Salmon is a fresh and salty dish perfect for any occasion whether it is a romantic dinner or a normal Tuesday night. So, you want to know how to smoke salmon. There are many methods that people use when cooking salmon, whether it is on the stovetop or in the oven, but many chefs swear by the taste and heavenly aroma that comes from smoking salmon.

Learning how to smoke salmon involves following several steps and acquiring all the proper ingredients. Below we provide you with all the information you need to have a delicious smoked salmon on your dinner plate. This information includes the ingredients and equipment you will need, how to prepare and use a brine to enhance the flavor of the salmon, and how to smoke salmon.

Remember to practice proper handling and sanitation while preparing and cooking your meal. While you can eat salmon raw, it is necessary to cook it properly to avoid food poisoning. If you are preparing side dishes with your salmon, consider how this will factor in and make use of your time-management skills to make sure that your dinner goes smoothly.


What You Need

There are many recipes for smoked salmon, each specifying the proper wood to smoke the salmon with, how long to cure the fish and the ingredients to use that will enhance the flavor. If you want to smoke salmon, it is important to remember that the ingredients will vary depending on how many people you are cooking for.

Typically, this recipe will serve 6-8 people which is great because the smoker you will use can hold a large amount of salmon. Another thing to note, is the order you prepare your meal. If you're cooking something along with the salmon, think about what will go well with it. There are many foods that go nicely with the saltiness of the salmon.


Ingredients

  • Salmon: 5 lbs
  • Water (cool): 4c
  • Salt: 1/4c (kosher)
  • Brown Sugar: 1/4c
  • Bay Leaves: 2
  • Celery: 1 stalk
  • Garlic Cloves: 2 (smashed)
  • Onion: 1/2
  • Fennel: 1/2c
  • Birch or maple syrup

Mix the ingredients and place it all in a large plastic container.


Household

  • Large plastic container
  • Basting brush
  • Wire rack
  • Wood: fruit or nut wood, such as maple, birch, apple, cherry or oak.


Preparing the Brine

The brine is a process you don't want to skimp out on, for this gives the salmon the delicious and enhanced flavor we want. The time the salmon will cure depends on the thickness of the cut. Depending on if you're using salmon, trout, or sockeye, the brining is one of the most important steps.

After you've cleaned the salmon and measured out your ingredients, lay out the materials you'll need for the brining. The large container will provide more than enough space for the salmon to sit in the ingredients. Keeping it sealed inside the container will eliminate the moisture and replace the loss with salty deliciousness.

Set a timer for 8 hours minimum—the longer it cures, the saltier it will taste. We recommend capping it at 72 hours. Otherwise, the salty flavor will overpower the dish, and that is not something you want. One way to know the brining process is complete is by checking for a layer on top of the salmon. This layer will be thin and lacquer-like, and once dried in a cool place, will provide the fish protection from drying and a sticky surface for the smoke to lie on.

Here are the steps in preparing the brine, which is important to note before you can learn how to smoke salmon:

  • Place a plate with the salmon on it in front of a station with your salt and water.
  • Cut the skin off the salmon if you would like it to be skinless.
  • Sprinkle an ample amount of salt on the salmon and pour the water over each piece of salmon gradually.
  • Rub the salt and water together by rubbing the salmon together.
  • Place salmon in the large plastic container with the ingredients in it.
  • Seal the container and place it in the refrigerator
  • Leave the salmon in the fridge.  Thin cuts will need about 8 hours and thick cuts need at least a day; no longer than three days.
  • Let it air dry, either by placing it on a wire rack or by letting a fan dry it on low-speed, for 2-3 hours.


How to Smoke Salmon

person cooking big slice of flavored salmon on a griller

Now, it's time to cook your salmon. If you plan on cooking it with something else, now would be the best time to prepare it. There are many things that go well with salmon, such as deviled eggs or pasta and you can serve it flaked, alone, or tossed in a salad. Whatever you plan on pairing the salmon with, if you want to know how to smoke salmon, have a plan ready. Have a sous chef or prepare your pairing as you're preparing your brine.

Now that you have your salmon prepared, and it has the nice layer we spoke of earlier, you're ready to smoke your salmon. If you're still unsure about the wood to use and haven't gone out to get wood yet, we have a strong recommendation.

We strongly suggest using a fruit or nut wood. There are many types to choose from and the reason we suggest one of those is that any other type will not pair well with the salmon. The fruit/nut essence in the wood will enhance the natural saltiness of the salmon, while not removing the moisture. Most other types of wood will make your salmon bitter. There are resins inside the wood that cause this reaction.

As far as smokers go, it's important to research and determine which will give you the easiest results and the best quality. The Traeger Timberline is a recommended smoker because not only does it tell you the exact temperature your food is at while it's cooking, but you're also able to control the temperature. The wood pellets it comes with are the only kind you can use, but that's okay because it gives a more precise and distinct flavor to the salmon.

More important than the smoker you use to smoke the salmon is the wood. The wood must be a fruit or nut wood. We know we have already mentioned this, but we cannot stress it enough. The fruit and nut essence of the wood will enhance the saltiness of the salmon, bringing the flavor to life.

Here are the steps on how to smoke salmon:

  • Ensure you have the proper wood to smoke the salmon on.
  • Place the brined salmon into the smoker and cook for the designated amount of time.
  • If the salmon is thin, smoke it for an hour. If it is thick, smoke it for 4 hours.
  • Ensure the temperature is around 140F and while it may rise during the process, ensure it doesn’t get higher than 175F. Some people start at 120F/150F for up to an hour and finish at 175F. To keep it mild, put water/ice in the drip pan.
  • This “hot” smoking method will only take a few hours at most, and once it is done, let it cool for some time.

We strongly advise you to purchase large quantities of salmon and prepare a large meal. Whatever smoker you use, whether it's with the Traeger Timberline or a different kind, we give directions for a large serving size because it can hold so much salmon. Any smoker can hold a lot of fish, but with a recipe this amazing, it'll be worth it to prepare such a large meal.


It's Time To Eat!

delicious smoked salmon with fresh vegetables on the side

Salmon goes wonderfully with a nice white wine, malt whiskey or for non-alcoholic drinks, earl gray tea or sparkling fruit drinks. While it may have felt intimidating at first, you now know how to smoke salmon. You learned the proper ingredients to gather, the process in which you prepare the brine and how careful you have to be when smoking it.

Remember to practice proper handling and sanitation while preparing and cooking your meal. While you can eat salmon raw, it is necessary to cook it properly to avoid food poisoning. Another factor to remember is whether you will eat the salmon with something else or as a solo meal. This is when excellent time-management skills and careful planning will come into play.

You have learned that salmon can cure in the aforementioned ingredients for a certain amount of time. Otherwise, the flavor will be off. You've learned the importance of smoking it at the right temperature and how to make sure it is cooked to perfection.

Now, it's time to serve the salmon with your other items. Whether you're eating it plain, with pasta, deviled eggs, or in a salad, smoked salmon is a delicious, healthy and flavorful fish. This "hot" cooking method is a popular favorite for the flaky goodness and delicatessen style that is always a crowd-pleaser and will be for years to come.

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