Smoked Salmon Brine

4.82 from 54 votes

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Smoked salmon brine is the key to perfectly moist, tender smoked fish. This recipe and video explain how to make and use salmon brine!

Looking for instructions on how to smoke salmon? You’ll find them in my post on how to smoke salmon. This post explains how to make the brine for smoked salmon.

fish in brine for smoked salmon


On occasions like Christmas brunch or a New Year’s Eve party, nothing is quite as delicious as smoked salmon. The fish is fantastic with bagels and cream cheese, on a salad, or served as an appetizer with pumpernickel bread, quick pickled red onions, and crackers.

The problem is, smoked salmon is expensive to buy. The solution is to make it yourself and it isn’t difficult at all. It’s a mystery to me why there are so many people smoking without brining salmon first.

Sure, the brining process takes several hours, but skipping this step leads to the fish being dry and lacking flavor. Nobody enjoys that, so let me show you how simple it is to make and use a brine for smoking fish.

Some people refer to the process as curing, and the solution as a cure. Whatever you call it, this one imparts a lot of good flavor and helps in the preserving process.

Smoked salmon brine FAQ

Do I need to brine salmon before smoking?


If you want flavorful and moist smoked salmon, then brining is a necessity. Without it, the fish will be dry and lack flavor.

How long should I brine my salmon before smoking?


Allow at least 3 hours and up to 8 hours for the brining solution to soak into the fish. Keep in mind that whole salmon filets can be very thick, and you want the brine to work all the way through the flesh.

Can you brine salmon too long?


Unfortunately, yes. Smoked salmon brine has a hefty amount of salt in it; leaving the fish in the solution for longer than 8 hours will lead to an unbearably salty flavor. Also, the firm salmon flesh will begin to break down, which can lead to a mushy texture and mouthfeel.

curing salmon in brine

Ingredient notes and substitutions

The typical fish brine has three elements – sugar, salt and water, and most recipes call for equal parts of sugar and salt.

I use a slightly different ratio; a quarter cup salt to one third cup sugar and four cups of liquid. The liquid can be just water, but for flavor, I include some soy sauce and dry white wine. Feel free to use low sodium soy sauce or adjust to less per your taste.

Video: making and using salmon brine

The brine is simple to make, and the actual process of brining the fish is really more about hands-off time than anything else.

To see the process from start to finish, watch the video in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

Instructions

For this recipe, mix together the sugar, salt, soy sauce, water, wine, onion and garlic powders, pepper and Tabasco sauce in a bowl with a whisk to incorporate and thoroughly dissolve the sugar and salt.

After making the brine, it will be ready to use immediately. Otherwise, transfer it to a covered container and store it in a refrigerator for up to 5 days.

How to use smoked salmon brine

  1. Pour some of the brine in the bottom of 13×9-inch pan.
  1. Place the salmon filets in the pan and pour the remaining brine over the salmon to cover. Ensure that the fish is fully submerged in the brine.
  1. All that’s left at that point is to brine the fish for 8 hours and it will be ready to put on the smoker. After brining, you may refrigerate the brined salmon for up to two days before smoking, or you can immediately begin the process of making smoked salmon. The first step is drying it to create a pellicle.

What is a pellicle?

A pellicle seals moisture inside of the fish and creates a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to.

To create a pellicle, place the brined salmon in front of a fan to dry and develop a shiny skin. This process takes about 4 hours, and it is vital to do so. Another option is to leave the fish uncovered on a baking sheet in the refrigerator. The cold, circulating air works great.

pellicle on salmon

For instructions on smoking the fish, click here to see my recipe for smoked salmon.

slices of smoked salmon next to whole smoked salmon

This post, first published on Kevin Is Cooking Jan 5, 2014, was last updated with new content on Oct. 12, 2021.

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fish in brine for smoked salmon

Smoked Salmon Brine + How-To Video

4.82 from 54 votes
Smoked salmon brine is the key to perfectly moist, tender smoked fish. This recipe and video explain how to make and use salmon brine!
Servings: 1
Prep: 10 minutes
Total: 10 minutes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • To a large bowl, add sugar, kosher salt, soy sauce, water, wine, onion and garlic powders, pepper and tabasco sauce. Use a whisk to incorporate and thoroughly dissolve the sugar and salt.
  • Pour a little of the brine in the bottom of a 13×9-inch pan. Transfer salmon to the pan and pour remaining brine over the salmon to cover. Refrigerate for 8 hours.
  • This brine is for 3 pounds of salmon as in my Smoked Salmon recipe.

Video

Notes

  • Nutritional information shown is for a full batch of salmon brine. Only a small portion of the brine is actually absorbed into the fish and consumed. To see nutritional information for smoked salmon including the brine, see my post, how to smoke salmon.

Nutrition

Serving: 1oz | Calories: 737kcal | Carbohydrates: 119g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 45446mg | Potassium: 1149mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 78g | Vitamin A: 303IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 146mg | Iron: 12mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Marinades
Cuisine: American
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
hand pulling salmon from brine

Kevin

Whether in the kitchen or on the grill, you’ll find me cooking American favorites with a love for BBQ, Mexican and Tex Mex. I’m passionate about making tasty food because life’s too short to be bland!

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234 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I’ve always had a very simple recipe for smoking salmon, but thought I’d give this a try. Best decision ever. Not only did I learn about different ingredients, different Brining techniques, but also the importance of creating Pelicle and how important to the overall flavor this technique was. I’m sold. If you’re going to invest the cost, time, and patience required for a great product, use this recipe. Well, what are you waiting for?

  2. I’ve found that adding some wasabi to the mix kicks it up a bit. How much to add is up to your taste, I add usually about a teaspoon, measured, of course….LOL…also a bit of molasses.

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve used this recipe with a few minor changes and almost everyone who tries it goes crazy for it. I’ve substituted the white wine for Pompeii Red wine vinegar and used 1/2 c brown sugar instead of 1/3. It’s amazing!

  4. 5 stars
    Great brine recipe Kevin! I subbed 1 cup of water with a cup of teriyaki marinate and it was so good I wanted to do a back flip, but I’m to old. I think the pellicle is key as well. I also used Himalayan salt.

  5. 5 stars
    my go to recipe for years now. Taste and texture is just like the smoked salmon my Dad used to buy around the holidays.

    1. 5 stars
      Best smoked fish I’ve ever made! I was skeptical because of the soy sauce, but my coworkers and I couldn’t get enough of the fish after smoking it with Alder pellets.

  6. I’m wondering if I should rinse the salmon after it’s finished brining and add more seasoning or put it right in the smoker? Looking forward to trying it!

      1. I prefer to smoke as written, but cold-smoked salmon has a fresher and less smoky flavor. The hot-smoked version is much smokier. In terms of texture, cold-smoked is more smooth and silky, while hot-smoked salmon is flaky, as if it had been baked. It’ sup to you Jon. Cold-smoking is done at temperatures no higher than 100°F, and more often between 65-85°F.

    1. Not too sure, but I am thinking you might have wanted to email this one to yourself? I will send it for you. 🙂

  7. 5 stars
    Great recipe. The flavor is fantastic. I omit the wine and half the soy because my favorite soy (Kikkoman) is a bit strong.

    Friends will buy the salmon if I will smoke it for them. They offer me half the finished product for my efforts. I usually return all of it except enough to QC.

    I use the low temp method 120-140 deg. The oil in the salmon keeps it from being too dry and has a more consistent flavor if the skin off.

    I vacuum seal it and have found that it will hold up without any noticeable decline in quality for 6 months in the refrigerator. This salmon is the world’s best snack or appetizer.

    1. Completely agree Jerry. This recipe consistently delivers the best smoked salmon. Thanks for taking the time to come back and let me know.

  8. Hey Kevin My Has been in I used to fish for salmon and we would have smoked salmon I can’t remember do we leave the skin on I was thinking we left the skin on when we did it my son wants the recipe so I’m sending you a recipe but no where do you say whether or not the