Smoked Fish Brine

Smoked Fish Brine

Here’s a Smoked Fish Brine Recipe that I have used for 15+ years. It is fabulous for salmon, steelhead trout, and bluefish, but I think it should work on other fish as well. It’s an odd collection of ingredients, but it really works. It’s also incredibly forgiving in many ways. Some of the forgiveness is mentioned in the directions, but I’ve occasionally left out the lemon pepper or bay leaves and it’s still terrific. I’ve also varied the salt/sugar ratio for friends who liked a sweeter smoke (a bit less salt and a bit more sugar).


1 quart water

1/2 cup non-iodized salt (scant for table salt, rounded for Kosher)

1/2 cup white sugar

4 ounces cheap Scotch (rum or bourbon can be readily substituted)

3 ounces lemon juice

5 sections minced garlic (about 1/8 cup of minced garlic from a jar)

1/4 cup pickling spice

1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper

5 bay leaves


Rinse fillets lightly in cool water; remove excess water with newspaper or in a glass or plastic (NOT metal) container. Mix ingredients together in a large bowl until sugar and salt are dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Pour the brine over fillets, making sure they are covered.

Refrigerate for 4-24 hours, depending on the thickness of fillets and personal taste

Remove fillets from brine, pat dry with paper towels. Air dry for 3 hours +/- to allow a pellicle to form; at this point, the fish can be stored in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks before smoking.

When you do decide to smoke the fish, smoke using apple, alder, oak, or cherry (my favorites are oak or a combo of apple and cherry) bisquettes. Remember that while your smoker heats, arrange the fish on racks and let dry for about an hour or until a glaze forms on the surface of the fish.