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.

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

Top 4 delicious smoked Nova Salmon recipes

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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. 
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.
    Keyword Brine, Salmon, Smoked

    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

    Smoked Salmon Swirls

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

    Ingredients

    Instructions

    Smoked Salmon Frittata

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

    Ingredients

    Instructions

    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

    Instructions

    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 of all kinds. 

    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.

    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:

    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.

    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.

    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