Smoked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Brine

Smoked salmon is a highly anticipated delicacy. With another successful fishing season behind us, I used a tried and true recipe to turn out several pounds worth.

Smoked salmon mousse, smoked salmon omeletes, smoked salmon on pasta, and smoked salmon on crackers are among the many great reasons to set aside a couple of days and smoke part of your catch. Once you’ve done a batch of smoked fish, it’s easy to appreciate why it’s expensive. Smoking takes time. But the results are very much worth it. There’s really not much to our favorite recipe. From year to year and batch to batch, I might vary the amount of garlic or ginger or try a new spice or seasoning. But other than that… well, here it is.

Smoked salmon pizza always draws rave reviews. 

Smoked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Brine

The basic recipe is 4 parts water to 1 part soy sauce with 1/4 cup sea salt for every cup of soy sauce. Figure about 1 cup brine per pound of fish. Add brown sugar, garlic and ginger to taste. White pepper, cayenne pepper, and other seasonings and spices can be added to create unique brines.

Pyrex clear glass bakeware with their plastic lids is perfect for marinating the fillets. If you’re using a Big Chief or Little Chief smoker, the metal racks fit atop the empty Pyrex containers – and with the fillets atop the racks this setup works well for drying the fillets in the refrigerator prior to smoking.

Ingredients: For eight pounds of salmon, trout, sturgeon or other fish

  • 8 pounds fillets, skin on, rinsed, patted dry, cut into small pieces (a good size is about 3″ x 6″, but smaller or slightly larger is fine)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups soy sauce (Kikkoman is our favorite)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tbsp ginger


  1. Arrange salmon fillets in glass baking dishes or similar non-reactive containers.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Pour mixture over fillets, making sure they are covered, or until they float.
  4. Cover containers and marinate for about 8 hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.
  5. Remove fillets from brine, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange on racks to dry in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours (or overnight)
  6. Smoke fish according to your smoker’s directions with alder wood, mesquite, fruit tree or hickory chips. Check frequently, keeping in mind that air temperature will influence smoking time. Typical smoking times range from 6 to 8 hours. A slightly wet product is best suited for many of the recipes we enjoy. For straight snacking, a drier product may be preferred.

Don’t have a smoker? Excellent smoked fish can be made on a charcoal grill. I’ve done small batches on my little Weber Smokey Joe and larger batches on Weber’s larger models.

Looking for a recipe to use your smoked salmon in? Type “smoked salmon” into the search tool on this page for some great ideas.

62 thoughts on “Smoked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Brine

  1. Barbara, I just checked out your site! I absolutely love your recipe. I just learned how to smoke salmon this Summer while in Naknek. I’m addicted and can’t wait to do it again! Thanks for posting this 🙂

  2. Thank you. I tried the recipe out with a few minor adjustments to what I had on hand. I was low on soy sauce so upped my salt and I used a garlic/ginger stir-fry paste. I did sneak a little molasses in there too. I used alder chips for my wood. The fish turned out awesome! Thank you for sharing! This was my first time trying to brine and smoke it myself. Usually the husband does it.

  3. Pingback: Smoked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Brown Sugar Brine | Dances with Redshoes

    • No, there is no specific temperature setting or adjustment for the Big Chief Front Loading Electric Smoker, which is the model I use. When the weather dips below 50 degrees F, wrap it in insulation, which you can buy already fitted to the Big Chief smoker.

  4. I followed your recipe using the stated amount of kosher salt and followed all the brine suggestions. I used a gas grill and use the hot side without grate to place applewood wrapped in foil atop screens over the flames set at lowest temp. Fish fillets on the cold side. My smoking time was around 2 hours with temps between 160 and 200 degrees towards the end. This was the best salmon I smoked in years without an actual smoker. Not too dry or to moist. I’ll try it with trout next. Thanks for sharing.

    • The smoked fish will keep in the fridge for at least one week. If you vacuum pack it and store it in a manual defrost freezer, it will be good at least a year later. In an automatic defrost freezer, I’m guessing about three months.

  5. I am leaving in 2 weeks to take our annual trip to New York salmon fishing and we usually bring back 800 to 1000lbs of fillets and I am going to try your recipe.
    Sound good.

  6. looks like a go ! I’ve got 20 lbs of salmon to smoke and tonight is the night . I look forward to trying your reciepe , there will be one change though . when it comes to 8 cupes of water I will replace 4 of those cupes with dry white wine . Thanks for putting out your reciepe

  7. Tried your receipt today and must say it produce some of the best smoked salmon we’ve had in a long time. And over the years we’ve had a good amount. Thanks!!

      • Got my hands on some Sable Fish (Black Cod) recently and you don’t need to smoke it nearly as long as salmon or trout. Might just be my favorite smoked fish ever. Soon as the meat begins to separate, remove it from the heat and let it cool. It should melt in your mouth with smoky goodness…. Hank

        • For the Black Cod, I coat with paprika just before smoking.
          For the Pacific Cod, after smoking, I like to poach it in whole milk and eat warm, cold or use it as a base for a smokey chowder.

    • Thanks for reading, Marcia. A good combination for smoked salmon starts with your favorite tomato based sauce topped with a blend of mozzerella cheese and mild cheddar cheese. In olive oil, sauté some sliced shitake mushrooms and thinly sliced garlic – tossing in a fistful of pine nuts toward the end if you have them on hand. Arrange the sautéed mushrooms and garlic onto of the cheese, then add the chunks of smoked salmon. We bake our pizzas on a pizza stone at 400 degrees F. for about 10 minutes. We often garnish our smoked salmon pizzas with strips of nori – dried seaweed. For a specific recipe for salmon pizza, see our post or just type the word “pizza” in the search bar on any CutterLight article. Happy dining!

  8. Thanks for the recipe!! I made this in the spring and as others have stated – it’s the best I’ve eaten. And as I type, I have two more salmon in the brine waiting to go on my pellet smoker tomorrow. I used pecan pellets earlier and I’ll use the same this time. Only addition I did was a little black pepper and some cayenne pepper as well as I like a bit of a kick to it. This is a keeper for sure.

  9. I’ve made smoked salmon many times using different brines and yours is hands down the best ever. Thank you very much for sharing!

  10. Excited to try this recipe. Wondering about the last comment about salt. Any reason why I couldn’t cut salt out all together and really on soy sauce for sodium, or would it not be enough? Thanks!

    • Thanks for the question, Matt.
      Beaverton Oregon? I lived there for a short while before moving to Astoria – where I stayed for seven years. Are you smoking salmon, sturgeon or trout?
      Salt. Individual tastes vary. This recipe flies off the plate at parties. We’ve posted this recipe twice, and in the 30 or so comments from readers this was the first time we’d received feedback about the amount of salt. But we value input from everyone.
      I used to make this recipe with just soy sauce. So yes, you can cut the salt you use. You can do this a couple of ways:
      1) Simply cut the salt and follow the rest of the recipe the way it’s written. You may lose a couple of days off the shelf life of the smoked fish in the refrigerator, as part of the purpose of the salt is to preserve the fish. (By the way, you can freeze your smoked fish.)
      2) Use a little more soy sauce and a little less water. This results in a richer soy sauce flavor.
      We frequently experiment with this recipe. Chipotle or ancho peppers are a nice addition. So is a little Cholula sauce. Cutting the brown sugar in half and making up the difference with maple syrup is another tasty option. If you’ve got a fair amount of fish, you could do one batch one way and another batch another way and see what you and the people you serve it to think. Whatever you go with, we’d appreciate hearing how it worked. Happy fishing and smoking, Matt. Jack Donachy

  11. I have smoked salmon many times and this is the best recipe I have used. Very similar to my families but I think the Ginger makes the difference. Very yummy! I use this on Salmon and Trout both but the salmon tastes so much better just due to the type of fish. Thanks again! Supper good!

  12. Whenever I brine, I wash off the brine before letting the pellicle form. I did not see that step in your recipe. Do you rinse off the fish after brining? Also, is the 8 hours-overnight in the fridge meant to allow the pellicle to form? Thanks! Im going to try this next weekend!

    • Thanks for the question, Todd. Although virtually all recipes call for rinsing, I’ve done it both ways and not noticed any difference. I do pat the fish dry. A pellicle will form in less time than 8 hours. With large pieces of salmon, at the ratio of salt in this brining recipe, eight hours in the fridge has proved to be a good amount of time to ensure the fish is thoroughly brined. If you’re doing small fish such as stocker-size trout, you can cut the time in half. Happy smoking! Jack

  13. I have tried your recipe 3 different times, everyone loves the way the salmon tastes. I am hooked. I did add a little extra brown sugar and used half Yoshida and half Kikomen soy sauce and it’s great. Only takes about two hours to smoke at about 200. Thanks again, much appreciated

  14. In the past, I have used 1 gal. water to 1 1/2 cups salt and about 1 cup brown sugar. Just brining for 2 hours, the salmon always comes out too salty. I’ve been told to soak it for less time. Is the above recipe very salty? I see here you advise smoking it for 6 to 8 hours.

    • Saltiness is such an individual judgement, William. Here’s what I recommend: Try the above recipe (it’s been one of the most popular on the Web for the past several years), but if saltiness is a concern, substitute low sodium soy sauce for regular Soy Sauce. Kikkoman low sodium has 40% of the salt removed. That way, you’ll keep the flavor of the soy sauce but with significantly less salt. You could also reduce the soaking time to four hours, no problem. Make sure you add enough of something sweet as that balances the salt taste. And then, be sure to taste your brine. It should taste good to you! In your recipe above, you’re using about the same amount of total salt I use, but less than half the sugar. That would be too salty-tasting for me. Let me know how it goes! Happy Smoking, Jack

  15. Hi did marinade as listed however added a little Sherry. I was afraid it would over tenderize, no problem. The taste was very good
    Only did one filet of fresh sockeye salmon so I downsized the marinade but added a cup of Sherry. Also added chicken legs using same marinade. A huge success for adults and kids.
    We smoked it an electric smoker. Thanks for guiding us to a wonderful meal.

  16. We have used this recipe many times and hands down its the best! In fact we have some copper river salmon marinading right now in this brine…Big block party tomorrow. Cannot wait to taste how good it will be!!! Thanks so much for the recipe!

  17. I followed the recipe using just slightly less than 1/2 cup of Kosher Salt and low sodium Kikoman soy sauce. This was way too salty for us and I unfortunately ended up tossing out the Salmon. I only had about 2 pounds of salmon to smoke. Not sure if this made a difference. I also overcooked the fish using a Masterbuilt Sportsman Elite electric smoker on a medium setting for 60 minutes. Next time I think I’ll use about 1/3 as much salt and substitute Sea Salt for Kosher. I’ll try my smoker on the lowest setting and start checking in 30 minutes. The Masterbuilt smoker is much hotter than my old Big Chief smoker. Thanks for posting your brine recipe. Carl

    • Thanks for the feedback, Carl. Salts very in entensity, so as you continue to smoke you’ll want to pick one you like and stick with it so you become familiar with how much of it to use. The less fish you use – and the thinner the fillets – the less time they should spend in the brine. It’s important to add enough water to the soy sauce, salt and other seasonings you might use, and to mellow it with sugar or maple syrup… and with any recipe, taste the mixture you come up with before using it to make sure it’s to your liking.

    • Hi James. The size is a matter of portioning. For the two of us, the smaller portions are about the right amount to go through at any one time. Although we sometimes can our smoked product, more often we vacuum pack and freeze it. Happy smoking! JD

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