Your step by step guide to easily make the best most delicious hot smoked salmon at home. It starts with high-quality salmon that is dry brined then smoked with alder for about an hour.
Smoke and salmon go together like, well, salmon and smoke. Perfectly smoked salmon is one of those simple exquisite indulgences. If it’s on a restaurant menu, it’s hard not to order it. While smoking salmon is both a science and an art, it’s really much easier to make at home than you might think.
It really comes down to striking the right balance between the flavor of the salmon, the salt, a little sweetness, and the smoke. When those all come together, you get something truly amazing that is not only wonderful to eat by itself, but it can be used as an ingredient for so many other dishes.
If you have high-quality salmon, good quality smoke and don’t overcook it; you will be enjoying some pretty amazing smoked salmon in just a few hours.
Now, before we get too far, this recipe is all about hot smoked salmon, and not for lox or cold smoked salmon that you traditionally get on a bagel or on a vacuum-sealed at the grocery store.
The 3 Keys to the Best Smoked Salmon
Don’t overcomplicate it. It’s just smoked salmon after all.
The brine. A simple mix of kosher salt and brown sugar.
Use the right wood chips to pair with the salmon.
Do not overcook the salmon! This is the most important part. The key temperatures are 225 degrees F in the smoker and 140 degrees internal finished temperature. If either of the temperatures gets too high, the salmon will dry out.
What type of salmon to use?
Use wild-caught salmon when it is in season and available. If wild salmon is out of season, fresh frozen wild salmon will still work great for smoking. Just thaw it slowly in the refrigerator.
Use a whole filet (half of the fish) rather than individual portions. The whole filet makes it a little easier to handle and keeps the smoked salmon moist as it cooks.
Read about my trip to Alaska to Summer Salmon Camp to learn all about the Copper River Salmon.
Prepping the salmon
Very little is required to prep the salmon for smoking. One important step is to remove any pin bones that might still be in the filet. Use a pair of fishbone tweezers (affiliate) starting at the tail end working your way to the head end to pull out all the bones. Use paper towels to wipe any liquids off the filets before applying the dry brine.
smoked salmon bringing on a sheet pan
Brine for the Smoked Salmon
A simple brine is essential for adding flavor. The dry brine of brown sugar and kosher salt. There’s really no need to bring the skin side, as it is a waterproof layer that doesn’t get penetrated by a brine. Since we aren’t rinsing this brine off; it’s important not to add too much salt.
The brine will not only help to preserve the salmon so it lasts long after it is smoked, but it will help to pull some moisture out and intensify the flavors of the smoke and salmon. The sugar adds a hint of sweetness to help balance out the flavors.
This smoked salmon brine is a 2 to 1 ratio of Brown Sugar and Kosher Salt.
How to Smoke Salmon
Smoking salmon can seem very complicated with all the theories out there, but let’s simplify it into 3 main steps.
Brine it. The first step is to brine the salmon with a simple 2 to 1 ratio of brown sugar and kosher salt for 1 to 2 hours, then wipe off excess liquid with paper towels.
Prep the smoker for indirect heat smoking at 225° F with alder wood chips for smoke.
Place the salmon skin-side down on a piece of foil and transfer it to the smoker.
Smoke it until the internal temperature reaches 140° F.
Rest it for 5 minutes and enjoy.
Best wood for smoking salmon
Alder trees are native to the Pacific Northwest, and more specifically along the Copper River in Alaska where this salmon comes from. Alder gives the best mild flavor to the salmon, but apple or cherry can also work.
Use smaller wood chips rather than chunks for smoking this salmon over charcoal, as it is not a long smoke.
Best Wood Choice: Alder chips (affiliate)
Also try: Apple or Cherry
Avoid Mesquite, hickory, and other strong-flavored woods.
Soak the chips in water for 20 to 30 minutes prior to smoking. I don’t usually soak chips when smoking meats, but I do for salmon. The reason for this is to help keep the temperature down and create a milder smoke.
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