Smoking Instructions

Ted’s Cold Smoked Salmon
Nova Lox

Nova Lox is Cold Smoked Salmon.
Lox is Salmon that has been cured but not smoked.

The key to quality Nova Lox is Tender Loving Care throughout the entire process. Pay attention to the details and you’ll have smoked salmon to die for!

Before you Start – Caring for your Catch

Immediately after catching the fish, bleed it by knifing it in the gill area, hitting the heart. After 10 minutes of bleeding, clean the fish being sure to remove gill plates and thoroughly clean the kidney (the thick blood line inside the body cavity along the spine). Thoroughly ice the fish, including placing ice inside of the body cavity. Its critical that the fish not ever get warm! Do not ever throw fish around as they do bruise. Keep blood away from meet.

Once back at the dock, thoroughly scale the fish by using a high pressure water hose. This makes for a mess on the dock but not at home! Remember to clean up the doc when you’re done!


Filet larger salmon into to 2 “splitters”. If the fish is stiff with rigor mortis, do NOT filet it – you will damage the meat which will make for bad smoked salmon! Instead put it back on ice for a few hours or even over night. Only filet salmon that is flexible like it was when you caught it.  I like to filet using the quick, forceful slice down the side method. Its important that you don’t have lots of small cut/hack marks in the filets so the less knife cuts the better.  Cut each side of salmon into 5” wide filets. Eat the tail sections as fresh fish – they don’t smoke well.

I also recommend scraping the carcass with a spoon – you’ll recover enough salmon chunks to make many, many salmon patties.

Rinse the fish in cold water and place each filet into ziplock bags or directly into a large plastic bin or trash can that will fit on a spare refrigerator shelf.

Freezing for Safety

This step is optional but recommended. Its also a great way to avoid having to immediately start the smoking process.

Freeze the filets for several days in order to kill any bacteria in the fish and to dry the fish out slightly to improve the texture of the finished product.  in the coldest freezer you can find. A slow freezing process will turn the salmon into tasting like wet cardboard.

Thaw the fish by leaving out on a counter, returning it to a refrigerator until you’re ready to start the curing process.

Fish that was frozen before smoking can also be safely frozen after smoking without any apparent change to texture.

Making Lox

Step 1: Dry Salt

Ingredients required:

-          1 box  Kosher Salt used for Pickling/Canning – ideally pure salt without any other additives whatsoever. You can also use Safeway’s Table Salt for pickling and canning.

-          1 bag Dark Brown Sugar

-          1 gallon size Zip Lock bag

-          1 or 2 large plastic bins (Rubbermaid storage bins or small trash cans work great) Must be sturdy and must fit inside your refrigerator on a spare shelf.

 You must make a mixture of equal parts of salt and sugar. Use a measuring cup and make ample amounts of this mixture – whatever you don’t use can be saved for next time in a ziplock bag.

Place on layer salmon filets, skin side down,  in a plastic container that will fit in your refrigerator. Rubbermaid buckets, trash baskets, etc. all work. Just make sure they’re big enough to hold all your fish and easy enough to put in and out of your refrigerator.

Liberally sprinkle the sugar/salt mixture on the top and sides of the filets.

If necessary, place a second layer of salmon on top of the first, sprinkling again with the sugar/salt mixture.

 Place container(s) in refrigerator for between 24 and 36 hours. 24 hours if the fish is particularly thin, 36 hours for normal 20+ pound salmons.


Step 2: Finishing Brine

 Ingredients required:

-          1 box  Kosher Salt used for Pickling/Canning – ideally pure salt without any other additives whatsoever. You can also use Safeway’s Table Salt for pickling and canning.

-          Optional: white pepper, bay leaves

 The purpose of the finishing brine is to distribute the dry salt mixture in step 1 thoroughly throughout the fish.

 Mix a 90 degree salt brine:

Small Batch                                   Double Batch

2 1/2 cups of Kosher Salt             5 cups of Kosher Salt
64 fl. Oz of water                           128 fl. Oz of water

mix salt thoroughly into the water and add optional seasonings. 

make additional portions of the above as necessary to cover fish.

Remove fish from container with sugar/salt mix. Thoroughly rinse it in a sink and return to the container. Bottom layer of filets should have the skin side down, Top layer of filets should have the skin side UP as they will float in the brine. 

Since the meat has shrunk and is leathery at this point, now is a good time to pick out the bones. A pair of needle nose pliers is best. Try not to damage the meat any more than you have to while pulling out the bones.

 Pour the brine into the container with the filets sufficient to allow the fillets to float/swim in the brine. Place another container or top on top of the top layer of filets to push them back down under the water as they will tend to float in the salt water.

Place this in the refrigerator for at least as long as the dry salting time.   24 hours if the fish is particularly thin, 36 hours for normal 20+ pound salmons.  The exact time you leave it in the finishing brine is not that important. Look at your schedule for the next day and decide – the next step will require a good 8 hours of attention.


Step 3: Freshening

 The fish is now cured. In order to eat it, it must be “freshened”. Freshening involves running the fish under water for several hours. While brisk running water is ideal, I’ve found that placing the filets into a deep sink or laundry room utility sink and draining/refilling it with water about every 20 minutes works just fine.

I usually freshen for at least 2 hours, typically 3 hours. Add additional freshening time if you’ve let the fish sit in the finishing brine for longer than you wanted to.

Most commercial smokers will tend to not freshen, if at all, resulting in a very salty product. Freshen to taste. The only way to tell what you like is to cut off a sliver and see, or do it by experience. 3 hours of freshening will start to approach a point of very little salt taste.  Adjust your freshening time to the thickness of the filets and how much overtime you gave it in either the dry salt or finishing steps.

While you’re refilling the sink, now is a good time to pick out the bones. A pair of needle nose pliers is best. Try not to damage the meat any more than you have to while pulling out the bones.

You now have Lox.  If you want Nova Lox (smoked salmon), proceed to the next step. You can wait to proceed by placing the fish back into the refrigerator – leaving it there will dry it out and firm up the fish a bit more. Remember that this is raw fish and needs to be cared for accordingly. After freshening, it will spoil almost as fast as fresh fish.


Step 4: Smoking Lox to get Nova Lox

 Materials required:

             2 smoking units:

                        1 unit to smoke the wood chips

                        1 unit to serve as a racking system to hold your fish

            Dryer pipe (flexible aluminum) to go between them.


Wood chips ( 2/3 Alder, 1/3 Apple) – Luhr-Jensen bags. Available at Caruso’s. About ½ bag of Alder per batch of fish.

The two units should be separated by several feet. With the flexible dryer pipe you can move the unit smoking the wood chips closer or farther away to get the temperature just where you want it. I splurged and just bought 2 Luhr-Jensen smokers from Caruso’s – a Big Chief for my racking system, and a Little Chief for the smoker unit.  The Big Chief racking system will hold about 40 pounds of fish, or 3 large fish. I used a jig saw to cut a round hole into the Little Chief – top back of unit. I shove the dryer hose into the fuel opening of the Big Chief so I didn’t have to cut/modify it at all.  I recommend seasoning your units by running at least 1 batch of fuel through them to start. Other contraptions can be set up but be sure that whatever you use for smoking/racking doesn’t have any chance of emitting odor onto your fish. Stay away from plastic dryer pipes. I also worry about old refrigerators for the same reason.

I place the Big Chief on my gas BBQ grill so that its higher than the Little Chief, just to help move the smoke from smoker unit to racking system.

This is perhaps the easiest part of the process. Smoking times vary according to taste. I like a solid smoke taste so I smoke for about 6 hours. Another way to measure your time in the smoker is by how many refills of wood chips you use.

The most important rule for Cold Smoking is Never get the fish above 70 degrees.  

Smoking fish at significantly less than 70 degrees works fine -  you will just have less color development. Don’t worry about this as the fish will have lots of color when its finished anyway.

This can be a challenge on a warm day. I recommend smoking either in the morning or after sundown to avoid the risk of having your smoker start to barbeque the fish.

Place the fish in the racking system/smoker skin side down (for cleanliness).

Refill the fuel in the smoker unit about every hour. Avoid leaving the fuel cooking away once spent as you’re trying to get a smoke flavor, not a charcoal flavor.

Be careful with the spent fuel – it is still burning and is a fire hazard.
Do not smoke in your garage – it will smoke up your whole house.
Be careful to unplug the smoker unit when finished or you’ll burn out the heating element.

Every batch or so, remove the racks from the Big Chief and place them inside your gas BBQ grill to sterilize them next time you nuke your BBQ grill to clean it.


Step 5: Trimming and Vacuum Packing your fish


Materials Required:

            Stiff knife, sharpened
Vacu-Seal vacuum packer machine
            Needle Nose Pliers
            Roll of Vac-U-Seal material.

Don’t use the bags – make your own from the Large roll of material (Also available at Caruso’s)

Remove the fish from the smoker. If its warm at all, place it in the refrigerator for ½ hour just to be sure. You will spoil fish if you vacuum pack it when its warm.

Usually mine is cool and remains cool during the trimming stage because I smoke when the outside temperature is well below 70 degrees.

Trim each filet by first cutting off the skin. Pay attention to detail here as the skin side is what I like to show people thru the clear side of the vacuum pack. Remove all traces of gray flesh. I usually cut the fish along the bone line after removing the skin, making 2 pieces of fish. This also makes it easy to cut out the remaining gray flesh right along the bone line without wasting a lot of meat. I keep a scraps bowl handy and a trash bag for the skin and gray flesh. Any meat that I inadvertently trim that’s not gray, I place in the scraps bowl. Trim the dried out ends of the filets off as well as place them in the scrap bowl. These scraps are great for cooking any recipe that calls for smoked salmon – such as smoked salmon pasta with Alfredo sauce.

Be careful not to bend the filets during this part of the process and you can still injure the meat. Remove any remaining bones using needle nose pliers.

Make individual bags by cutting the roll of large vacuum pack material into about 10 inch bags and then cutting them again lengthwise. I’ve found that the smaller the portions in each bag the better. If properly sliced, a 6 oz. Portion will make a nice appetizer for 4.

If the filets are still larger than the bags, you may need to cut them yet again.

Use the Vac-U-Seal machine by sealing each bag and pressing the vacuum override once 3 out of the 4 lights are lit. Letting the bag seal all the way to 4 lights will cause it to start sucking moisture out of the fish, making for an unappealing presentation.  Kids love to help with this part of the process.

 Label each with your own personal laser printed labels. I use Avery ML-1000 which are 2” by 4” labels.

 I usually hold out a piece or two for immediate consumption!


Storing your Nova Lox:

Remember that you’re still dealing with basically raw fish. Vacuum packaging it will let you keep it unopened in a refrigerator for about 5 times longer than if you just had it in a ziplock bag.  You can also freeze the vacuum packaged fish for quite a long time without risk of freezer burn since there is no air in contact with the fish.

If in doubt about the quality of fish, throw it away. You can always catch more.

I always like to confirm that anyone I’m giving away my pride and joy actually likes smoked salmon. I’m continually surprised at the percentage, albeit small, of people who don’t care for it.

I place a 2nd label on my packages which has storing and slicing instructions.

Remember: Sportsfish, even after being smoked, can never be sold.




Smoking Salmon & Trout by Jack Whelan, Aerie Publishing. Available at Caruso’s and online, this is the bible and contains many more tips and valuable details.

John at Caruso’s Deli, Harbor Way, Sausalito. John has all the materials you need to accomplish the above except for the Kosher Salt and Dark Brown Sugar.