There’s lots of ways to smoke salmon and even more opinions on the brines that impart the best flavor. I was one of the judges at our 2011 recipe contest and tasted just about all 32 contestant’s smoked salmon. It’s obvious that Alaskans know how to make delicious smoked fish. Here are some smoked salmon basics that requires a minimal investment and can turn last year’s catch into sweet and spicy scrumptious salmon morsels.

Step 1: Cut salmon fillets into roughly 1-inch by 2-inch chunks leaving skin on. Build a brine to marinade your salmon. I like the one that Wes Canfield used to win our Smoked Salmon contest in 2011 and that is 2 cups brown sugar, 1/16 cup of red pepper flakes, 1/16 cup black pepper, 1/16 cup garlic salt, and 1/2 cup salt per average red or coho salmon. Alternate layers of salmon and dry rub and pour 1/2 cup (per salmon) Yoshida sauce over the top. Marinade about 18 hours in the refrigerator; mixing all ingredients about halfway through the ensure consistent coverage and flavor.

Step 2: Remove salmon chunks from the brine and place them on your racks. I place either paper towels or newspaper under the racks to soak up the excess brine. Pat off excess brine with a paper towel and let air dry for about an hour.

Step 3: Plug in your Big Chief Smoker about an hour before placing salmon inside. Load racks inside smoker and fill pan with chips. Smoking time will vary on external temperature, ranging from 4 to 8 hours. A tip I learned from George Krumm is to place the box that the Big Chief came in over the smoker and it will act as an insulator and will help cut down on cooking time, especially on colder days. Use 2 pans of chips over the first 4 hours, and a third if that’s your preference. Rotate racks every 2 hours. The smoker does not need chips to cook the fish, so after an adequate amount of smoke – 2 pans – I finish cooking the fish with just the heat of the element. Salmon will be firm when done; start checking for doneness after 4 hours.

Follow these smoked salmon basics for a consistently delicious smoked salmon.