.
- Pour the marinade over the fish so that it gets caught in the dripping tray.
- Put the lid on and note that smoke will be billowing out of the smoker.
- Check it in about 20 minutes and the smoker's temperature indicator should show that the temperature is in the "Ideal" range.
- Check it periodically to make sure the temperature is "Ideal" and that smoke is billowing.
- After 2 hours or so the charcoal will have burned out, the wet wood chips will have burned up and the smoke will stop billowing. It's done. Carefully separate the smoked salmon from the grill with a fork and place it in a large container. It is ready to eat right away, but it will store up to a week in the fridge.