Smoked Salmon | How to Smoke Your Own

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Smoking salmon is a simple process, where the key is slow-cooking the fish over low heat using aromatic wood chips for flavor. This technique transforms the salmon into a delicious, smoky delicacy, perfect for adding to dishes or enjoyed on its own.

Slab of smoked salmon on a cutting board with handle.Pin
Smoked Salmon Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Difference Between Smoked Salmon and Lox?

The primary difference between lox and smoked salmon is simply that smoked salmon is either cold or hot-smoked. Lox is just cured in a salt and sugar brine without smoking. Lox is generally dry-brined. In contrast, the salmon is either wet-brined or dry-brined.

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Why smoke salmon?

  • Smoking salmon is an easy process that even beginners can tackle.
  • According to the USDA, smoking at low temperatures preserves the nutrients in the salmon, including omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Smoked salmon is delicious and incredibly versatile.
  • It is an economical alternative to buying smoked salmon in the grocery store, particularly if you can access local salmon species.
  • It is a preserving method that can extend the shelf-life. IMPORTANT NOTE: This fish is not shelf-stable but will freeze for many months.

Cold Smoked Versus Hot Smoked

Cold smoking is usually done at temperatures of about 80°F/ 30°C. It is a bit more difficult to accomplish with consumer-type smokers. Most consumer smokers have a minimum temperature of around 100°F/ 40°C.

Hot smoking is done at temperatures between 120°F and 180°F/ 50°C and 80°C. We like to smoke all of our fish at a lower temperature. We start at about 120°F/ 50°C and then increase the temperature to 170°F/ 75°C to finish it.

Ingredients Needed

  • Salmon filet: If you have access to fresh salmon, by all means, use that. Otherwise, use a premium-quality frozen salmon filet. Species include king salmon, cohoe, and Atlantic salmon.
  • Salt: Kosher salt is the best salt to use. Don’t use regular table salt.
  • Brown Sugar: Light or dark brown sugar is fine.
Salmon filet, brown sugar, salt.Pin
Ingredients for smoked salmon. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

How to Make it

Pre step

Trim the filet so that a piece out of the thickest part of the meat. The piece should be relatively uniform in thickness.

Center cut of filet removed.Pin
Cut out the center of the filet so that the piece is relatively uniform. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step One:

This time, we decided to wet-brine the salmon. Add cold water to a container large enough to accommodate the fish. Then, add the sugar and salt and mix it well.

Preparing the brine.Pin
Add the sugar and salt to a container with cool water. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Two:

Brine the filet for at least 3 hours or overnight. If the whole filet isn’t submerged, flip it over halfway through the brining process.

Filet added to the wet brine.Pin
Add the filet to the brine. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Three:

Creating the pellicle is perhaps the most crucial step. Rinse the brine off well.

Pat the filet dry on both sides and place it on a wire rack sitting on a rimmed baking sheet.

Drying off the filet with paper towel.Pin
Dry the filet well on both sides. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Four:

Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight, uncovered. Remove the salmon from the fridge when you see a shiny, slightly sticky film on the meat.

Photo of the pellicle that has formed on the outside of the filet.Pin
This is what the filet should look like. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Five:

Baste the fish on both sides with maple syrup, which will give it a lovely, sweet note.

Basting the filet with maple syrup.Pin
Baste the filet with maple syrup. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Six:

Set up and preheat the smoker. Place the filet directly on the smoker rack.

Smoke for 2 hours at 120°F/50°C. Baste the fish occasionally with more maple syrup.

Boost the temperature up to 170°F /75 °C to finish the fish and bring it to temp. Internal temperature should be about 140°F/ 60°C when you remove it from the smoker. Let it rest. Done temperature is 145°F /60°C.

Salmon filet in the smoker.Pin
Smoke the salmon. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

How to Slice the Salmon

Slice the salmon across the top of the filet with the knife parallel to the countertop. Slice the pieces very thin. If you are having difficulty slicing it, you can cut it into chunks.

Smoked salmon on a cracker with cheese.Pin
Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

What can you do with smoked salmon?

These are just a few samples of what you do with this delicious fish. Use your creativity to come up with lots more.

How to Store Leftovers

Storage: Wrap leftovers in storage bags or an airtight container in the refrigerator. Leftovers should last about 5-7 days. Since it is brined, it has a pretty long shelf-life.

Freezing: Pack leftovers in vacuum pack bags for longer storage, which is the best option. If you don’t have a vacuum packer, pack them in single-serve sizes in freezer bags. Frozen fish will last at least six months.

Pro Tips for Your Success

  1. Always use an internal thermometer to test the temperature of the finished food so that it is cooked but not overdone. Over-cooking can lead to dry, tough fish.
  2. Maintain a consistent temperature when smoking. Fluctuations can affect the texture and flavor of the salmon. For cold smoking, keep it below 90°F (30°C), and for hot smoking, between 120°F and 180°F (50°C to 80°C).
  3. Don’t rush the curing process. The cure is essential for flavor and texture. Make sure to cure the salmon evenly for the best results.
  4. Don’t skip the formation of the pellicle. This step helps the fish absorb the smoky flavor.
  5. If you would like, substitute honey for the maple syrup.
  6. You can smoke the entire piece of salmon whole or cut it into large chunks.
  7. When you slice the salmon for serving, slice it against the grain.
Large chunk of salmon on a wooden board.Pin
Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Frequently Asked Questions

What wood should I use?

We like to use mild wood when smoking fish and poultry so that the smoke doesn’t overpower the meat. You want that smoky flavor but do not want it to overpower the fish. Use apple or cherry wood. Maple or alder would also work well.

What should the internal temperature be?

You can remove it from the smoker at about 140°F/60°C. Once it has rested, it will have increased to 145°F/ 60°C.

What is the best salmon to use?

If you have access to fresh salmon, by all means, use that. Otherwise, use a premium-quality frozen salmon filet. It is best not to use thawed salmon from your local grocery store. It is hard to determine how long that salmon has been out. Buy it frozen and then thaw it in the refrigerator.

Is smoked salmon raw or undercooked?

Cold-smoked salmon is considered raw or undercooked. Hot-smoked salmon is fully cooked. Since this salmon is hot-smoked, it is fully cooked.

How do you tell if smoked salmon has gone bad?

Signs that smoked salmon has spoiled include a sour smell, slimy texture, and a dull, discolored appearance. It’s best to discard salmon if you notice any of these signs.

More Salmon Recipes

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This smoked salmon is an easy way to prepare salmon for a different flavor twist from the norm.

Smoked salmon appetizers on a wooden plate.Pin
Smoked salmon. Photo credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

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Enjoy. And have fun cooking!

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Smoked salmon on a wooden board.Pin

How to Make Smoked Salmon

Smoking salmon is a simple process, where the key is slow-cooking the fish over low heat using aromatic wood chips for flavor.
See Step by Step Photos Above!Most of our recipes have step by step photos and videos! Also helpful tips so that you can make it perfectly the first time and every time! Scroll up to see them!
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Appetizer, Brunch, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Brining time: 2 days
Total Time: 2 days 5 minutes
Servings: 20 appetizers
Calories: 85kcal
Author: Beth Neels
Cost: $30

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs salmon filet use Atlantic, Sockeye, King or Cohoe salmon ** see important notes below!
  • ¼ cup salt use sea salt or Kosher salt, not table salt.
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Instructions

  • The salmon can be brined whole or cut into smaller pieces. ** See important notes below.
    2 lbs salmon filet
  • Mix salt and sugar. Add to a container large enough to hold the filet with two cups of cold water.
    ¼ cup salt, ½ cup brown sugar
  • Store in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight to cure.
  • Once cured, rinse salmon very well and pat dry.
  • Place the filet on a wire rack set on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Place that in the refrigerator, uncovered for four hours or overnight to form a pellicle.
  • The salmon is ready to smoke when you see a shiny, slightly tacky film on the outside.
  • Set up your smoker and preheat to 130°F. Place the filet directlu on the smoker rack. Smoke for two hours at this temp. Bump the temperature up to 170°F and finish it to 140°F internal temperature.
  • LEt it rest and the temp will increase to 145°F.
  • See notes for storage tips.
See all of my favorite tools and gift ideas on my New Amazon Store!Check out Binky’s Amazon Store!

Notes

** Store in refrigerator for up to a week. 
For longer storage, store in plastic bags in freezer, for up to six months.
Use only frozen salmon fillets and thaw them at home. Do not use pre-thawed salmon from your grocer.
Lox can be made with freshly caught salmon, as well, or use Atlantic, sockeye, King or Cohoe salmon.
Don’t throw away the salmon skin. Dehydrate it for your dogs! It is very good for them.

Nutrition

Calories: 85kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 0.4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 1436mg | Potassium: 230mg | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 18IU | Calcium: 11mg | Iron: 0.4mg
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Beth Neels

Author: Beth Neels

Title: Owner

Expertise: canning, game meat cooking, smoking

Bio:

Beth Neels is an entrepreneur, blogger, photographer, author, and recipe developer. She founded Binky’s Culinary Carnival in 2014, focusing on “Crafting delicious recipes with sustainable ingredients.” She has been featured in multiple online publications, including MSN, Reader’s Digest, Associated Press, and Parade.

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