Well, I've learned what happens when you underestimate a smoker.  I was distracted early on once I placed my coals in the smoker and didn't realize that they bottom vent on my firebox was open way too much.  Within five minutes the smoker was at 600 degrees F and one piece of fish was charred on the bottom.  The rest of the pieces looked ok.  The heat was only there for a moment before I got in and rescued the rest of the fish from certain doom.  

I gave it as good a go as I could afterwards and I must say, even though it was a bit dry, it still was tasty.  I will have to come back to salmon some day when I have a bigger piece of fish and can pay more attention to the smoker.
 
 
After a bit of research I found that a brine is what I would like to do.  Before I finally slipped off into dream world I made sure that I had the ingredients for the brine I was going to use.  The one I found is called a Lemon Rum Brine.  Because my mission was to use only what I had at home I had to make a few substitutes.  For one thing mine would more appropriately be called Vinegar Rum Brine.  Reason being that vinegar is a substitute for lemon juice.  You generally only do it when a recipe calls for a small amount of lemon juice and you don[t have it.  You substitute by using half of what is called for and switching the lemon juice for vinegar.  I also used brown sugar instead of plain sugar.   It is sweeter pure and simple.  I didn't have garlic.  But I did have garlic powder.  1/8 tsp. of garlic powder is equivalent of 1 clove of garlic.  I will now list the called for ingredients:
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 cup non-iodized salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 ounces rum
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 3 bay leaves

Now the list of what I used:
  • 1 quart of water
  • 1/2 cup of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 oz of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum
  • 1/2 oz white vinegar
  • 3 1/8 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 3 bay leaves

After I mixed all that together until the solids dissolved I placed my salmon pieces in it skin down.  They all fit in a big glass casserole dish and I put it in the fridge for about 2 hours.  You can leave them overnight if you want but I've seen enough recipes saying that for thin pieces of fish that really isn't necessary and might make them too mushy.  

After they have sat in the brine for a bit you can take them out and pat them dry with a paper towel.  Let them sit on a cooling rack for a bit to dry.  This is when the curing happens.  Remember what we are trying to achieve at this point?

That's right we want a pellicle on the fish.  The brine with help build that barrier we need to keep in moisture and absorb smoke flavor.  So the fish can sit on that rack at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or until you see the film appear.  

After you have your pellicle it is time to get the smoker ready.  You can use whatever wood you like. I have Mesquite so that is what I will put in for flavor.  Depending on how thick your fish is will change the cooking time.  My fish is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  I have anywhere from 4 - 6 hours to smoke. I'm thinking 5 hours is a s
 
 
So I've decided on the next meal that will be prepared on the smoker.  No it won't be pork ribs this time.  It won't be hamburgers either.  Yes the title says it all.  The next meal is salmon!  My main choice was made by going through our freezer and discovering we had recently bought a bag of salmon fillets.  Each fillet is a nice small cut of salmon vacuum sealed in its own separate bag.  I've removed the fillets from their nap sacks and placed them on a plate covered in plastic wrap.  At the moment they are in the refrigerator thawing out.  

I am attempting to make use of what I have at home and not go out and buy anything.  I've flipped through a few recipes so far trying to figure out what I would like to use for extra flavors.  I think the biggest question is whether or not I want to use a brine for the fish.  I found a recipe to brine for about 20 minutes and then dry off the fish and let it dry on a drying rack for two hours.  First thing that blew me away was the concept of letting fish sit on a counter for two hours.  Is that safe?  Before deciding on this recipe I realize I need to educate myself on the subject.  There was a word used that I have never heard before to explain the purpose of this curing time.  


"Pellicle (cooking), a skin or coating of proteins on the surface of meat, fish or poultry, which allow smoke to better adhere the surface of the meat durring the smoking process. Useful in all smoking applications and with any kind of animal protein, it is best used with fish where the flesh of, say, Salmon, forms a pellicle, the surface that will attract more smoke to adhere to it than would be the case if you had not used it: Without a pellicle; the fish would be inedibly dry from enough smoking to produce a tasty finished product. It is the pellicle which permits the transformation creating delectable Smoked salmon. "

Well, I guess that explains it!  Sometimes I have to hand it to Wikipedia for having just what I need to find out.  Always double check information though!  Never take a chance when food is concerned!  If you don't know just ask someone and then check up on the resources to make sure it is true and current information.  

So now we know that a pellicle is a barrier we want on our salmon that keeps the fish from drying out and absorbs smoky goodness.  So how do we get the pellicle?  

Curing.

There are main methods of curing that I have found.  Dry curing and wet curing (brine).  I'm going to spend the rest of my evening learning about the different brines and dry cures.  In the morning I will take what I think will be the best and most practical method and we can work on curing this salmon.  
 
 
I am currently looking for the next meal I will be smoking.  Any tips? Hmmm, either I will smoke something smaller like burgers... or pork ribs!
 
 
Here's how I rate that chicken dinner.  I first had the smaller piece of chicken with just the rub.  It was very tasty and very juicy.  The skin on the other hand was rather tough.  You could chew it and it was tasty but it took more work to eat then I think was necessary.  I didn't see much of a difference between that one and the middle PAM sprayed chicken.  

So what was the best chicken?  For sure it was the largest chicken that was buttered every hour.  The skin was perfect!  Tasty and edible.  Always a good combination when having food.  A trick I've seen is to cook the chicken on the grill at the last few minutes to make the skin crispy.  You can do the same thing in your oven with a broiler.  

Some quick hot heat and rubber skin issues are transformed into delicious crispyness.
 
 
So my first meal that I am going to smoke are chicken leg quarters.  I surfed  the web for awhile checking out the different recipes.  Once thing that was fairly consistent was using Seasoning Salt and Lemon Pepper for a dry rub.  I shocked myself by not having any Lemon Pepper in my house, I have a copious amount of seasonings!  I observed that my Seasoning Salt had most of the other dry rub ingredients in it already.  I do not know the amounts in the seasoning but here are the ingredients:
  • salt
  • paprika
  • celery
  • tumeric
  • black pepper
I put a plate on the counter and dumped a generous amount of the Seasoning Salt on it.  Then I rolled the chicken pieces in it and took some pinches of the seasoning and rubbed it all over.  I took all three leg quarters, about 3 1/2 pounds of meat, and wrapped them in foil and let them sit in the fridge for a bit.
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They stayed in my fridge for a few hours.  I know many people say have them sit for a day or so many hours but I am not too concerned about being perfect right now and I don't have enough time.  I just want to eat them!  I will plan the rub better for the next meal I make.  Now that those are waiting in the fridge and my smoker is seasoned it is time for some errands before I start my smoker up for some tasty deliciousness!   

So a few hours have gone by and I am back home from the errands.  I start up the smoker the same method used for seasoning it.  Only difference is after I get two starters full of coals I add a few chunks of Mesquite wood chunks on top.  
Now we have to worry about one thing and that is the temperature.  I've checked several different recipes and it seems temp varies plenty mostly anywhere from 215 F to 250F.   One thing I've noticed already is this Char-Broil Smoker keeps at 250F very easily.  That is one big difference from my vertical smoker.  Also it held that temperature without a water source inside of it.  My vertical smoker required a bowl with water on the coals to regulate the temperature and keep the meat moist.  The Char-Broil did not come with a bowl and the vertical one was too large.  So I've decided that if I don't have a bowl and the temp is almost perfect then I'll give it a try without the water.  In the future I will purchase a rectangular foil bowl if it is necessary.  

After some tinkering with the air flow by adjusting the chimney and firebox covers I managed to get it hovering between 225 F and 250 F.
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Now that I managed to get the smoker ready and have some Mesquite smoking away in there it is time to place the chicken on the rack!  Here goes nothing!
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Now this is the first chicken I've smoked so as I mentioned I've checked several recipes and decided to try three different methods.  There seems to be a common complaint that after smoking the skin on the chicken is too tough to eat and some people have some tips to avoid that.  Part of the same issue is drying the chicken out by accident.  The fix is one and the same.  I've also seen that it also depends on your smoker!  So depending on what you are using it might not be a problem.  

If you look at the chickens above the one on the left has been rubbed with seasoning and is being cooked as is.  The one in the middle has had both sides sprayed with PAM, only once just before it goes on the rack.  The one on the right will be basted with butter every hour on both sides.  

Another important thing to know is that my firebox is on the left side of the smoker.  That is important because the heat is going to always be greater right next to the firebox and inevitably it will cool some as the hot air and smoke moves across the meats to reach the chimney.  Now how much does it cool?  I have no idea it is just what I've been taught and have read in many places.  To counter whatever difference this might make I just make sure to shift the meats every hour that I check on them.  So the one of the left goes all the way to the right and the other chickens just get shifted over.


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First Hour Check!

Here I have already shifted the chicken.  I recently realized there were obvious size differences between the pieces as well.  The piece with just seasoning is now moved to the right as I said it would be.  It also happens to be the smallest piece.  The piece now in the middle is the largest and the one I just applied a coating of butter to.  The piece now on the left is the one that was once sprayed with PAM at the beginning.  I flipped them all skin side up this time around and will continue to flip them, though I must admit I don't know if it makes any difference.  Oh they look good...

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Second Hour Check!

Now look at that!  I am getting hungrier the more I see the progress.  Once again all the chicken has been shifted and turned.  The largest piece has another coat of butter and the rest are left alone.  I did check the internal temperature of the largest piece which was around 140 F.  That leads me to an important tip for anyone cooking on a smoker, or even in an oven or on a grill.  Get yourself a digital thermometer!  I got one from Walmart for about $6 that is also a prong to move meat.  You can set a target temperature or even use it as a timer.  It displays the target time or temperature on the bottom and displays the current temp or time left on the top.  Once it reaches the target it beeps to let you know it is time.  I like to avoid spending money on gadgets but this is one that just makes like so much easier.  It even has a handy sticker on the back for recommended temps for all the major meats.  For chicken it states 170 F.  If you don't want your chicken that done just don't wait that long. So...

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Third Hour Check!

Oh boy it is looking good.  I've got the temperature in the 150 F range now.  I've buttered the big boy yet again and done my meat shifting.  I've also added a little Mesquite Wood Chunks each check just to keep that smoky flavor coming on.  

I am running into a problem however.  For three and a half pounds of chicken it can take four to five hours potentially if I continue on.  It is around 06:30 pm and my family is getting hungry, never mind my tummy is getting grumpy with me as well.  I will let it sit in the smoker a little longer but I don't want to shovel a fresh lot of coals into it because then the smoker will be going for far too long.  I'd much rather save my coals and speed up the chicken some other way.  I know of two methods to do this.  

The oven or the grill.
I wrapped the chickens in foil and heated up my grill.  I have a nice two burner Char-Broil grill sitting on my porch.  Once that is heated up I place the chickens inside.  A few minutes later they are cooking around the 160 F range which is perfect to take them out and let them rest.  If you don't know, which I learned earlier this year, when you take food out of the oven it continues to heat up!  It is called carryover heat, and a bunch of other things I would imagine.  The carryover heat can get you anywhere from 5-10 degrees hotter.  The trick is to wrap it in foil and let it rest on the table for about 10-20 minutes.
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Once they are rested and the family is sitting around expectantly it is time for the feast!  Enjoy!
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Alright I've finished building the smoker this morning!  Here is what it looks like as I was building.
Now that the smoker is built it is time to season it.  I heated up some fresh coals and dumped them into the firebox. 
Built up coals.
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Today my wonderful wife bought me a new smoker!  I had a green vertical smoker from a good friend for the past year and have had some fun with it.  It was definitely time to upgrade though.  So say hello to my new Char-Broil American Gourmet smoker!  I've started this site so that you can follow me as I learn to use my new smoker and test out all the delicious smoker recipes I can find!  If you have any hints, tips, or recipes I gladly welcome the suggestions!  I've started assembly tonight however the black flies got rather nasty so I had to retreat inside until tomorrow to finish smoker construction.  Then I will season the smoker and work on my first meal in my new Char-Broil.  

Enjoy the warm smoking weather!

Adam