My First Hot Smoked Salmon
Hot Smoked Salmon Recipe: This healthy and delicious slow food recipe is a perfect use of good quality salmon. Eat it immediately or preserve it for later!
My First Hot Smoked Salmon
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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Char-Broil. All opinions are 100% mine.
Ever since I read and reviewed Aaron Franklin’s manifesto on smoked foods, I’ve wanted to dive into the hugely in-depth (and sometimes intimidating) world of smoking. So, when Char-Broil offered to send me their Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker, I jumped at the chance.
The smoker came basically assembled and I’ll get into some of the cooler features that it has in this post. The instructions were easy to follow and after I seasoned it and pre-heated it, it was ready to use! I actually tried a small brisket on it first just to get a feel for it (turned out great), but I wanted to try something a bit more delicate also.
Enter smoked salmon! I’ve never smoked fish before so I was excited to try it. After doing some research (I ended up roughly following Hank Shaw’s method), I bought some really nice fresh salmon and dove in!
Hot Smoked Salmon Recipe
- 2 pounds fresh salmon filets
- 2 quarts water
- ⅔ cup kosher salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Wood smoking chips
- Mix together water, salt, sugar, syrup, and cayenne pepper. Pour over salmon in a shallow container. Brine should cover the salmon. Cover the salmon and refrigerate in the brine for 24-36 hours. For thicker filets of salmon, you definitely want to shoot for 36 hours. I also recommend flipping the salmon halfway through just to make sure it is brining evenly.
- Drain brine from salmon. Place salmon in a cool dry clean place and let it dry for 2 hours. This will form a light, sticky surface on the salmon. You can smoke the salmon at this point or refrigerate it for later smoking (you should smoke it within a day or two of brining and drying it.)
- Prepare smoker according to instructions. Be sure to season the smoker or preheat it with soaked wood chips in place and water pan filled.
- Smoke salmon at the lowest temperature you can manage (hopefully around 120 degrees F.) for 2 hours. Check the temperature of the salmon frequently to make sure it isn’t cooking too quickly. Then you can slowly raise the smoker temperature to get to the desired temperature.
- The salmon should take 3-4 hours to get to the desired temperature of 140 degrees F. If it cooks too fast, you’ll see white liquid being pressed out the top of the salmon. If there’s a lot (some is okay), it means the salmon is cooking too fast. You can always turn off the smoker completely to slow the cooking process. Keep the door closed to keep the smoke circulating.
- When salmon is done smoking, remove it from the smoker and serve it immediately by flaking it off or let it cool.
- For storage, cool completely, wrap in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 10 days. You can also vacuum seal the fish and freeze it for up to 6 months. I recommend eating it immediately though!
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Hot Smoked Salmon
Brining the Fish
You don’t have to brine salmon before smoking it. You can just toss it in the smoker, I guess, but brining adds a lot of good things to the fish. It pulls out some of the liquid and gives the fish good color and flavor. It gives the salmon more flavor and the sweet/salty components of the brine go really nicely with the smoked flavor.
The downside, of course, is that it basically adds two days onto your cooking time. Plan ahead!
You could use any salmon for this, but if you’re taking the time to smoke salmon, buy really good fresh salmon. I bought a two pound filet of really good salmon and hoped that I would be able to do it justice.
For my version, I decided to leave the pin bones in the filet to keep the fish more intact. Since I knew I would be flaking it apart for serving, the pin bones wouldn’t be a huge deal to pick out later.
Mix up the brine until the salt and sugar is dissolved and pour it over the fish.
I let mine sit for about 36 hours in the fridge.
Drying the Salmon
After you’ve brined the salmon, it needs to dry out. What you don’t want to do is pat it dry with paper towels. On the surface of the salmon, a thin layer of syrupy liquid will form if you let the salmon dry slowly in a cool, dry place. This time of year, I just dried mine in my kitchen next to an open window on a cool night.
After a few hours, the salmon will be dry and a bit sticky to the touch. At this point you an smoke the salmon or store it in the fridge and smoke it later (within a day or two). The salmon is basically cured at this point thanks to the salt and sugar in the brine so it will preserve okay for a few days.
Hot Smoking the Salmon
There are two types of smoke when it comes to salmon. Cold smoking salmon is tough to do unless you have a really specific setup. Hot smoking salmon is a little easier although the word “hot” is tough. You don’t want to HOT smoke salmon. Intense heat will destroy it. So even when you are applying heat, it’s a gentle heat.
When I was ready to smoke, I added some soaked wood chips (sweeter woods like cherry or apple go well with salmon) to my smoker box.
Then I just put the salmon on the top level of the smoker and inserted the probe thermometer. I set the temperature in the smoker to a pretty cold 120 degrees F.
Yea… that’s right. I said probe thermometer. One of the things I love about this smoker is there is a built in probe thermometer. It hooks into the digital settings on the smoker so you can set a finished temperature that you want and the smoker will automatically shut off (and switch to warm) when the probe thermometer hits that temperature.
There’s also a digital remote so you can monitor the smoker temperature and probe temperature anywhere that the signal reaches (mine reached into my house without a problem).
Very cool features and made smoking really easy!
Controlling Temperature for Salmon
The absolute hardest thing about smoking salmon is controlling the temperature. Ideally, you want the salmon to slow smoke and take 3-4 hours to get to the desired temperature of 140 degrees F.
This can be tricky even with the digital controls on a smoker like this. One indicator that your fish is cooking too fast is if it gets a lot of white liquid accumulating on top. That means that the proteins in the salmon are contracting quickly and pushing out liquid.
I was able to get pretty good temperature control with this model of smoker though. After about 90 minutes and again around 3 hours, I actually switched off the smoker for 10 minutes to cool it down a little bit. It felt like it was getting a bit too hot. But I don’t hold this against the device really. It’s very tough to keep a low temperature like that for an extended period of time.
I was also playing it safe by taking more time. Slower is definitely better here.
My finished salmon picked up some light smoke color but had really amazing flavor.
It was perfectly salty and sweet and had nice hints of smoke. It would be great on crackers as an appetizer or on a bagel with some cream cheese obviously!
For my first attempt at smoking fish, I was really happy with how this turned out.
If you’re in the market for an electric smoker, definitely check out the Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker. It has some really fantastic features and makes smoking good food very accessible.
30 Responses to “My First Hot Smoked Salmon” Leave a comment
Great shots and fantastic review, Nick. We used ours for cold smoking bacon and it was excellent at those low temps.
I’ve always wanted to do this myself. Your pictures, especially of the salmon, look amazing!!!
As usual, very comprehensive & helpful…1 request, tho…As with any “salmon” recipe, PLEASE specify type…NOT the “farmed” garbage, but good, high Omega-3, non-fatty, non-antibiotic’d, non-lousy, REAL WILD Salmon! Not always available “fresh”, but the wild type doesn’t suffer from freezing!
Tom Tigard you are an idiot, research some real science on farmed salmon before using such harsh coment based on hearsay
You are right Forrest, I believe Chilean salmon is raised in ocean pens and they are fed netted baitfish. I like the extra fattiness for smoking
I can understand how some folks feel, however if you seen what actually is fed to the BC and Washington net penned salmon you would defer from eating them from this region… I live in washington and have seen the deformations, lethargic actions and the disease these fish are spreading to the wild populations… Farmed salmon in BC and washington is on the verge of collapse and it’s about damn time….
regardless of the quality of farmed salmon i see no reason to specify the type of salmon to smoke its personal preference and the recipe works for any salmon and not to mention most wild salmon types are seasonal and protected by law to prevent fishing out of season
Great little smoker, does everything I want. Perfect for smoking salmon, can keep it at 100 degrees to start the process.
How do you get the fish to 140 degrees if you set the temperature of the smoker to 120?
The Char broil sounds like a nice little smoker for the price. I have another brand of smoker and the only time I tried smoking salmon it didn’t turn out great – I think the temperature was a bit high.
Awesome article! Followed your directions and was very pleased with the results. Thanks!
i have smoked salmon for years. started with little chef,went to a butane smoker then a pellet electric smoker. the key is slow and temp control. make sure salmon is dry before putting in smoker. I always use lemon pepper and coat salmon with a light dusting of brown sugar.. I have never had trouble give it away,get in line. fred in seattle
Silly question,..should I preheat my smoker first or just set it at 120 and go.
Very Informative.Thanks for sharing.
I would haive liked my salmon to be a bit drier. Any suggestions?
I like your recipe very much! It sounds yummy! Here’s my situation that I might need a little help with but you seem like you’ve been down this road so I will ask. I have an electric, digital controlled smoker with internal probe and smoker temperature probe. I also have a “cold” or slow smoker box that is external to the main smoker. I can smoke food in the main smoker at ambient temperature, 60, 70, 80 degrees, whatever the outside temp is at the time. Can you recommend an “oven temp” (main smoker) to use on the salmon? I can feed as much smoke as necessary regardless of the main smoker internal temperature.
Preheating question here. (Newbie) I have an electric smoker with digital temp and time. I’m using the common dry brine of brown sugar and kosher salt. Question is, seems like I need to get my smoker to 200+ degrees to get my wood chips to start smoking. Then I open the smoker to let the temp drop to around 150 and set the temp at 150. Smoke for about 1 1/2 hours. Am I doing this right???Suggestions most appreciated.
My smoker has a chip tray that is elevated above the heating element and required 150 to start smoking so I made a small sheetmetal tray that lays directly on heating element and now it smokes at 110!
Excellent recipe. Much easier and tastier than many that we’ve tried over the years. We give it a light rinse after 4 hours of soaking in the brine and then air dry in the fridge for 2-3 hours—until it has a “tack”, and then smoke as directed.
Farmed raised salmon are sprayed with harsh chemicals to kill the parasites that occur when they are pinned up in small areas. This has to effect the quality of the meat. To see more about research it on youtube… Alos the farmed salmon are effecting the echo system around where they are raised.
“Research” and “YouTube” are two words that should never be taken seriously in the same sentence.
With Swedish & Norwegian Grandparents, smoking salmon for me was a duty of the younger generation now that the old folks had taught us young bucks how it’s done. I have used everything from Weber Smokey Mountain Smokers (both 18” and the smaller 14”), The Brinkman Bullet Smoker and the Masterbilt Electric. Nothing beats a 12 hour brining of 2/3 brown sugar combined with 30% course Kosher Salt with several teaspoons of fresh milled black pepper. So far neither the crowds at Sons of Norway nor a couple of Swedish groups are able to distinguish the difference between wild and farmed Salmon. If the fish has been frozen, there is one plus and that is the any possible parasites within the fish will not survive, however frozen fish generallly shows signs of cracking. So the presentation may not be as good as you would want. I generally use Alderwood for the smoke, however Applewood and Cherrywood are indistinguishable. You should avoid Hikory and Mesquite as those flavors will most likely fight the taste of the Salmon. Something close to approximately 6 hours of smoking is generally what I wind up with. I usually can tell by how the fish looks. I always start the temp on the low side (175 or so) then bring is up slowly. Never more than 225, or the White paste will bleed out from the interior of the fish. Recently ( during the past four or five years ) I have basted the fish with a good Maple Syrup. It tends to lock in the moisture and also give a bit of contrast to the saltiness and smoke taste. An important step is to let the fish dry for several hours after brining. I put mine in the RV fridge and put a fan on the rack above and let the pelica form nicely (or whatever the sticky surface is called).