This recipe is an amazing way to pack delicious, savory, smoky flavor into salmon.
There are different types of smoked salmon, and this recipe combines a wet brine and hot smoking technique as opposed to the cold-smoked variety you would use to make the lox for bagels.
The prep time may seem intimidating because the brine requires 4 to 8 hours, but most of the prep is “hands off” while you let the brine do its thing in the comfort of your fridge.
Hot smoked salmon
The wet brine
The key to flavorful smoked salmon is the wet brine process. A brine is a simple combination of water, salt, and sugar and serves a few key purposes:
- Removes water from the salmon
- Allows the flavor to get down into the filets
- Extends the freshness of the salmon
- Denatures (breaks down) the proteins
You will need to let the salmon brine for at least 4 hours, but I recommend letting it brine for as long as 8 to 12 hours for the best results.
Ingredients you’ll need:
- Salmon: this recipe calls for 2 pounds of pre-cut salmon filets. You can alternatively use a full salmon filet, but keep in mind that you will need to increase the cook time to ensure that the whole fish cooks evenly.
- Brine: I keep the brine pretty simple with a combination of water, kosher salt, and brown sugar. You can also add flavor to your brine by adding fresh herbs and peppercorn if you want a bolder brine flavor.
- Salmon Rub: this recipe combines brown sugar and spices to create a flavorful salmon rub. You can opt for a store-bought rub, but I find that sometimes store-bought rubs are a bit too salt-heavy and will overpower the flavor of the fish.
Tools you’ll need
- Smoker or pellet grill: you can smoke your salmon on virtually any smoker or pellet grill, as long as you are able to keep the temperature at a steady 175°F for a 3-hour period.
- Wood or pellets: smoking any type of fish requires mild wood, heavier woods tend to overpower the flavor of the salmon. I recommend using oak, pecan, or fruit wood such as apple or cherry.
- Cooking pot: for heating up your brine.
- Brining container: you need a non-reactive container (e.g. plastic or glass).
- Wire rack: while you can smoke the salmon directly on the grates of your smoker, sometimes you can have issues with the skin sticking to the grates. For this reason, I prefer to smoke the salmon filets on a wire rack to make clean-up a breeze.
How to make hot smoked salmon
Start by placing a pot on the stove over medium heat and add the water. Bring it to a soft boil and add the salt and brown sugar. Whisk the ingredients together and let the brine simmer for about 20 minutes until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved.
Transfer the brine to a non-reactive container (e.g. plastic or glass). I like to use my Cambro FreshPro containers for this recipe, as they are a great food-safe option for brining meat and seafood.
Place the brine in the fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes. The brine should be fully cooled – do not place your salmon in the brine while it is still hot, as it will begin cooking your fish prematurely.
Once the brine is cool, place the salmon into the container with the skin side facing up.
Cover the container and place it back in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours.
Once your salmon has brined, you can remove it from the solution and rinse it off under cold water.
Rinsing the salmon is essential because you want to remove any excess salt from the exterior of your fish. Failing to rinse your salmon will result in an over-salty flavor.
You want to let the salmon sit and dry out at room temperature for about two hours. Ideally, you want to rest the salmon in a cool, breezy environment. If you have a small fan or a ceiling fan in your kitchen, place the salmon under it to help it cool and dry faster.
As the salmon dries out, you will notice it begins to get a shiny exterior skin known as a pellicle. This pellicle will help the smoke stick to the salmon during the cooking process.
Add all the seasoning ingredients into a bowl and mix until they are well combined, then season each piece of salmon.
Transfer the filets to a wire rack with the skin side facing downward.
Preheat your smoker or pellet grill to 175°F.
For this recipe, I used my Camp Chef Woodwind Pro with a smoke setting of 7 to ensure I was able to pack as much smoky flavor into the fish as possible.
The goal is to smoke the salmon very slowly at a low temperature, so make sure that you choose a smoker that you can keep a steady temperature on for at least 3 hours.
The biggest issue you will run into when smoking salmon is temperature. If the heat gets too high during the cooking process the salmon will begin to cook too quickly and the muscle fibers will contract too rapidly. The moisture inside of the salmon will seep out of the fish and you will be left with dry and unevenly smoked salmon.
Place the wire rack with your fish onto the grates of your smoker.
The smoking process will take between 2 and 3 hours depending on the thickness of your filets.
Start testing the internal temperature around the 2-hour mark.
You want to let the salmon smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F.
An instant-read thermometer is a great tool for checking the temperature during the cooking process.
I recommend the ThermoWorks Thermapen One, as it is a very accurate temperature probe that can read temperature within 1 second.
4. Resting your salmon
Once your salmon reaches an internal temperature of 150°F, remove the wire rack from the smoker and let the salmon rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Once the salmon has rested, you can store it in plastic wrap or an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week.
How to serve smoked salmon
This delicious smoked salmon can be served on its own as a filet, or you can break it apart into flakes and add it to other recipes such as salmon cakes, and salmon salad, or even use it as a pasta or sandwich topping.
Give these other seafood recipes a try
- Smoked salmon burnt ends with hot honey glaze
- How to grill cedar plank salmon
- Smoked lobster tails
- Grilled Halibut with Easy Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce
Hot Smoked Salmon
- 2 lbs salmon filets skin on
- 1 quart water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ tbsp Kosher salt
- ½ tbsp black pepper
- ½ tbsp granulated garlic
- ½ tbsp smoked paprika
- ½ tbsp chili powder
- In a pot over medium heat, bring the quart of water to a soft boil.
- Once the water is boiling, add the kosher salt and brown sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved.
- Transfer the brine to the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.
- Place your salmon in a plastic or glass container with the skin facing upward. Pour the cooled brine mixture over the top of the salmon, cover, and put back in the fridge for at least 4 hours (8 hours is recommended).
- After the salmon has brined for at least 4 hours, remove it from the brine and rinse it under cold water to remove any excess salt.
- Lay the salmon on a wire rack or baking rack and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours to dry out. You will notice a shiny, skin-like pellicle form on the outside of the salmon during the drying process.
- Preheat your smoker to 175°F.
- Combine all of the dry rub ingredients in a bowl, then season each salmon filet with the rub mixture.
- Transfer the seasoned salmon filets back to the wire rack with the skin facing down.
- Place your salmon on the smoker and let it smoke for 2 to 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F. Start checking the temperature of the salmon at the 2 hour mark.
- Once the salmon reaches an internal temperature of 150°F, remove the rack from the smoker and let it cool at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Store salmon in the fridge until ready to serve – up to 1 week.