Best wood for smoking salmon + how-to recipes & tips

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 8, 2021

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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.

8 wood tips for smoked salmon

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.

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Here are a few milder kinds of wood that will provide a nice subtle flavor:

Top 4 delicious smoked Nova Salmon recipes

What is nova salmon?

Traditionally, nova is the origin where this salmon comes from, as well as the style of smoking. This fish comes from Nova Scotia, Canada, where the salmon is cured, and cold smoked.

Let’s look at some delicious recipes you can make with this specific kind of salmon.

grilled salmon, cooked vegetables, and fork on plate

The salmon has a much deeper pink color, almost burnt orange, which makes it a bit different compared to other cured salmon. In addition, this fish has a more intense flavor compared to gravlax or lox.

How to make smoked nova salmon

How to make smoked nova salmon

Joost Nusselder
This type of flavor is really popular in Gaspe, Nova Scotia, and many parts of the Eastern provinces. Since it’s less smoky, it works well on sandwiches and appetizers. 
The fish is cured and smoked therefore it is salty and smoky at the same time. 
No ratings yet
Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Brining 8 hrs
Total Time 11 hrs 40 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people
Calories 122.8 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 whole salmon

Brine

  • 5 lbs Canning or kosher salt
  • 6 lbs Dark brown sugar

Ingredients (wet brine)

  • 3.5 gal Water
  • 6 cups Coarse (non-iodine) or kosher salt
  • 6 cups Brown sugar 
  • 2 cuos Real maple syrup
  • ¼ cup Black peppercorns (whole)
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • Fresh dill (chopped) – to taste

Instructions
 

Preparation

  • In case you are filleting a whole salmon, remove the pin bones and leave the skin on. You can use a small pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the bones that might be on the flesh. If you want to buy filleted salmon, buy whole salmons with the skin on, and remove the remaining bones—if there are any. Rinse the fillet and then pat-dry—but not completely dry. At this point, leave the fillets whole, with their skin on.

Brining—this is a two-step process

    Step 1

    • Here, you will need to use dry brine ingredients, which are:
      Canning or kosher salt – 5 lbs.
      Dark brown sugar- 6 lbs.
    • Mix the sugar and salt thoroughly with your hands so that you can break up any chunks in the brown sugar. You will use to dry-brine the fish. Make sure that you use kosher or coarse (non-iodized) salt. In case you have any leftover dry mix, place it in a ziplock bag or sealed container. This will preserve the mixture for future use.
    • Next, take a small container, long enough and with enough width that will allow you to lay your fillets flat, and spread an even ½” layer of the dry brine mixture on the container’s bottom. After spreading the dry brine mix, place your first fillet layer on top of the dry mix, when the skin side is facing down. Now, you can cover the fillets with extra dry mix ½” layer and then place the next layer of fillets on top, now with the skin side facing up. Cover the fillet with ½” layer of the dry mix, and make sure that the dry mix covers the fish completely. You should understand that the size of your container matters as it prevents you from wasting the dry brine mix.
    • Continue layering the fish fillet, and you can place them in the manner that you like, so long as they are somehow flat and straight. This process is essential as it removes any excess moisture in the fish, and makes it firmer.

    Refrigerate

    • When you are done with the layering, place the fish in your refrigerator for around 7 to 8 hours. Please note that: in case you forget this step and you dry brine the fillets for too long, you will end up ruining them. Make sure that you set a timer so that you don’t forget.
    • After the 7 to 8 hours, you will start seeing a considerable amount of thick liquid at the bottom of the container—this is the moisture from the fillets. You can now take the container out of the fridge, and remove the fillets one at a time. When done, cut the fillets into half, so that they can fit in a smoker, and then rinse them under running water to remove the mixture.
    • At this stage, the fillets should feel firm and hard, and somehow smaller than when you bought them. Discard the thick liquid at the bottom of the container, and don’t use it.

    Step 2

    • This step will also change the texture of the fillet
      Ingredients (wet brine)
      Water – 3.5 gal.
      Coarse (non-iodine) or kosher salt – 6 cups
      Brown sugar – 6 cups
      Real maple syrup – 1-2 cups
      Black peppercorns (whole) – ¼ cup
      Garlic – 2 cloves
      Fresh dill (chopped) – to taste
    • Use a large food bucket to mix together all the ingredients, and make sure that the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. The container should be large enough to hold the brine and fillets. Please note: you need to check the salt concentration (salinity) of the mixture. A fresh raw egg should float on the mixture. If the egg doesn’t add an extra ½ cup salt and then mix well. Recheck to see if the egg will float again. If the egg doesn’t float, repeat the process until it floats. Allow the brine to set for around 5 hours before you use it.
    • Place your dry brined fillets into the bucket with the wet brine. Make sure that all the fillets are completely submerged, and then use a plate to cover the bucket. Allow the fillets to brine for around 7 to 9 hours.
    • Refrigerate
    • It’s optional at this point since the dry brine has “cooked the fillets” already. You can also move around the fillets at some point in the wet brine process—just in case some are too close. When the process is over, you will need to freshen the fillets so that you can remove the excess salt.

    How to freshen your fillet

    • Start by removing your fillets from the wet brine, and then rinse them using freshwater. Dispose of the briner, rinse your bucket or the container you used to wet brine your fish and make sure that all the spices and peppercorns are removed.
    • Put back the fillets in the bucket/container and then fill it with clear water. Allow the water to run into the container (never use a lot of pressure as this can damage the fillet) for around 30 minutes. Make sure that you stir gently with your hands after every 10 minutes.
    • You can taste a small portion of the fillet to check the salt levels. If it’s too salty, rinse for an additional 10 minutes, but don’t exceed that as this will make the fillet waterlogged.

    Drying the fillet before smoking

    • Remove your fillet from the wet brine, and pat dry using a paper towel.
    • If using Bradley racks, turn them upside down, and then lay your fillets on the racks, with the skin side facing down. (you can use Teflon coated racks since they will give you excellent results)
      You should note that placing the racks in an upside-down position will keep the fillets in a suspended position, which will allow the fillets to air-dry bottom and top.
    • Let the fish dry for around one hour. When the fillets become somehow sticky—on the meat side, they are ready for smoking.
    • Cold smoke your fillets only! You can smoke for around 1 – 3 hours, but this depends on your preferences and tastes.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 122.8kcal
    Keyword Brine, Salmon, Smoked
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    Also read: smoked vegetable recipe that goes great with fish

    four piece of raw salmon meat

    Also read: learn how to grill salmon on a cedar plank with this great recipe

    Tips

    • Always make sure that you don’t turn on the heating element—it can be better if the smoking unit is not connected to the smoke generator. Carefully monitor the temperature, and make sure that it doesn’t go beyond 80 degrees f, as this will ruin your fillets.
    • Fill the drip bowl with ice, and don’t forget to add a big block of ice between the lower shelf and the bottom shelf. When the ice melts, it drips into the bowl, not the burner—and thanks to the good design of Bradley smoker. Now, make sure that you place a large piece of the aluminum pan under the drip bowl, as this catches any water that overflows from the water bowl.
    • This is an important step that maintains 60 – 70 degrees when the outside temperature is – 10. In case you notice that the temperature on the smoker is rising, then all the ice has melted and you need to add more ice until the smoking is complete. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you monitor the temperature as you smoke the fish as this will have a big impact on your outcome.

    Smoked Salmon Swirls

    These canapés are simple but look impressive. Serve with chilled fizz.

    Ingredients

    • 500 g puff pastry (not all-butter)
    • 140 g smoked nova salmon sliced
    • 1 tsp poppy seeds
    • 1 box cream cheese Boursin
    • flour for dusting

    Instructions

    • Use a baking parchment paper to line two large baking sheets.
    • Use the plain flour to dust your working surface. Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle shape—about 30.5 cm x 18 cm or 12” x 7”. If possible, roll out the pastry in one direction, without turning it—this will assist you in achieving an even rise. When done, trim the edges.
    • Spread your cream cheese/boursin evenly over the pastry. Lay the smoked nova salmon evenly over the cheese. Now, cutting down into the pastry—but not straight through, slice a line of ½” or 1 com in from the edges of the two short sides. This will assist you in rolling.
    • Next, roll the pastry inwards (tightly) from one short side—until you reach the center. Repeat this step on the other short side until it meets the first roll. Press them together to join them, and try to maintain the shape. Now, move the pastry, with the seam side facing down onto a board, and allow it to chill for around 30 minutes.
    • As the pastry chills, preheat your oven to 220 degrees C.
    • Use a serrated knife to cut ½” or 1 cm thick slices, from the roll—be careful not to squash the slices.
    • Lay these slices on the baking sheets, and leave a space of 1 ¼” or around 3 cm in between the rolls. Cover the pastries with another sheet of baking parchments. Now, roll the pastries gently using a rolling pin so that you can slightly flatten them. When done, remove the top sheet of the parchment paper.
    • Sprinkle the poppy seeds over the pastries, and bake for around 20 – 25 minutes, until they turn golden brown.
    • When done, move your smoked salmon swirls to a wire rack to cool. Serve.

    Smoked Salmon Frittata

    This tasty frittata combines the delicious flavor of smoked salmon with a breakfast classic: the omelette.

    Ingredients

    • 8 eggs
    • 150 g new potatoes finely chopped
    • 170 g smoked salmon
    • 20 g chives finely chopped
    • 1/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 pinch black pepper
    • 1 tsp olive oil

    Instructions

    • Boil your potatoes for 12 minutes and then drain the water completely.
    • Next, pre-heat your oven to around 200 degrees c. Take a 23cm (9”) square baking tin and line it with nonstick baking parchment.
    • Add a bit of olive oil on the parchment paper.
    • In a large bowl, beat your eggs—lightly. Add the salt and pepper.
    • Whisk in the heavy cream.
    • Add the potatoes and salmon pieces.
    • Now, pour this egg mixture into the baking tin, and top it with the shredded cheese.
    • Cook for around 18 to 20 minutes, or until cooked through and well risen. When done, remove it from the oven, and allow it to cool for a moment before removing your frittata from the baking tin. Peel off the parchment paper, and cut it into 4 quarters and then serve.
    • Garnish with the chopped chives.

    Egg, Chive, and Avocado Nova Salmon Toast

    Here’s a must-try breakfast recipe for all of you toast lovers. This sandwich is very easy to make and doesn’t take longer than a few minutes.

    Ingredients

    • 4 slices sourdough bread
    • 1 avocado pitted and sliced
    • 3 chives or 1 spring onion
    • 4 oz smoked nova salmon
    • 4 eggs
    • 2 tbsp cream cheese
    • 1/4 stick butter unsalted
    • 1 pinch salt and pepper

    Instructions

    • First, whisk together the eggs, cream cheese, and chives in a bowl.
    • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
    • Add the egg mixture for approximately 4 minutes and stir well to avoid the egg sticking to the pan.
    • In a smaller bowl, mash the avocado.
    • Add avocado to each slice of bread.
    • Place the eggs over the avocado and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Then finally, add a slice of salmon on top of each slice.

    Read more: these smokers are the perfect companion for smoked meat

    What to cook with smoked nova salmon

    The best part about cooking with smoked salmon is that you don’t need to cook the fish. It tastes great when you cook it and incorporate it into other dishes. But, it also works as a topping on toast, canapes, entrees, and appetizers like these smoked ones!

    There are so many ways to cook with this smoked fish. You can use it as trimmings for omelets, frittatas, oatcakes, and other breakfast foods. 

    Nova is so popular and so versatile you can make all kinds of recipes, all you need is a little imagination. 

    Here are the top ways to enjoy nova salmon:

    1. A smoked salmon risotto
    2. As a pate
    3.  In scrambled eggs
    4. On toast
    5. Kedgeree (a classic fish and rice dish)
    6. Smoked salmon pasta
    7. Nova gratin with potatoes
    8. Sushi
    9. Smoked salmon tart
    10. Soup

    Information about Nova Salmon

    As I mentioned above, this particular salmon gets its name from the region it comes from, which is Nova Scotia. But, there are similar types of cured salmon and although they look and taste similar, they are quite different. 

    Nova Salmon falls under the umbrella term of Smoked Salmon. It refers to any type of cured salmon. This includes farmed, wild, steak, fillet, and hot or cold cured fish. 

    What’s the difference between Nova Salmon and Lox?

    There is a general sense of confusion between the Nova, Lox, and Hot-smoked Salmon. 

    Lox: salmon, usually gravlax, which is cured in salt-sugar brine or rub.

    Gravalax: it’s cured but not smoked salmon.

    Nova: the salmon is cured and cold-smoked afterward.

    Hot-smoked: this refers to cured salmon that’s fully cooked with wood smoke. 

    Basically, the Nova is a style of preparing the salmon. Yes, the name refers to the location where the fish is caught but it also refers to the way it’s smoked. First, the fish is cured, and then it is lightly smoked. 

    There are two types of Nova. The first is from the Gaspe region and it is cold-smoked. The second type is a wild Pacific salmon called the Western Nova. This one is also cold-smoked. 

    What does Nova Smoked Salmon taste like?

    People really enjoy the taste of Nova. It is fattier, milder in flavor, and less smoky. 

    This type of flavor is really popular in Gaspe, Nova Scotia, and many parts of the Eastern provinces. Since it’s less smoky, it works well on sandwiches and appetizers. 

    The fish is cured and smoked therefore it is salty and smoky at the same time. 

    Brief History of Smoked Salmon

    The concept of smoked salmon was born many centuries ago. In fact, the Greeks, Romans, and Native American communities consumed smoked salmon quite often. It was a primary staple in their diets. Smoked salmon came about because people needed a way to preserve the fish for longer periods of time. Of course, there were no refrigerators, so they needed to improvise. The Native American communities respect their natural resources and salmon is carefully and responsibly caught and cured. 

    Canada’s The Hudson’s Bay Company started to import salmon from the west and they cured and smoked it in Nova Scotia style along the East Coast of Canada and the United States. By the 1960s, smoked salmon was an integral part of the North American diet. 

    Nutritional facts:

    The following are the nutritional facts of smoked salmon and are based per 100g.

    • Calories – 122.8
    • Calories from fat – 39.5 (32.1)
    • Total fat – 4.4 g
    • Saturated fat – 0.9 g
    • Cholesterol – 52.6 mg
    • Sodium – 1386 mg (58%)
    • Carbohydrates – 0 g
    • Net carbs – 0 g
    • Fiber – 0 g
    • Protein – 22.8 g
    • Calcium – 35.1 mg (4%)
    • Iron – 0.3 mg (4%)

    FAQ’s

    I’m sure there are still some questions we haven’t answered, so here is some extra information to help you make the best smoked salmon at home. 

    How long does it take to smoke salmon?

    First, the salmon must be cured. Then, after it’s cured and dried, the fish is hot-smoked. For the best results, it’s recommended that your smoke the salmon for 3 to 4 hours at a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

    What temperature should I smoke salmon to?

    When you are hot-smoking the salmon it’s best to increase the temperature gradually. So, slowly increase the temperature inside the smoker during the course of a day. When the fish is almost ready, about an hour beforehand, make sure the temperature is between 150-160 degrees F. Then, smoke the fish until the internal temperature is 145 degrees F. Always check the temperature in the thickest part of the salmon. The process takes between eight to twelve hours. 

    Are you supposed to cook smoked salmon?

    You don’t have to cook smoked salmon. The smoking and curing process makes it ready to eat. As a matter of fact, smoked salmon is already cooked. Therefore, there is no need to cook it further.

    Do you have to brine salmon before cooking?

    It depends on the method you decide to use. But, you don’t need to brine the fish before you smoke it. However, we recommend that you do brine the fish because it tastes better. Brining gives salmon more flavor. It’s all due to the sweet and salty flavors of the brine – they combine with the smokiness and make the fish taste delicious. 

    Is Nova Smoked salmon healthy?

    In general, salmon is a healthy type of fish. It contains lots of high-quality protein. As well, it contains omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. But, the smoking process makes it a bit unhealthy because it adds lots of salt. This means the smoked fish contains a high amount of sodium. 

    Cold-smoked salmon is potentially dangerous if it is not smoked properly. It can increase the risk of developing listeriosis which is a dangerous bacterial infection, linked to raw fish. 

    But, when properly cured and smoked, salmon is a delicious and healthy food option. Consumed in moderation, it’s a good food to include in your diet because it contains healthy fats. 

    Do you have to refrigerate smoked salmon?

    Yes, you should always keep smoked salmon in the fridge for your own safety. It ensures that the fish doesn’t develop listeria. 

    As soon as you buy or smoke your own salmon, keep it in the fridge until you use it. 

    Bottom line

    There you go! Now that you’ve read about Nova Salman, you can try your hand at curing and smoking your own salmon at home. As long as you’re careful and precise with the temperature, the fish should taste amazing. Therefore, you no longer need to buy the cured salmon from the grocery store. 

    Read more: these are the best accessories when BBQ smoking

    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.

    Also read: these are the must-have smoker accessories every BBQer should own

    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.

    Cook Time

    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

    Why leave the scales on when smoking salmon

    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.

    Also read: wood pellets vs chunks vs chips, which should you choose?

    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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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?

    Also read: this is the best wood for smoking chicken, by far

    Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.
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