How To Smoke Salmon: Smoked Salmon Recipe

You know what? A great many outdoor cooking enthusiasts get a lot of flack for cooking unhealthy foods.

And sure, eating too much red meat or meat with a lot of fat can be unhealthy. But this recipe proves that outdoor cooking can be healthy, too…

Oily fish such as salmon is rich in Omega-3, which is important for healthy brain function, and it’s good for your eyesight, too.

How to Smoke Salmon: Smoked Salmon Recipe

And while smoked salmon is generally considered a posh food because of its higher price tag and luxurious texture, it’s actually something that anyone can buy and cook, if they know how. And that’s where this article comes in…

In this article, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about cooking smoked salmon, including what type of salmon to use, what kind of brine to use, what equipment you need, how long to smoke it, and more.

Please feel free to scroll ahead to any section that jumps out at you. Here goes…

Smoking Salmon Basics

There may be many different ways of smoking salmon, but having tried several, I believe this method to be the best and so far no-one has been able to change my mind about that. 

Cooking salmon in a smoker gives it a way different flavor and texture.

The smoke flavor is really distinctive, and it pairs excellently with a range of other foods, such as decadent cream cheese, cool cucumber, or crispy, crunchy crackers.

Maybe as an appetizer, or as a refined breakfast dish. 

It does take a lot of planning and prep time however, so you should really start prepping the meat the day before you intend to smoke it.

The only other points I want to make before we get into the nitty-gritty are that you should always cook the salmon from fresh, not frozen or defrosted, and if you’re keeping an eye on your salt intake, you can adjust the level of salt in the recipe to suit you.

You can rest assured that I will answer all of your most frequently asked questions along the way, leaving nothing uncovered.

Knowing What Sort Of Salmon To Smoke

As mentioned earlier, the salmon needs to be very fresh, but the type of salmon that you use isn’t a big deal.

When I’m shopping for salmon, I tend to simply look for the biggest uncut filet available.

Atlantic salmon is great for this recipe, and conveniently, it’s one of the most readily available cuts in the seafood market.

That said, to be honest I prefer to smoke King (Chinook) salmon, but sadly it can be hard to get hold of, and it tends to cost considerably more. 

Dry Brine Vs Wet Brine

Using a brine to prep your salmon before smoking it because it helps to cure it. Or in other words, it helps to preserve the fish and prevent it from spoiling.

Ok, so there are two main ways you can prepare your salmon for smoking.

You can either make up a dry rub, made up of salt, sugar and spices that you refrigerate for 24 hours.

Or alternatively, you can allow the salmon to sit in a wet brine, again made up of sugar, salt and spices, but in quite a lot of water, for between 8 and 12 hours.

I’ve tried both methods, and I have to say that my favorite has to be the wet brine method.

Not only does a wet brine serve to give the salmon a more even cure, but it also provides a more even flavor throughout.

And as an added bonus, it also provides a superior presentation and color when plating up.

How Long To Smoke The Salmon For

How long you should smoke the salmon depends very much on the temperature capabilities of your smoker…

In my view, the perfect way to cook your salmon is in 3 separate stages, as follows:

  • 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours,
  • 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours, and 
  • 175 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours

So, if you’re doing it this way, it will take 6 hours altogether.

However, I know there are a great many smokers on the market that don’t smoke at such low temperatures, and often the lowest temperature you can get on them is 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smoking salmon at 225 degrees Fahrenheit is not the best method, but if that’s what you’re stuck with, I would recommend that you smoke the salmon at this temperature for between 3 and 4 hours.

And the good news is that you don’t ever have to cut into the salmon to check that it’s properly cooked all the way through, because you can simply use a little digital meat thermometer like this one. They’re easy to get hold of, easy to use, and very affordable. 

How Long It Takes To Prep And Cook

How Long It Takes To Prep And Cook

Cooking smoked salmon my way requires 2 separate stages, as follows:

  • Making the brine and brining the salmon takes 16 hours and 15 minutes
  • Smoking the salmon takes between 5 and 6 hours

Thus, completion of both stages takes between 24 and 25 hours altogether.

What Wood Should I Use To Smoke The Salmon?

You know what? Everyone has their own view on what wood chips are best for smoking salmon…

If you’re relatively new to smoked foods, you may like to start off with something that’s milder, such as alder.

This way, you can rest assured that the wood smoke is not going to overpower the taste of the brined salmon.

If, after trying milder woods such as alder, you feel that you might prefer something more flavorful, by all means go ahead.

Getting your smoked salmon just the way you like it is a case of trial and error, and it may take you several attempts before you get the smoked salmon of your dreams. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

I consider maple wood to be an excellent staple wood to always have at hand, and it goes really nice in this recipe.

Of course, if you really want to impress your dinner guests, what I would recommend is using applewood with a little hickory wood mixed in. I just love it – award worthy in my books!

Smoked Salmon Recipe

Now that you’ve warmed up, let’s give you what you came here for – the perfect smoked salmon recipe!

What Equipment You Need

You will need a large pot in which to make the brine, plenty of room in your refrigerator to put the salmon in for the brining and curing process, and a smoker. Ideally a pellet smoker.

Quick Rundown Of Ingredients

One of the great things about this recipe (besides the excellent taste of course) is that you don’t need a whole lot of ingredients, and they’re all readily available at your local grocery store (besides the salmon, obvs). Here’s what you need:

  • 3 pounds of salmon
  • 11 and a half cups of water
  • 1 and a quarter cups of salt (this can be reduced if you prefer)
  • 1 and a quarter cups of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder

Method

OK, so here’s your step-by-step guide to making the perfect smoked salmon…

Step 1 – Mix the ingredients for the brine in a large pot and bring it to the boil. This will help to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once dissolved, you can remove it from the heat. Let it cool at room temperature for a little while before letting it cool in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Step 2 – Give the salmon a really good rinse in cold water, removing the skin if necessary.

Step 3 – Cut the salmon into 8 portions. I have found that the perfect size is 3 inches wide and 4.5 inches long for the smoke to penetrate evenly.

Step 4 – You can add the salmon to the brine once it has sufficiently cooled. Cover it up, and place it back in the refrigerator for between 8 and 12 hours.

Step 5 – Once the brining is complete, you can now remove the salmon from the brine and set the portions on cooling racks to lightly dry for 4 hours. This is important because it creates what’s called a pellicle, which is basically a shiny skin which helps the smoke to properly adhere to the salmon.

Step 6 – Prepare the smoker by applying your chosen wood chips and preheating it at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Step 7 – I recommend that you apply a little oil to the grills to prevent the salmon from sticking to them. Add the portions of salmon, keeping the temperature at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first two hours. Then increase the temperature to 140 for the next two hours, followed by 175 degrees for the final 2 hours. This should come to 6 hours in total.

(If your smoker can’t do such low temperatures, you can smoke it at 225 degrees for 3 to 4 hours.)

Step 8 – Use a digital meat thermometer to check when the salmon is thoroughly cooked, then remove the portions from the smoker and allow them to rest for a full hour before you plate them up and serve them.

Step 9 – Enjoy your smoked salmon, and if you have any leftovers, they will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator.

Nutritional Information

This recipe makes 8 servings altogether, and each serving comes in at 313 calories.

Wrap Up

So, while cooking the perfect smoked salmon does take a lot of time to do, it’s actually a very simple process, and is 100% worth the wait – enjoy!

Tommy Hall