Cold Smoked Salmon

The time you put into this cold smoked salmon is worth it when the results are so incredibly good.
cold smoked salmon

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If you love nothing more than a bagel smeared with cream cheese and layered with strips of silky orange salmon, then you really should give this recipe a go.

Admittedly, you do need a bit of dedication when cold smoking salmon as it does take a bit of time but on the flip side the effort is minimal, and once you try this delicious salmon with its beautiful smokey flavor you’ll realize the time was well spent.

What is cold smoked salmon?

Cold smoked salmon is a type of cured salmon that has been smoked at a low temperature, below 90°F.

Usually, this process takes anywhere from 12-24 hours depending on the thickness of the salmon and how much smoke flavor you want to infuse into the meat. 

Traditionally cold smoking involves a smokehouse where the salmon hangs away from the heat source and is smoked. The smoke helps with flavor and preservation. Cold smoking does not actually cook the fish. 

Is it safe to eat cold smoked salmon?

The curing and smoking of the salmon help with preservation so it is perfectly safe to eat. However, those with weakened immune systems or pregnant women may want to avoid the dish. 

Cold Smoked Salmon

Ingredients you’ll need

  • Salmon filet – a piece at least 3-4lb, fresh and high quality for best results.
  • Kosher salt – you want to use a course salt, don’t use table salt.
  • Brown sugar

Equipment you’ll need

  • Baking dish – big enough for the whole filet to lie flat in.
  • Plastic wrap
  • Wire rack – to place the filet on to dry out after the brine.
  • Baking sheet – to place under the wire rack.
  • Grill – one with air vents and enough space to smoke a salmon filet. 
  • Smoke tube – I used a pellet smoker tube but you can check out some other options here.
  • Smoking pellets – apple and cherry wood are always good options when smoking fish as they are mild and offer a slightly sweet flavor. Only use wood that is suitable for smoking food and avoid any that might contain toxins or harmful chemicals. 

How to make Cold Smoked Salmon

1. Curing the salmon

Before smoking the salmon, you need to cure it. I keep it simple with a 50-50 mix of Kosher salt and brown sugar. Mix the two together to combine.

Take some plastic wrap and lay it into a baking dish large enough to fit your salmon. Leave enough plastic wrap on each side and the ends to wrap the filet in. 

fresh salmon in white dish with cure around it

Spread half of the salt and sugar mix on the bottom, then place your salmon on top of it.

fresh salmon filet with dry cure all over it

Place the remaining salt and sugar mix on top of the salmon and wrap the salmon tightly with the overhanging plastic wrap.

salmon filet wrapped in plastic wrap in a white dish

Place the salmon in your fridge for 24 hours to cure.

The salt and sugar will draw the moisture out of the salmon and you will see juices leaking out. That is completely normal. 

salmon filet wrapped in plastic wrap, in a white dish with juices

Once you remove the salmon from the fridge, rinse the fish off gently with cold water and place it onto a wire cooking rack with a baking sheet underneath. 

salmon filet on a wire rack
You will also notice that the salmon has firmed up and probably changed color a bit.

Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and get it as dry as possible. Then place the salmon back in your fridge for about 4 hours. This will help the salmon get a pellicle or tacky surface for the smoke to adhere to. 

2. The grill 

To smoke the salmon, you can use any grill that you want. Since the grill will not actually be fired up, it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. You just need one with air vents and enough space to smoke a salmon filet. 

3. Cold smoke generator

I used a long smoke tube and filled it with apple and cherry wood pellets.

z grills tube smoker filled with pellets

The choice of wood used to cold smoke salmon has a direct impact on the outcome of flavor. In the Pacific Northwest, Alder wood is traditional as it imparts a mild, sweet, and slightly nutty flavor to the fish. 

Woods like hickory and oak should be used in moderation but add depth and complexity to the overall flavor of the fish.

smoke tube being lighted with gas lighter
Experiment with different blends to make your own style, based on the flavor profile you like.

Light one end of the smoke tube until it flames up and shut the lid. Once the oxygen is cut off the smoke tube will start smoking and provide hours of smoke. 

If you need a little more instruction as to how to get your smoke tube up and running check out our article on How to use a Smoke Tube.

smoke tube with lit pellets inside on the grill

After the smoke tube has ignited and is producing good smoke, I placed my salmon next to it and let the smoke roll!

salmon filet in grill with smoke tube

Depending on the length of the smoke tube and how long you need to smoke for, you may need to reload the tube a few times. I bought some longer tubes online and 1 tube gave me about 4 hours of smoke time. 

I ended up using my Camp Chef Woodwind Pro because it has a built-in fan for cold smoking. That’s the only function of the grill that I ended up using just to keep the smoke flowing through properly. If you don’t have access to a grill with that option it will still work fine. 

smoke tube in grill with smoke, salmon filet in background

I smoked my salmon for about 12 hours as it wasn’t a very thick filet. When done, the salmon should be a translucent pinkish-orange color and firm to the touch.

Slice it up

Cut your salmon into thin slices with a sharp knife. You can eat the salmon just as is or serve it on top of bagels with cream cheese (don’t forget to add a few capers as well), enjoy it as a garnish for salads, top a pizza with it, or put it in a pasta dish.

The salmon should last for about 3-5 days refrigerated. 

Other ways with salmon

cold smoked salmon

Cold Smoked Salmon

Salmon filet, dry brined and cold smoked with apple and cherry wood.
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Course: Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 12 hours
Curing time: 1 day 4 hours
Total Time: 1 day 16 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories: 322kcal
Author: Jordan Hanger


  • 4 lb salmon filet
  • 1 cup Kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar


  • In a bowl combine the salt and sugar together.
  • Line the bottom of a baking dish with plastic wrap, leaving enough overhang on each side and the ends to be able to wrap the salmon filet up.
  • Sprinkle half the salt/sugar mixture onto the plastic wrap and place your salmon filet on top. Sprinkle the remaining salt/sugar mixture over the entire top of the salmon filet.
  • Wrap the salmon filet tightly in the plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate the salmon for 24 hours then rinse well with cold water to remove all the salt/sugar mixture.
  • Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and place it on a wire rack with a tray underneath. Place in the refrigerator for another 4 hours to form a pellicle.
  • Fill up a smoke tube with wood smoking pellets and ignite one end.
  • Once the smoke tube is properly ignited and producing smoke, place your salmon onto your grill.
  • Smoke the salmon for 12-18 hours depending on the thickness of the filet. When done, the salmon should be a translucent pinkish-orange color and firm to the touch.
  • Serve salmon cold and cut thin slices.
  • The salmon should last for about 5 days refrigerated.


What is a pellicle? A coating that allows smoke to better adhere to the surface of the salmon during the smoking process.
Smoking pellets – apple and cherry wood are always good options when smoking fish as they are mild and offer a slightly sweet flavor. Only use wood that is suitable for smoking food and avoid any that might contain toxins or harmful chemicals. 
For more instructions on how to use a smoke tube, check out our article here.


Calories: 322kcal | Protein: 45g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 125mg | Sodium: 100mg | Potassium: 1111mg | Vitamin A: 91IU | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 2mg
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