Salt Brine

Started by murrhunts, September 10, 2013, 06:06:33 PM

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How long is too long in salt brine for fish?   I think I left mine in too long because it got real salty


I always go about 12 hours, mostly leave over night. Its never come out to salty.

Habanero Smoker

Brining times also depend on how thick the fish are. For example, I would not salt brine thinner lake trout fillets as long as I would a King salmon fillet.

If your test piece is too salty, you can try soaking in cold water for 30 - 60 minutes, and test it again. Use a large amount of water, and stir the fish every 10 minutes or so. This often helps.



I left it in way too long, it is salty but not horrible.  I left it in for 3 days, I planned on doing it and stuff came up and couldn't get to it.


And of course I forgot to take pictures, I some salmon thawing out to do on Saturday.

Habanero Smoker

Are you going to soak it? You may have to soak a few times, changing the water each time you soak.



Learning how long to soak fish in the brine produced by any particular brine recipe is a trial and error process, which will be affected by the salt concentration in the brine and the nature of the fish which you are preparing to smoke.  You can simplify this trial and error process by standardizing the salt concentration in the brine recipes which you use.

Recipes for fish smoking brines vary greatly in the salt concentration (degrees salometer) of the brine.  Brines with a low concentration of salt may require you to soak a particular kind of fish for 12-24 hours.  Brines with a higher concentration of salt may produce the same degree of saltiness in fish with only 1-3 hours of soaking.

In addition, the length of time you need to soak fish in brine depends on the thickness of the fillets, whether you have left the skin on the fillets, and how oily or lean the fish is.  If you have figured out how long to soak large salmon fillets in the brine from a particular recipe, and you soak smaller or thinner fillets of a different kind of fish for the same time, they may turn out too salty.

Two other problems with many brine recipes is that they specify different kinds of salt, and they measure the salt by volume rather than weight.  The problem is that different kinds of salt have different weights per cup.  For example, a cup of kosher salt weights less than a cup of table salt.  If a recipe specifies two cups of kosher salt, and you use two cups of table salt, your brine will end up with a higher concentration of salt than was intended by the author of the recipe.

When trying out a new brine recipe, if you stick with the amount of salt provided for in the recipe, it may take some trial and error to figure out how long to soak different kinds of fish in the brine produced by that recipe.  This can result in some wasted or not-so-tasty batches of smoked fish until you figure out how specific kinds of fish need to be soaked in that recipe.

In an effort to reduce the amount of trial and error required to figure out how to use a new fish smoking brine recipe, unless there appears to be a good reason for the salt concentration in the recipe, I usually adjust the salt and water components of a brine recipe to produce a concentration of 60 degrees salometer, which is a moderately concentrated brine.  1.567 pounds of salt in a gallon of water will produce a brine of 60 degrees salometer.  Based on a typical weight for table salt of 10 oz/cup, that is about 2.5 cups of table salt in a gallon of water.  Other kinds of salt have significantly different weights per cup.  I like brines of around 60 degrees salometer because I only need to soak the kinds of fish I usually smoke for 1.5-2 hours, and I know pretty accurately how long to soak different kinds of fish in a brine of this concentration.

Another way to reduce the amount of trial and error required to figure out how to use a new fish brine recipe is to calculate the concentration of salt in the recipe, and based on your experience with brine recipes with a variety of different concentrations, estimate how long a particular kind of fish should probably be soaked in that brine.  However, I find it easier to standardize the concentration of my fish smoking brines, as that reduces the number of variables.

Here are some suggestions about how to convert volumes of salt to weight from a posting I did in response to a posting entitled "The salinity of Kummock's brine:"

Brine recipes which call for a specific volume of salt, such as 1 cup of kosher salt in half a gallon of water, are less accurate and predictable than brine recipes which call for a specific weight of salt, because different kinds and brands of salt have different densities.  If you check the volume-to-weight conversion tables for salt in various books and internet sites, you get a pretty wide range of weights for a cup of regular table salt.  10 oz./cup is about in the middle of the range of weights for table salt.  Warren Anderson's book "Mastering the Craft of Making Sausage" lists weights of 22 grams/tbsp (i.e. 12.4 oz./cup) for regular salt and 12 grams/tbsp (i.e. 6.8 oz/cup) for kosher salt. contains the following conversion table for different kinds of salt:

1 tsp Morton's tables salt equals:
1.5 tsp Morton's kosher salt
1.8 tsp Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt
1.8 tsp Morton's pickling salt
3 to 4 or more tsp sea salt

Because of these differences in the density of salt, a brine recipe which specifies the quantity of salt by weight will be more predictable than a brine recipe which specifies the quantity of salt by volume.  There are charts which specify the volume of water and weight of salt required to prepare brines of different salinities.  For example, a brine which is 60 degrees SAL (salometer degrees) will contain 15.837 percent salt by weight.  That is 1.568 pounds (25.088 oz.) of salt per gallon of water, or .784 pounds (12.544 oz.) of salt per half gallon of water.  There is a good article on making brines and salinity at which contains such charts.  See also "Preparation of Salt Brines for the Fishing Industry," Oregon Sea Grant Publication ORESU-H-99-002, which is available at .

Another way to prepare a brine with a specific salinity is to use a salinometer to measure the concentration of the brine, and to adjust the concentration by adding water or salt.  However, that takes a lot of trial and error.  It's faster to use the weights of salt specified on a salinity chart.

It is difficult to predict the salinity of Kummok's salmon brine because his recipe specifies a volume of salt rather than a weight of salt, and because different brands of soy sauce contain different concentrations of salt.  The only way to determine the salt concentration of Kummock's brine recipe for any specific kind of salt and specific brand of soy sauce is by mixing up the volumes of water, salt, and soy sauce which he recommends, and then measuring the concentration of the mixture with a salinometer, before adding any other ingredients such as sugar, which will affect the measurement.

However, you can estimate the salt concentration produced by the water and salt components of Kummok's brine recipe based on the weight-to-volume conversion ratios described above.  Based on the conversion ratio for regular table salt of 10 oz./cup, a cup of regular table salt in half a gallon of water would produce a brine which is about 50 degrees SAL.  However, kosher salt weighs less per cup than regular salt.  Based on Anderson's conversion ratio for kosher salt of 6.8 oz./cup, a cup of kosher salt in half a gallon of water would produce a brine which is about 35 degrees SAL.  Kummok's brine recipe calls for 1 cup of pickling salt in a gallon of water, so if you look just at the salt and water portion of his brine recipe, based on Anderson's conversion ratio for kosher salt, the recipe would produce a brine which is about 18 degrees SAL.

A brine doesn't need to be 60 degrees SAL in order to salt fish for smoking, but the lower the salt concentration in the brine, the longer the fish needs to stay in the brine to reach a desired degree of saltiness.  Longer brining times increase the chances of bacterial growth and spoilage.

The advantage of being accurate and consistent about the salt concentration of your brines is that you can learn how long fish of a certain species, size, thickness, and with or without skin should be left in the brine to produce the degree of saltiness which you like.  If a batch of smoked fish comes out saltier than you prefer, don't leave the next batch in the brine as long.  When I try out a new brine recipe, I adjust the salinity of the water and salt portion of the brine to 60 degrees SAL, because I know how long I like to leave different kinds of fish in a brine of that concentration.

A final suggestion: take notes about the salt concentration in your brines, the length of time you soaked the fish, the kind of fish you soaked, and how salty the fish ended up.  As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."


Thanks for you comments, Pete.  They are very helpful.

I've been avoiding wet brining fish because there seemed to be such a high level of art involved in the process.  Your comments and guidance reduces the element of art to the point where I feel comfortable stepping up to wet brining.

Saber 4

Wow, that's a lot of good info. Thanks for posting I bookmarked it for future reference.