Recipe by: Justin McChesney-Wachs on Salt Pepper Skillet
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 get too high, the salmon will dry out.
Brine for the Smoked Salmon
A simple brine is essential for adding flavor. The dry brine is just brown sugar and kosher salt. There’s really no need to brine 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 longer 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 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 came 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.
How Long to Smoke Salmon
It can take between 30 minutes and 1 hour to smoke a 2 to 4-pound salmon filet at 225° F. There are a lot of factors that determine the time it will take, including the actual temperature in the smoker, fat content and the thickness of the filet. It’s always better to go off of the internal temperature to determine when it has reached 140° F.
- 2-4 lb Salmon Filet, pin bones removed
- 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt diamond brand preferred
- 2 cups Alder or Applewood chips (soak in water for charcoal)
- Create the dry brine by mixing the sugar and salt together in a small bowl.
- Place the salmon filet skin side down on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the brine mixture over the entire filet to coat. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for 1 hour to 2 hours before smoking.
- Set up your smoker for indirect cooking with a water bath and pre-heat according to the manufacturer’s instructions to 225° F.
- While the smoker heats up, dry off any excess moisture from the salmon with paper towels.
- When smoker starts smoking and reaches 225° F, place the salmon skin-side down on a sheet of foil and transfer to the smoker.
- The salmon is finished smoking when then internal temperature reaches 140° F. Begin checking for doneness after 30 minutes using a probe thermometer.
- Remove from the smoker and rest for 5 minutes before serving, or cover and chill in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.