It’s Time For Some Smoke on that Salmon

We have given you a couple recipes for cooking salmon, and have many more to share, but now it’s time for some smoked salmon brine formulas.  I have a basic brine that is my foundation for every batch of fish that goes on the smoker.

When I was a child I grew up idolizing my Grandpa who grew up dirt poor on a farm in Iowa with 10 brothers. He ate anything he could catch or kill.  Luckily for Gramps, Grandma was a phenomenal cook and could make anything taste good. I learned a lot from both of them. My gramps taught me the fine art of harvesting fish, fowl and game and grandma taught me how to prepare it so it was delectable.

I also had a lot of uncles who would take me fishing on the Cedar and Mississippi Rivers where we would catch carp and catfish and bring them home to Gramps. He would take those huge carp and fillet them with a Sawzawl and then brine them in salt and sugar, occasionally adding a touch of liquid smoke.

The carp were phenomenal smoked.  If you can make Iowa carp taste good with your brine you can make anything taste outstanding. I use his brine recipe with less salt than he liked, and I only occasionally add any liquid smoke.

I will be giving up two recipes to use when smoking fresh-caught Kenai River sockeye or silver salmon.  With king salmon I only smoke the tail and belly, but I don’t fish for Kenai River king salmon or suggest you do. There are many other locations that offer quality king salmon fishing.

The first formula will be what I call my “simple smoke” recipe (grandpa’s modified a touch) and the second is my Lesmeister’s “Bomb Diggidy” recipe, which is legend in the Cooper Landing Alaska region.


Simple Smoke Recipe (Gramps Modified)

1 part salt

3 parts sugar.


I use white or brown sugar, what ever I have on hand.


Lesmeisters “Bomb Diggidy” recipe

1 part salt

3 parts sugar

Yoshidas sauce



I lightly coat both sides of the salmon fillet with my dry rub mixture of salt and sugar.  When I make my Bomb Diggity recipe I add the Yoshidas sauce to the top of the fish in a bowl and mix well. Then add honey. (more is better)

Once my fish is brined with either recipe I then cover with Seran wrap and put in fridge, I like to stir fish every eight hours or so.  I leave fish in the brine for at least 24 hours and sometimes as long as 36 or 48 hours.

With either brine I put the fish on the smoker racks and let the fillets dry to a tacky texture. This is usually over night, or it can be longer, before I fire up the smoker.

Some people like to put the fish fillets in front of fans to dry. I do not like doing this. I let it dry up and get tacky feeling naturally.  When the fish has the right texture, smoke it to your taste.  Some people like it more dry and some more moist.

These are my two go-to formulas when I smoke salmon.  I suggest you start simple and add anything you may want in your brine mixture you think you may like until you create your own masterpiece.


Salmon Piccata Recipe

Last week I shared a world class salmon burger recipe that I know was enjoyed by many of you. This week you are being treated to one of my favorites of all time; a salmon piccata recipe.  I love this one and usually add more capers then the recipe calls for.  My wife added some of her freestyle touches to this recipe when we had guests over who were pescatarians, and we have been eating it ever since.


Ingredients:  For one serving, we usually do this recipe with an entire fresh caught Kenai River sockeye salmon.


6 oz Kenai River sockeye salmon fillet (remove skin and cut or pick pin bones out of fillet)

1/2 cup or so of flour

2 Tbs sea salt

1 Tbs course black pepper

Half a stick of butter

2 Tbs chopped shallots

1 Tbs capers( I like a lot more)

1/4 cup wine (Chardonnay)

1 Lemon

2 Tbs cold butte

Pasta (I prefer Angel Hair)

Mix the flour and salt and pepper on a plate or bowl coat the salmon on both sides and shake off excess flour.  Heat up a good frying pan on med-hi heat and add salmon when pan is hot, cook until; both sides have started to brown.  Add the capers and shallots and cook until shallots are translucent.  Add fresh squeezed lemon juice from half the lemon and the white wine.  Cook for approximately 2-3 minutes.  The sauce will thicken slightly.

Reduce heat, remove salmon and put it on your plate with warm pasta (My wife likes to squeeze more lemon on her pasta). Add your cold butter to pan and let it melt while you stir the sauce until it looks smooth and creamy.  Pour sauce over salmon and pasta and enjoy.





Best Way To Cook Salmon

On one of my initial interviews to get a position as an Alaskan fishing guide, an early question was, “Do you know how to cook?” My answer was, “I can cook”.  Fortunately for me, my mother noticed my interest in cooking at an early age, bought me cook books and encouraged me to try new recipes. My grandma who is a master of cooking wild game and baking incredible bread also inspired me.

There was a reason for the question about my cooking skills. A guide may not need the abilities of a five-star chef, but fishing guides are often asked about how to prepare their catch of the day. As a Kenai River fishing guide, a frequent question I get is; “What is the best way to cook my sockeye (red) or coho (silver) salmon”?  I have a few favorites though sometimes my favorite recipe depends on the time of year and how much salmon I’ve eaten to date. I will painfully admit that my wife Stephanie Lesmeister is a far superior chef than I am when it comes to cooking the fresh caught or frozen salmon from the Kenai River.  I will make my next few blogs about our family’s favorite recipes and our two favorite brines which we use in preparation for smoking the  salmon.

Before I give you a recipe I will say the first couple fish of the year are grilled over charcoal – and occasionally alder – from the yard and cooked medium rare with a light sprinkle of sea salt.  That is it!  After our initial craving for the rich and simple taste of salmon is satisfied and salmon becomes a regular part of our diet, we start piling on the spices and sauces depending on our mood.

Salmon Burgers

2 pounds of Kenai River sockeye

3/4 cup panko crumbs

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

1tsp grated fresh ginger

1 clove of garlic minced

2 egg whites

3 Tbs soy sauce

Juice of half a lime

1/2 tsp salt


Mayo Wasabi

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs wasabi paste

1 tsp soy sauce

Mix all the ingredients for your salmon burgers in a bowl then make round patties to size.  We use Hawaiian rolls for the smaller sized sliders, and brioche buns for magnum burgers. Heat the skillet and add avocado oil to the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes per side.

As a bonus, we  pre-make and freeze burgers for me to cook for lunch.  When I make them for lunch I like to make wraps and add red onions and greens with the wasabi sauce and sometimes unagi sauce.

Stephanie found this recipe in the cookbook, The Alaska From Scratch Cookbook, and we have been eating these delicious burgers ever since.

Bon Apetit!