Salmon is a great meat to eat. It has a rich, juicy taste and an exceptional flavor profile.
It is also extremely healthy for you. Rich in omega fats, it lowers blood pressure, it’s great for skin, it’s weight loss friendly and it supports healthy brain activity.
In this post we'll cover:
Methods of smoking salmon
If you eat salmon often, you are probably looking for different ways to prepare it. Smoking salmon can add some variety to your salmon menu.
If you have never smoked salmon before, you may be wondering about the best methods to use.
You may be thinking about what woods are best for smoking salmon and what cooking techniques are recommended.
This article has everything you need to know about smoking salmon. Read on to find out more.
Best Woods for Smoking Salmon
Salmon is delicate meat that does not have the rich taste of beef. Therefore, it can easily be overpowered by stronger woods.
Here are a few milder kinds of wood that will provide a nice subtle flavor:
- Alder: Some may think that alder wood is too delicate for salmon. However, because salmon must smoke for long periods of time, it is the perfect choice. It will lend a light smokiness to the salmon, without overpowering it.
- Apple: Slightly stronger than alder, applewood gives salmon a smokey, fruity taste that takes it to the next level. It provides the perfect amount of smokey sweetness without detracting from its flavor. Mix it with mesquite to give the salmon just a bit of bite.
- Maple: Maple is another type of wood that adds a sweet flavor to salmon without overpowering it. It is never bitter and it works to provide a delicious taste that complements salmon perfectly.
- Cherry: Cherry wood is more versatile than you might think. It adds a mild sweetness while still allowing the salmon to take center stage. It works well when mixed with alder, pecan, or oak.
- Pecan: Pecan is from the hickory family and, therefore, it is quite a bit stronger than the other fruity woods on this list. Therefore, it should be used sparingly. But when used in moderation though, it will give your salmon a warm and delicate taste.
- Walnut: Walnut is another type of wood that can be overpowering if overused. However, it gives salmon a nutty, smokey flavor that elevates the taste. Proceed with caution.
- Oak: Oak is another wood that runs that delicate balance between giving salmon a great taste and overpowering it. However, it can give your salmon a unique medium sweet flavor, that just might make it all worthwhile.
- Beechwood: Beechwood will produce a light, clean flavor that is also somewhat nutty. It will penetrate the fish without affecting the distinct taste.
Woods to Avoid When Smoking Salmon
There are certain woods that definitely will not work for smoking salmon. In general, these woods will overpower the taste of the salmon.
Here are a few you will want to avoid:
- Cedar: Cedar planks and salmon are a match made in heaven. Cedar for smoking? Not so much. As a rule, cedar does not burn well in a smoker and it should be avoided.
- Hickory: Hickory is a very strong wood that is best used for red meat. Although some argue that it could be used to smoke salmon, you have to be extremely cautious when doing so. Hickory can easily overpower salmon, to the point where it’s extremely bitter and practically inedible.
- Mesquite: Mesquite is best for dark meats that can stand up to the strong flavor. It should definitely be avoided when smoking salmon, but if you just can’t get enough of the taste, try mixing it with a milder wood.
- Conifers: Woods from conifers and pines contain a lot of sap and resin. Therefore, they are unsuitable for smoking any type of food. They will give food a funny taste and they can even make diners sick.
- Green-Wood: Wood that is very green will also make food inedible and it can make people sick.
Salmon Smoking Tips
If you are smoking salmon, there are certain tips and techniques you should be familiar with. Here are a few that should be noted.
Salmon takes a long time to smoke, usually between eight and twelve hours. Therefore, its very important to keep the temperature under control while it’s smoking. Be sure to use a smoker that you trust to stay within the correct parameters. An electric smoker is recommended.
Start with Fresh Salmon
Of course, you can smoke frozen salmon, but it will taste much better if you start with fresh filets.
To Filet or Not to Filet
If you choose to filet your fish yourself, make sure you know what you are doing. You can easily end up shredding the entire salmon.
If you buy a fish that has been pre-fileted, try to get one with the pin bones still in. These are the bones that run the length of the fish and removing them hastily can break the fish’s flesh.
Instead, opt for removing them with pliers at home.
To Scale or Not to Scale
Leaving the scales on the salmon will make your filet easier to grill and slice and it won’t affect the flavor.
Therefore, we say, scales on.
Preparation for Smoked Salmon
You can prepare your salmon for smoking one of two ways. The first is to dry cure it. Using this method, you will smother the fish in salt and then wash it off after letting it sit for hours.
The alternate is to wet cure it or brine it. With this method, you will allow your fish to sit in a bath of water, salt and sugar.
Here is a recommended recipe.
- 1 cup coarse salt
- 1 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
- 3 quarts water
This will be enough for one filet. If you are cooking two filets, double the ingredients. If you are cooking three filets, triple them, and so on.
The salmon should be soaked for six hours total and it should be turned occasionally. Once it is done brining, take it out and dry it.
Process for Smoking Salmon
Now that the fish has been properly prepped, you are ready to smoke it.
When smoking, you will want to have the following equipment on hand.
- About eight cups of hardwood chips
- Two thermometers (an instant-read and an oven or candy thermometer): The oven thermometer will take the temperature inside the cooker while the instant read will measure the internal temperature of the salmon. When it comes to the oven thermometer, it is important to avoid opening the lid of the smoker too often. If you can rig it so it keeps track of the temperature without you having the lift the lid, that is ideal
- A heatproof container to hold the wood chips: As the wood chips burn out, you will need to take the old ones out and add new ones.
Now here are the steps you will want to take:
- Wait till the cooker is smoking. Start by adding 2 cups of wood chips and let the temperature rise to 100 degrees. At this point, you should begin seeing smoke and you will be able to add the salmon.
- Add wood chips every couple of hours. If you don’t see smoke during the duration of the cooking, don’t worry. This is normal.
- Open vents to let smoke circulate. This will ensure there is new smoke in the cooker and that you are not just recycling the same air.
- Gradually increase the temperature over the course of the day. By the last hour of cooking, it should be around the 150 – 160-degree mark.
- Smoke the salmon until it reaches 140 degrees. 145 is the ideal temperature but the salmon will cook after it is removed from the smoker so it’s best to take it out a little early. The total smoke time will vary depending on the size of the salmon, but it can run anywhere from 8 – 12 hours.
- Although some may say that salmon should be eaten immediately, others claim that it is best to leave it on the grill and let it cook through. In fact, one recipe recommends letting the salmon sit on the grill for an hour, and then wrapping and refrigerating the filets overnight, before eating them.
- Once the salmon has cooked through, you can slice it and eat it. Smoked salmon will have a thick skin, so it is best to use a sharp knife for this final step. Once the filet is sliced, you can eat it on its own or add it to omelets, salads, and more.
Salmon is a delicious and healthy part of any meal. Using the right wood and the recommended smoking technique will take it to the next level.
What tips do you have for making the perfect smoked salmon?