When it comes to the best brines for smoking salmon or trout, there are lots of favorites that everybody has. However, we are going back to the old original brines that your great grandfather used to use. We're going to give you three simple ways to brine your fish. The first is the old original brine that works great on fresh fish. The second, and our favorite, is the old original brine that works excellent on both fresh and frozen fish. And the third, which is our Smokehouse Trout and Salmon Brine Mix for those of you that may be just getting started and prefer everything to be premixed for you.
The first brine mix is the old original brine that works great with fresh fish. Use a large crock or plastic container. Don't use a metal container. Start with a cup of rock salt. Then add 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar and two quarts of cold water. Stir this up though not all of the rock salt will dissolve as the water can only take on so much salt. Now you can put your fish into the container. Depending on the amount of fish you have, you may need to double, triple or quadruple the recipe so that you have enough brine mix to ensure the fish is covered when placed into the container.
With the container shape, just note that if you use a cylinder shaped container (like a 5-gallon bucket), you'll end up using less brine mix than you would if using a more flat container. Just remember, this brine is great for fresh fish. With frozen fish, once they freeze it'll start tearing down the fibers, and as the fibers break down the fish will take on water. This can lead to mushy fish.
Once you're fish is in the brine, leave it in there for around 24 hours, Then when you take the fish out you'll want to thoroughly rinse the fish with cold water to make sure there are no salty deposits left on the fish.
...One cup rock salt, cup and a half of brown sugar and two quarts cold water... this is a good brine, but now we're going to let you in on our favorite.
The second brine mix is our favorite and works excellent on both fresh and frozen fish. This is a dry brine and, if done right, it will never turn out salty. First, mix 3/4 to 1 cup of plain, non-iodized salt, with 4 heaping cups of brown sugar. Mix this thoroughly. Then in a crock, plastic or glass container (not metal), place one layer of fish on the bottom of the container. Then generously spread the salt and brown sugar mixture on top of the fish. Once thoroughly covered, put another layer of fish on top, then cover that layer with more of the dry brine. Leave enough room to put the lid on the container and to be able to move the pieces around throughout the brine process. With the lid on the container, place it in the refrigerator for a total of 14 hours up to 5 days.
After the first few hours in the refrigerator, the dry brine will pull the liquid out of the fish and the brine will now look like a wet brine. Every so often through the brine process, take the containers out of the refrigerator and move around the pieces of fish. Make sure no pieces are stuck together and that all areas are covered with the brine. At the end of the brine, the fish will be stiff when you hold it up. This means that it is fully cured and ready for the smoker. But before you place the fish in the smoker, be sure to squeegee the brine off each piece of fish using your hand and don't forget to use a fan to dry the fish before finally putting it in your Big Chief or Little Chief smoker.
The third option for a brine for your fish, is the Smokehouse Trout and Salmon Brine Mix. This is as easy as it gets. The ingredients come pre-mixed so all you have to do is mix the package contents with one cup of hot water. Stir it to dissolve, then add enough water to make 2 quarts of brine solution. Place the fish in a crock, plastic or glass container and pour the brine over the fish. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours, stirring the fish occasionally and rotating the strips in the brine. Remove the fish from the brine, pat them dry and then you're ready to fan dry the fish and put it in the smoker.
These are the most basic brines that everyone should master before venturing out and starting to add all sorts of seasonings and teriyaki sauces and soy sauces. Like most everyone that comes back to us after mastering these, usually these simple brines produce the best results.