Canning Smoked Fish – Salmon, Blue, Mackerel, Trout

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Canning smoked fish starts with the smoking process. And here I get help from Bill at Smoker-Cooking.com. Fish that has been smoked the standard way will end up being very dry after pressure canning, so you will want to shorten the process.

A lightly smoked fish that is appropriate for canning will also need to be processed right away. It is not safe to eat as is. Here is a page if you are preserving fish that is not smoked. The procedures are slightly different.

First, I’ll share Bill’s suggestions for smoking your fish, then I get into the canning instructions below.

What about canning smoked fish in a water bath canner? Like all other canning meat projects, smoked fish must be canned in a pressure canner, NOT a water bath canner, in order to be safe.

Smoked salmon coated with pepper and sitting on a wooden board.
Photo courtesy of Smoker-Cooking.com.
Canning Meat and Meals Course to learn how to can meat safely at home.

This Page Includes:

Canning Smoked Fish: Extended, Step-By-Step Directions

Guest Post from Bill of SmokerCooking: These directions on how to smoke fish for canning are shared by Smoker-Cooking.com. Check out this page for some smoked salmon recipes. Thanks, SmokerCooking!

How to Smoke Fish

When you are canning smoked fish, the process is different than when you are making ready to eat smoked fish. Fish that are smoked in preparation for the canner are partially cooked. Heat from the canning process brings the fish to the desired stage of doneness.

Use only fresh, good quality fish for the canner. Clean the fish, removing all traces of blood. Remove the scales, or skin the fish if desired.

Fillet the sides of the fish from the backbone. Small bones can be left in or removed as desired.

Using a pint jar as a guide, cut the fillet into pieces that will fit vertically into the canning jars, but about an inch shorter than the jar height. Try to keep the pieces close to the same thickness so they’ll cook evenly when smoked.

Brining the Fish

Before smoking the fish, it needs to be brined in salt water. Use a concentration of 1 cup salt in 7 cups of water per each 3 to 4 pounds of fish pieces. Thinner pieces, up to 1/2 inch thick stay in the brine 5 to 10 minutes. Over 1/2 inch get 30 to 45 minute of brining time. The salt water brining is important because it prevents spoilage.

Remove the fish from the brine, pat dry with clean towels, and allow to air dry on a cooling rack until the outer surface dries a bit. When it feels just barely tacky, it’s ready for the smoker.

Drying off pieces of salmon.
Photo courtesy of Smoker-Cooking.com.

Smoking the Fish

The smoker temperature needs to be low enough that the fish can be in the smoker long enough to get the desired flavor, while being minimally cooked. A temperature in the range of 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal fish going into the canner.

The popular Big Chief and Little Chief smokers operate at about 170 degrees on a calm day of 70 degrees or so, which would be fine for smoking fish for canning. If it’s colder outside and the smoker runs cooler, that’s okay too. Smoking time will be a bit longer.

Fill the pan with the desired amount of your favorite wood. Follow the smoker manufacturers’ recommendation for amount of wood for best results. A favorite wood for smoking salmon is alder. Smoke the fish until it’s ready for the canner.

How do you know when your smoked fish is ready for the canner? Instead of going by internal temperature, as you would for ready to eat smoked fish, it’s determined by weight loss.

Weight loss is moisture loss, and as the fish dries, its texture becomes more suitable for canning. For good quality, moist canned smoked fish, a 10% loss of weight is what you’re looking for. If a drier fish is preferred, shoot for a weight loss closer to 12.5%.

To determine the percentage of weight loss, start by weighing the fish right before smoking fish. Small kitchen scales are fine to use. Steps to determine weight loss percentage are:

  1. Weigh a piece of fish before it’s smoked and record the weight.
  2. After a time in the smoker, remove the piece and weight it again.
  3. Subtract Step 2 weight from Step 1 weight. This is the weight loss.
  4. Divide the lost weight by the starting weight.
  5. Multiply by 100 to get the percentage of weight loss.

Here’s an example.

  1. 8 ounces – (pre-smoked fish weight)
  2. 7 ounces – (weight after smoking)
  3. 8 minus 7 = 1 ounce (weight loss)
  4. 1 ounce divided by 8 ounces = 0.125
  5. 0.125 x 100 = 12.5% (total weight loss)

This smoked fish would be slightly dry after canning.

One thing to remember about canning smoked fish is that the oilier the fish, the more moist it will be. An oily fish, like good salmon, will be more moist when dried to 12.5% weight loss than a less oily fish would be. Fish that have a lower oil content are generally drier in texture after canning.

Canning Smoked Fish

Fish must be prepared in 1/2 pints or pints.

Remember, smoked fish must be processed in a Pressure Canner.

Gather your canning supplies:

Ingredients:

Lightly smoked fish

Procedure:

Cut fish into jar-length pieces.

For this recipe, use more water in your pressure canner than normal. Add 4 quarts water to the pressure canner. This is important according to the USDA recommendations. It changes the heating up and cooling down times.

For this recipe also you won’t heat the water in the canner prior to processing. Usually, you want the canner hot but not boiling when the jars go in the canner. But NOT for smoked fish. In this case, water from your tap goes into the canner and the jars go in that temperature of the water. And it should just be cold water. You don’t have to let the water get hot first. This is according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation so it is a tested method of canning specific to smoked fish.

Pack fish into hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe rims and place your canning lids. Place lids and process according to pressure canning instructions. (Remember, this recipe uses more water in your canner.)

Process pints or half pints 1 hour 50 minutes. Do not can this in quarts. There are no tested methods for quarts. Don’t forget to adjust your pressure for your altitude using the chart below.

Recipe Card

Canning Smoked Fish

Canning smoked fish is a slightly different process than canning regular fish. Learn everything you need to know about how to can smoked fish!
Print Recipe
Smoked salmon coated with pepper and sitting on a wooden board.
Prep Time:3 hours
Processing Pints (adjust for altitude):1 hour 50 minutes
Total Time:4 hours 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • Fish salmon, blue, mackerel, trout
  • Salt

Instructions

  • Start by preparing your jars and getting water in the canner. Add 4 quarts of water.
    If you are new to using a pressure canner, see this article for full pressure canning instructions. This includes more detailed information and step-by-step instructions on how a pressure canner works.

Smoking the Fish

  • Clean fish, removing blood, scales, and skins (if desired).
  • Fillet the sides of the fish from the backbone.
  • Cut fillet into pieces.
  • Brine fish in saltwater (1 cup salt in 7 cups water per 3-4 pounds of fish).
  • Let pieces up to 1/2” thick brine for 5-10 minutes and let larger pieces brine for 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove fish from brine, patting dry with paper towels.
  • Allow to air dry on rack until outer surface is barely tacky.
  • Fill smoker pan with favorite wood, following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Smoke the fish at about 14-0-160 degrees F until ready for the canner (determined by 10% loss of weight).

Canning Smoked Fish

  • Cut fish into jar-length pieces.
  • Use 4 quarts cool tap water in the pressure canner! (this is different from many pressure canning recipes.)
  • Pack fish into hot jar, leaving 1” headspace.
  • Wipe the rim clean and place on your seal and ring. Place the jar in the canner. Proceed to fill all jars. Process according to below directions.

Notes

Processing with a Pressure Canner
Place the jars in the canner. Proceed to fill all jars placing them in the prepared canner. (remember for smoked fish you don’t heat the water first and you’ll use 4 quarts of water.) 
Put the lid on the canner leaving the weights off.  Bring to a boil. Watch for the steam to start coming out the vent pipe in the lid.
Allow the steam to ‘vent’ for 10 minutes then put the weights on. Use the proper weight for your altitude (check the chart below) This is when pressure will start to build.  
When the pressure reaches the pressure required for your altitude (check the chart below) that is when you’ll start your time.  Process for the full time indicated, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the correct pressure for the entire time.
When processing time is completed turn off the heat. Do not remove weights yet. Let the canner sit undisturbed until pressure comes back to zero. Do not try to speed up the cooling process.
Remove the weight and wait 5 minutes.
Open the lid to allow steam to escape. (carefully don’t let it hit your face or arms!) Leave the lid setting on top of the canner slightly ajar and wait 5 minutes.
Take the lid off the canner and remove your jars. (optionally you can wait another 5 minutes if the contents appear to be bubbling so hard it is coming out of the jars)
Put the jars a few inches apart on a thick towel and allow them to cool to room temperature undisturbed. 12 hours is suggested.
When the jars are cool, remove the metal bands, check the seals, and store the jars in a cool dark place.
Processing Time:
Processing Instructions (Raw Pack)
Process pints or half pints only for 1 hour and 50 minutes, adjusting for altitude according to the chart below.  
Altitude Adjustments for Pressure Canner  
Altitude –  Weighted Gauge   
0-1,000 ft – 10 pounds  
1,001-8,000 ft – 15 pounds  
Altitude – Dial Gauge  
0-2,000 ft – 11 pounds  
2,001-4,000 ft – 12 pounds   
4,001-6,000 ft – 13 pounds
6,001-8,000 ft – 14 pounds
Adapted from: The National Center for Home Food Preservation
Flaky pieces of smoked salmon sitting on a plate.
Photo courtesy of Smoker-Cooking.com

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Source: The National Center for Home Food Preservation

Page last updated: 7/9/2021

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Patrick
Patrick
10 months ago

I don’t know about weight loss, but any fish cold smoked over two hours then canned will be most likely not edible. Alder or apple wood. Hickory will ruin your fish. Light smoke. Canning will enhance the smoke flavor. Smoke it 6-12 hours you may as well lick the inside of your smoker. That’s what it’s gonna taste like.

Laurie AL
Laurie AL
1 year ago

Can previously frozen fish be canned? What about smoking and canning.

THANKS

rhonda
rhonda
2 years ago

5 stars
hello. I was wondering why you dont add liquid to smoke salmon during the canning process? plain salmon makes it own juice. but smoked salmon is dry. can i add some liquid to mine?

Rhonda
Rhonda
2 years ago

Ok. Thank you. I did can it with a tsp of oil and it seemed to be fine. But it is a little dry.