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How to Smoke Salmon: Smoked Salmon Recipe

Smoking salmon is actually a very simple task, as you’ll see with our easy smoked salmon recipe below.  It just requires some planning and time. If you want to smoke salmon on Saturday, start preparing on Friday. I’ve tried various recipes, but the one below is the best one I’ve …

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By Michael Haas

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How to Smoke Salmon with Brine Recipe

Smoking salmon is actually a very simple task, as you’ll see with our easy smoked salmon recipe below.  It just requires some planning and time. If you want to smoke salmon on Saturday, start preparing on Friday. I’ve tried various recipes, but the one below is the best one I’ve made yet. 

The ingredients for a smoked salmon brine are simple, and you typically have these sitting in your cupboard already. The only thing you will probably have to shop for is some fresh salmon.

Note: Salt is a key ingredient in my recipe and if you do not prefer a heavy salt-based smoked salmon, feel free to reduce the salt by 25% or more.

Smoking Salmon Overview

What Type Of Salmon Should You Smoke

Buy the freshest salmon that you can. I buy the largest uncut fillet so I can decide the size of my cuts for the salmon brine and smoker. In this recipe, I’m using Atlantic Salmon, which is typically farm-raised, because it’s easily available at most seafood stores. My favorite is King (Chinook) salmon, but it’s not always easy to find and you’re also paying quite a bit more.

If you’re able to, though, choose wild-caught salmon over farmed Atlantic salmon because the flavor of your smoked salmon will be richer (and it will have more healthy fats, too).

Raw Salmon fillet
Smoked Salmon on white plate
course salt on wooden spoon

Typical questions I get about smoking salmon range from; How long should I smoke salmon? How to make a brine? Wet brine vs Dry brine etc. What wood should I use to smoke salmon?  The recipe will go over this in detail so it keeps the guesswork out.

Taking the time to smoke your salmon gives it a very distinctive smoky flavor and refined texture. Enjoy this salmon warm simply on its own (possibly with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for a bit of acidity,) pair it with cream cheese, cucumbers, or crackers as an appetizer, or layer it cooled on a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast! Add a couple of slices of red onion and you’ll have an amazing bagel. You could even make a smoked salmon dip.

Looking for a less traditional recipe for smoked salmon? Try our pineapple teriyaki salmon.

Cold vs Hot Smoked Salmon

Hot smoked salmon is typically smoked above 120 degrees F. Cold smoking requires much lower temperatures, typically below 90 degrees F. To be clear, it’s not that hot smoking or cold smoking produces the best salmon—that’s a matter of individual taste.

But you can expect some differences between hot-smoked and cold-smoked salmon. The smoke flavor in hot smoked salmon will be far more pronounced. Smoking fish at lower temperatures doesn’t infuse as much smoke, so you may notice that salmon filets that are cold-smoked taste “fresher” and more subtle.

Wet Brine vs Dry Brine For Salmon

I’ve used both methods, and I find that the wet salmon brine always produces the best smoked salmon.

A wet brine usually consists of a large amount of water with salt, brown sugar, and spices. A dry brine is typically sugar, salt, and spices applied over the top of the salmon. You typically place salmon in a refrigerated container for 24 hours.

We’ll use brown sugar, but you may also see recipes that tell you to use maple syrup or white sugar when you brine salmon. You’ll also see alternative ingredients where we use Kosher salt. Some people like using soy sauce instead of salt, but that will obviously limit you to a wet preparation.

The major advantage of a wet smoked salmon brine is that submerging the the fish for 8-12 hours helps cure the salmon more evenly than a dry preparation. I find the salmon filet has a more even flavor throughout the cut and the presentation/color of smoked salmon from a wet salmon brine is better.

If you do decide to use a dry smoked salmon brine, you may need to use a paper towel to pat dry your fish so it isn’t too wet. You’ll need to find a good moisture balance when you season salmon with a dry brine to ensure you have a semi-sticky surface for the dry ingredients.

How Long To Smoke Salmon

My method uses three stages. The first stage is smoking at a low 100F for 2 hours, the second stage is at an increased temperature of 140F for 2 hours, and the final stage is 2 more hours at 175F. That is a total of 6 hours.

If you do not have a smoker that can achieve these low temperatures, simply smoke the salmon for 4-5 hours at 165F.

I like my salmon smoky, so this 6-hour method is my favorite. Don’t worry about checking the internal temperature of the salmon for doneness because it will be over the typical 145F.

If you don’t already have an Instant Read Thermometer, get one and you’ll never overcook any meat or fish again.

How Long To Smoke Salmon at 225F – Pellet Grills

A lot of the new pellet smokers cannot smoke at very low temps. The lowest temperature on most models is 225F. If you’re smoking it at 225F, you will only need to smoke for 3-4 hours. I find smoking at this temp is not ideal. Try to skip the pellet grill if you can. Drum or electric smokers or even a kettle grill will work to smoke at low temps for far better smoked salmon. Just make sure you have plenty of wood chips if you’re smoking in an electric or propane smoker.

Prep and Cook Time

  • Prep time: 16hrs 15mins
  • Cook Time: 5-6 hours
  • Total Time: 24-25 hours

Ingredients:

  • 3lbs of Salmon (large fillet preferably)
  • 11.5 cups of water
  • 1 ⅜ cup of Kosher Salt (Reduce by 25-50% if you do not like a strong salt flavor)
  • 1 ¼ cup of Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tsp of Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp of Garlic Powder

Instructions

  1. Mix the water and ingredients together in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil to help dissolve the Kosher salt and brown sugar. Remove from heat and let cool in the fridge for 3-4 hours. 
  2. Rinse the salmon fillet in cold water. If the salmon still has skin, remove it at this time. 
  3. Cut the salmon into 3” wide by 4-5” length strips. I find this is an ideal portion size and the smoke penetrates the salmon evenly. 
  4. Once the salmon brine is cooled, place the fish into the large pot. Cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours. 
  5. After the time has elapsed, remove the salmon and lightly pat dry with paper towels. Place the salmon on a wire rack and let sit on the counter for 4 hours. This lets the salmon dry evenly and creates a shiny skin called pellicle. This is a crucial step because the smoke will adhere to the salmon properly. 
  6. Preheat your smoker: I start my smoker at 100F. I typically use maple wood for smoking Salmon. You could also use oak, alder, or apple wood. Avoid a strong wood like hickory, though. We have an overview of smoking with wood if you have more questions.
  7. Once the smoker is ready I lightly oil the grill grate so the salmon will not stick. Place the salmon in the smoker for two hours. After the two hours move the smoker temperature to 140F and smoke another two hours. Then turn the smoker to 175F and smoke for two more hours. This is a total of six hours. 
  8. If your smoker can not operate at such a low temp, smoke the salmon for 4-5 hours at 165F. 
  9. Remove the salmon and place it on the racks to cool on your counter. Rest for one hour. After letting it rest, you are ready to enjoy. Refrigerate the remaining portions. 
Ora King Salmon
Ora King Salmon from Riviera Seafood Club
Canadian Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic Salmon from Riviera Seafood Club
Smoked Salmon on white plate

How to Smoke Salmon – Smoked Salmon Recipe

4.55 from 20 votes
Author: Michael Haas
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Keywords: best smoked salmon recipe,homemade smoked salmon,how to smoke salmon,smoked salmon recipe,wet brine smoked salmon
Servings: 8 people
Taking the time to smoke your salmon gives the salmon a very distinctive smoky flavor and refined texture. Enjoy this salmon warm simply on it's own, pair with cream cheese, cucumbers, or crackers as an appetizer, or layer it cooled on a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast!
Prep Time: 16 hours 15 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours

Equipment

  • smoker

Ingredients
  

  • 3 lbs salmon Large fillet preferred
  • 11.5 cups water
  • 1 3/8 cup kosher salt Reduce by 25%-50% if you do not prefer a strong salt flavor.
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Instructions
 

  • Mix the water and ingredients together in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil to help dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and let cool in the fridge for 3-4 hours.
  • Rinse the salmon fillet in cold water. If the salmon still has skin, remove it at this time.
  • Cut the salmon into 3” wide by 4-5” length strips. I find this is an ideal portion size and the smoke penetrates the salmon evenly.
  • Once the brine is cooled place the salmon into the large pot. Cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours.
  • After the time has elapsed, remove the salmon and lightly pat dry with paper towels. Place the salmon on some racks and let sit on the counter for 4 hours. This lets the salmon dry evenly and creates a shiny skin called pellicle. This is a crucial step because the smoke will adhere to the salmon properly.
  • Preheat your smoker: I start my smoker at 100F. I typically use maple wood for smoking, but some people prefer cherry pellets.
  • Once the smoker is ready, I lightly oil the grill grates so the salmon will not stick. Place the salmon in the smoker for two hours. After the two hours are up , raise the temperature to 140F and smoke for another two hours. Then increase the temperature to 175F and smoke for two more hours. This is a total of six hours.
  • If your smoker can not operate at such a low temp, smoke the salmon for 4-5 hours at 165F, or 3-4 hours at 225F.
  • Remove the salmon and place on racks to cool on your counter. Rest for one hour. After the resting, you are ready to enjoy. Refrigerate the remaining portions.

Nutrition

Serving: 6ozCalories: 313kcalCarbohydrates: 22.7gProtein: 33.1gFat: 10.5gSaturated Fat: 1.5gCholesterol: 75mgSodium: 800mgPotassium: 400mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 22.2gCalcium: 102mgIron: 1mg

Smoked Salmon FAQS

Should I cook smoked salmon?

No need! Smoked salmon is already cooked. You’ll just need to decide if you want to enjoy your smoked salmon hot or chilled. Enjoying it is also easy. You can add it as-is to an appetizer board or top a bagel and cream cheese with several slices. Adding herbs can boost the flavor of the dish and complement the smoke flavor, but it isn’t necessary.

How long does smoked salmon last in the fridge?

Your cold smoked or hot smoked salmon should last 1-2 weeks in the fridge. You can also store it in the freezer for up to a month. When you’re prepping your smoked salmon for storage, try to choose a container that removes as much air as possible (vacuum seal it if you can).

Is smoked salmon as healthy as fresh salmon?

Just like the salmon filets that it’s made from, smoked salmon contains plenty of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Smoked salmon is a good source of EPA and DHA, protein, B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium. Choosing smoked salmon is no less healthy than a salmon filet.

Can you leave salmon in the brine too long?

Yes, it’s possible to leave your salmon filet in brine for too long. Leaving it in your smoked salmon brine longer than you should will result in smoked salmon that may be saltier than you want. Try to remove smaller salmon fillets earlier than bigger pieces to prevent this.

Should I use a cedar plank when I smoke my salmon filet?

We don’t suggest using a cedar plank as part of smoked salmon recipes. If you want to infuse a specific type of wood flavor into your salmon, you can use different kinds of wood pellets during the smoking process.

8 thoughts on “How to Smoke Salmon: Smoked Salmon Recipe”

    • Hi Geoff,
      You bet. After the salmon has been in the brine mixture for that long, it is essentially cured. You want to let the salmon sit for the four hours to develop the pellicle which allows the smoke to stick to better.
      Hope you enjoy it.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
    • Hi Mike,

      When I wrote that recipe I used a Bradley electric smoker which let’s you smoke at the really low temps. I sold that a while ago. I mainly use Yoder Pellet Smokers, and offsets now.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
    • Hi Nate, I would cut back on the salt by over 50% if you use regular salt. Kosher is not as potent as regular table salt.
      Good luck on the smoked salmon.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
4.55 from 20 votes (20 ratings without comment)

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