How to Smoke Salmon

How to Smoke Salmon

Are you wondering how to smoke salmon? The first step in smoking salmon is called brining. This means soaking the fish is salted water for some period of time. Some people like to flavor the brine with seasonings or liquid smoke. I prefer to keep it simple. Here is a basic brine recipe suitable for about 10 pounds of fish fillets:

Brine Recipe:

•1 gallon water.

•2 cups brown sugar (or honey).

•2 cups table salt.

Dissolve the above ingredients in a large bowl and add the fish fillets. Allow them to marinate for at least 45 minutes before removing. The longer you allow the fish to marinate in this mixture, the saltier it will become. If you marinate the fish longer than 90 minutes, it will start to become very salty. You can however, reduce the amount of salt and marinate the fish a little longer for a sweeter taste. I find the above brine works well with 45 to 60 minutes or marinating.

Of course, you can always add spices and herbs to the brine as well. You might consider adding one or more of the following to suit your own tastes:

•chili (tobasco or chili powder)



•soy sauce

•worcerstershire sauce

•lemon juice and zest


•lemon pepper

•other favorite seasonings

After brining, remove the fish from the brine and allow to dry in the open air. This will allow a glaze to form while you are preparing the fire.

Smoking Process:

The smoking process is the same whether you use a standard covered grill, like a Weber Kettle, or a smoker. For the sake of this discussion, I will assume that you will be using a charcoal grill of some type. Prepare a fire in the grill using charcoal or hard wood like alder or oak. When using charcoal, I prefer mesquite because it has a mild flavor. You can add alder, apple or oak chips for flavor before you put the fish on the rack.

After the coals are prepared, push them to one side of the kettle or grill. Apply the wood chips to the coals and replace the rack. Place the fish on the rack on the opposite side of the coals. Cover, making sure that the air flow hole on the lid is over the fish, not the coals. Adjust the air flow holes so that there is just enough air to keep the coals glowing. Increase the air flow as necessary during the cooking process.

In general, I find that when I prepare smoked salmon, it doesn’t last long enough to go bad. So, to expedite the process, I use a method that I call smoke baking. Simply put, I bake the salmon with a very warm or hot smoke for about 45 minutes to one hour. Allow the fish to “bake” in the hot smoke for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on thickness. Salmon prepared in this manner may be eaten warm or cold. Refrigerated, it will last 2 weeks or longer, if it lasts that long.

In general, the longer you smoke fish the drier it will become and the longer it will last. Many people dry salmon to make jerky that will last the winter. This is typically smoked outdoors or in a smokehouse. This dried salmon can be reconsituted with moisture when making soups or when cooked in rice.

In general, the flavor of the smoked salmon is largely dependent on the woods used for flavoring. Most hardwoods are suitable for smoking, however in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the perferred wood for smoking is Alder. Alder is abundant in these regions and has a mild flavor that does’t overpower the flavor of the fish. Oak is also used for smoking salmon in California, but unfortunately the trend to use oak is a dying tradition. Dried corn cobs can also be used for smoke and seem to add to the natural sweetness of the salmon.

You may smoke salmon in a covered gas grill. Assuming that you have a grill with burners on each side, fire up one side but not the other. You want to put the fish on the side with the burners off. For smoke, place the wood chips in an empty coffee can and place directly over the heat, under the grill. Since a gas grill does not have a method for restricting air flow, you will want to monitor the fish very closely. The smoke in a gas grill will be warm and the fish will therefore smoke rather quickly. Keep the flames at a minimum and allow to smoke for 45 minutes before sampling.

So, there you have it. All the basic information you need to smoke your own salmon at home. And, it beats paying in excess of $15 per lb. or more for smoked salmon! Smoke up and enjoy!

To Soak or Not to Soak?

That is the question. Many people prefer to soak the wood chips in water for about half an hour before using. This accomplishes 2 things: One, the chips will burn longer and are less prone to flare up; and two, the water will add humidity to the smoke chamber enabling the heat to penetrate the fish more efficiently. Frankly, I seldom, if ever, soak my wood chips before using. Why, you might ask? Because I prefer that the chips begin smoking immediately upon application to the coals and the fish has enough moisture that I don’t really need to add steam.

I feel that a dry smoke gives me more control over the smoke process. So, it is a matter of personal choice. I have tried it each way with excellent results from both. Soaking the chips is an extra step in the process that I prefer to avoid.