After searching for various recipes for good LOX, I finally created this one which is a compilation of many I have heard of, tried and modified. Making good smoked salmon isn’t a mystery or a matter of luck; it’s a matter of patience and time. With this recipe I have been consistent with my results.
This process is for cold smoking salmon (LOX) only, preferably with a Bradley smoker.
After speaking to a few people, who do this for a living I got the process they use but they wouldn’t give up the recipe so I created my own. You may add any flavor you want to the wet brine. More garlic, or soy sauce, lemon, coriander seeds; there are no rules for flavor. You may use more or less brown sugar depending on your tastes, but try mine as is and adjust after you try it. For those who try it you won’t be sorry. Please post your results, and feel free to share this with others but please give credit where it is due.
IMPORTANT: Please read these instructions over a few times before you attempt to use this recipe, it will help you understand the process.
I HAVE TRIED TO EMPHASIZE AND DETAIL THE CRITICAL STEPS AND WHERE TEMPERATURE IS IMPORTANT.
If I overdid the details, you’ll get no apology from me. When I did it for my first time, I would have killed for details; details; details.
These instructions are for an average sized fish of 10-12 lbs (before being filleted).
Coho is best but I have used Atlantic with success as well. For smaller fish shorten the time and for bigger fish lengthen time.
If you are filleting whole salmon, leave skin on and remove pin bones (a small pair of clean needle nose pliers works best for removing bones that are still in the flesh). If you are buying filleted salmon, purchase whole fillets with skin on, and remove any remaining bones. Rinse if you want and pat dry (not completely dry). Leave fillets whole at this point with the skin on.
Brining (Two-Step process)
Dry Brine Ingredients
- 5 lbs. Kosher or canning salt
- 6 lbs. Dark brown sugar
- Mix salt and sugar well, using your hands to break up the chunks of brown sugar. This will be used for dry brining the fish. You must use COARSE (non iodized) OR KOSHER SALT. Any left over dry mix can be place in a sealed container or Ziploc bags. It will keep for a long time until you need it again.
- Using a small container that is just wide and long enough to lay your whole fillets flat; spread an even 1/2” layer of the dry brine mix on the bottom (I use a Rubbermaid container just long enough for the fillets and wide enough for two side by side). Lay the first layer of fillets skin side down on the dry mix. Now cover fillets with more dry mix (1/2″). Place next layer of fillets on top with skin side up (meat to meat). Cover with 1/2″ dry mix. Make sure fish is completely covered in the mix (that’s why the size of your container is important so you don’t waste excess mix). Continue to layer the fish. You can place them anyway you like as long as they are relatively straight and flat. This process will remove excess moisture from the fish and really firm it up.
- Place fish in the refrigerator for 7-8 hours.
IMPORTANT: If you forget this part of the process and dry brine for too long, you will ruin your fish. Set a timer or maybe two of them so you don’t forget.
- After the 7-8 hours have passed you will see a considerable amount of syrupy liquid in the bottom of the container (the moisture from the fish) now take it out of the refrigerator, and remove 1 fillet at a time and cut in half (so it fits the Bradley smoker) rinse the mixture off the fish completely. Fish will seem hard, firm and considerably smaller than when you started. Discard the syrupy liquid from the dry brine process (do not reuse).
This next step will change the texture again.
Wet Brine Ingredients
- 3.5 gal. Water
- 6 cups Kosher or Coarse (non-iodine) Salt
- 6 cups Brown Sugar
- 1-2 cups Real Maple syrup
- 1/4 cup Whole black peppercorns
- 2 Cloves garlic
- Chopped fresh dill, to taste
Directions – Prepare Wet Brine Solution
- In a 5 gallon food bucket (or non-metal container large enough to hold your fish and brine), mix all ingredients well, making sure that all the salt and sugar is completely dissolved.
IMPORTANT: check salinity (salt concentration) – a fresh raw egg (in the shell) will float in the mixture. If it doesn’t add another 1/2 cup salt and mix well, then recheck to see if the egg will float. If it still doesn’t float add another 1/2 cup salt repeat as needed until the egg floats. Let the brine set for at least 5 hours before using it.
- Place filets that have been dry brined, rinsed, and halved, into the wet brine. Cover with a plate so all fish are completely submerged. Brine for 7-9 hours.
At this point is optional as the dry brine has pretty much “cooked the fish” already. I do recommend at some point near the middle of the wet process, you move the fillets around in the bucket in case some fillets are a little close. When they are done, they need to be freshened (this removes excess salt).
Freshening Your Fillet
- Remove the fillets from the brine and rinse in fresh water. Discard brine and rinse out your bucket (or container that you wet brined the fish in), making sure all spices, peppercorns etc are removed.
- Now put the fillets back in the bucket and fill with clean water. Let the water run into the bucket (do not use too much pressure or you will damage the fish) for 1/2 hour stirring the fish gently with your hand every 7-10 minutes.
- TASTEa small piece of the fish. If still too salty rinse for another 10 minutes but no more or the fish will begin to waterlog (swell). I do mine for 30 minutes and consistently have excellent results.
Drying Before Smoking
- Remove fish from wet brine. Pat dry with paper towel.
- Using your Bradley racks (Teflon coated ones work best), turn the racks upside down and lay the fish on the racks skin side down.
IT IS IMPORTANT to use the racks upside down, this way the fish will be suspended and be able to air dry top and bottom.
- Allow fish to dry for approx 1 hour.
WENT THE FISH BECOMES A LITTLE STICKY on the meat side they are done and ready for smoke.
- COLD SMOKE ONLY! You may smoke from 1-3 hours depending on your preferences and tastes with alder smoke.
MAKE SURE THE HEATING ELEMENT (auxiliary burner) IS OFF in the Bradley Unit, or better yet unplugged it from the smoke generator. I use a Polder barbeque thermometer with the remote pager and have the probe hanging through the top vent and the pager to notify me if the temp gets to 75.
- WATCH THE TEMPERATURE CAREFULLY IF IT GOES ABOVE 80 DEGREE F YOUR FISH IS RUINED.
- Fill the drip bowl with ice and add a good block of ice between the bottom shelf and the lower plate; (even if you cover 2/3 of the holes in the plate, it has no effect on the smoke reaching the fish). As the ice melts it drips into the bowl (not on the smoke burner) good design by Bradley. Place a large aluminum pan under the drip bowl to catch any water will overflow from the water bowl. Doing it this way maintains 60-75 degrees when it’s -10 outside. When my pager goes off telling me it’s too warm, I know the ice has melted and I need to add more. You could use the bottom shelf and place an ice filled aluminum pan on the rack, but that way you lose the ability to use the bottom shelf. That’s up to you. Just watch the temperature (do I need to say it again)
With this recipe you can make the highest quality LOX you will ever eat. The finished color in almost RED (with COHO) due to the carmel in the brown sugar coloring the fish during the dry brine process. The final texture is like velvet and slices really well. I slice mine at approx 1/8″ thick or a little more. Incidentally I recommend the SALMON and HAM knife available at IKEA for $25.00 but keep it sharp and clean.
I promise you won’t be disappointed. However labor intensive it is you will thank me. This is a 2 step brining process before cold smoking. I just smoked 60 lbs of fresh Alaska COHO fillet On Valentines day. This is my method. If you have any questions let me know.
For smaller batches Mary Veithurst provided this useful recipe for the wet brine.
Makes enough for at least two small fillets.
Wet Brine Ingredients
- 9-1/3 cup Water
- 1 cup Kosher or Coarse (non-iodine) Salt
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/3 cup Real Maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp. Whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 Clove garlic
- Chopped fresh dill, to taste (substitute dry dill weed, if fresh dill is not available)
Mary Veithurst comments
I followed spyguy’s instructions. When freshening your filets, because only 2 small fillets were used only freshened them for 15 – 20 minutes. You can do this in a big pot in the kitchen sink without running water. Just let them soak. If you have a lot more fish then use the running water method. After freshening, the filets will looked a lot lighter in color, but this will change as they dried. Air dry for 6-12 hours, during this time you can sprinkle on some dill if you like.
“The final result was beautiful to look at with a deep red color. The texture was firm (not mushy) and sliced well with a sharp knife. The flavor was wonderful and tasted great with cream cheese, a few capers and some thin slices of red onion. Next time I’m going to increase the garlic, pepper and dill in the wet brine to see what kind of affect it has on the finished product. I also froze one of these fillets to see how it affects the texture/flavor. I’ve been told that lox freezes well. Thank you, Mitch, for your detailed directions and delicious recipe.”
mutts: “Today, I tried the lox recipe from spyguy. Lots of prep time, lots of “fiddly work” to get the salmon ready for its short cold smoke time. It was however, worth every minute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The end result was beyond belief!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You gotta try this… MAGNIFICENT!!! Thx for a great recipe”
buck5611:“I tried the recipe posted by spyguy. One time with Keta salmon and one time with Atlantic salmon. I’m very satisfied with the taste of both these salmon but however I would like it to be firmer. In my opinion, it is too soft. A friend who uses another recipe let dry the fillet for about six hours before smoking and his fillets are firmer than mine. Do you think that the drying time can make the difference?”
bsolomon:“I have made this recipe twice and it is fabulous. It is complex only because of the timing for the two curing steps. It is also designed for the Bradley, so you get all of the particular tips and tricks without having to experiment yourself.”
“I did another batch of lox using spyguy’s recipe, and again it was outstanding. This time I did 1 hour 20 minutes of alder and 40 minutes of cherry, and I liked the results even better than before. By the way, the lox also freeze and defrost quite well for those who want to make a bigger batch next time.”
tsquared: I loved Spyguy’s recipe in terms of the texture as it was so silky and melt in your mouth. The salt level seemed just right too. The only thing I missed from my old recipe was the tang of the rum that I rubbed on the surface of the fillets. Somehow I’ll have to work that in. Any way, I took some of the end product into work for my staff and they went nuts over it.