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Smoked Salmon Recipe

by Fish Tank.

Here's my method for smoking salmon:

Begin with quality salmon fillets that have been cared for. I gut & gill my fish immediately and keep them very cold with ice. Don’t let your catch get warm. Pink salmon especially will quickly go mushy if not kept cold. There’s an old myth that for smoking, one can get away with some old lousy pieces of salmon that will be turned into gold when smoked. Not true. Your final result will be vastly superior if you start with quality fresh fillets. I prefer to begin the process with fresh, unfrozen salmon, but thawed will do – just make sure that all fillets are thoroughly thawed, usually taking a couple of days in the fridge, or longer if fillets are large.


I honestly don’t understand why so many brine recipes include such large quantities of water – if any. The whole point of the brine is to draw out the excess water from the fillets, so why the bath? I’ve found that the dry brine mix works perfectly.

- Mix one 1kg bag of Rogers Demerara brown sugar with just less than one cup of coarse pickling salt (7/8 cup is good). It’s very easy for your final result to be too salty if more than 1 cup is used. (Obviously, double or halve the recipe for larger or smaller batches). DO NOT use table salt! (Each bag of sugar is about 7 cups).

– At this point, you can add any of the myriad of flavorings used by many, but this simple sugar & salt mixture works fine. Some common flavorings: Pepper, maple syrup, Worchester sauce, soy sauce (but only a little as it’s very salty), real crushed garlic, rum, and the list goes on.

– If you have some fillet pieces that are very large and thick from a big fish (25 lbs +), you may want to make a slice into them every 2” about ¾ way through. This helps the brine get into the depths of the meat.

– Using a plastic tub (NO METAL of any kind), place one layer of fillets on the bottom (skin side down) and cover with a generous amount of your dry brine mixture. Spread it out evenly, leaving about a ¼” thick layer of sugar/salt mix on top. Attempt to not have any un-coated flesh parts. Now simply lay down another layer of fillets, skin side down and cover again with brine mix. Keep layering until you’re done, and give the top layer a good thick finish layer of mix.

Put a lid on it and place in refrigerator for 12 hours minimum. I’ve found recipes that instruct incredibly brief brine times. It takes time for the desired amount of liquid to be drawn out of the fillets, and I find that 12 hours is a minimum amount of time for regular sized fillets, with more time required for big fat fillets, and maybe 6-8 hours for smaller pieces. If you leave them in the brine for a day or two, no harm will come to them.

After a few hours you will notice a dark brown liquid developing. This is the liquid we want to get out of the fillets, and it is mixing with the brown sugar. You can move them around every 12 hours or so. (Top ones to bottom etc).


– When they’ve had enough time in the brine, prepare your racks by spraying with your favorite “PAM” type product, and set them down somewhere on top of appropriately sized pieces of paper towel. These ought to be placed indoors somewhere out of reach of pets and direct sunshine. Not too hot, not too cold.

– Remove fillets from brine tub and gently rinse off under cold water just enough to remove any residual sugar/salt mix. Blot excess water off with a paper towel. (Use fresh paper towels once they become wet). Place fillets on racks, skin side down.

– This step may seem unimportant, but is critical! The fillets must “dry” on the racks for 2-3 hours. This forms the “pellicle” or glaze on the surface. A little bit of air movement or circulation during this time is helpful too.


– At about the 2.5 hour point of the drying process, plug in your smoker to pre-heat it. (No wood chips yet, but put the pan on the element). Pre-heat for about 30 minutes. *Don’t place your smoker in direct sunshine as this will get it too hot – we’re not cooking the salmon, we’re curing it, and smokers are designed to operate at a certain temperature. In winter, try to locate the smoker out of drafty/windy areas. If it’s really cold, you may want to build a “surround” for the smoker out of some old plywood just to help the smoker get to and maintain its proper temperature. The surround can be about 2” – 6” bigger than the smoker, and about 1” taller, with the front being open so your smoker is accessible. You can then lean a piece of plywood up against the front for additional protection on those cold days.

– Fill the pan level with wood chips. (Alder is best for salmon, with the addition of Cherry and/or Apple being good too). Then get your racks of fillets and load ‘er up. Make note of the time that you have placed them in the smoker.

– With my “Big Chief” smoker, a pan of chips will generally be burned up in about 40 minutes, so once it stops smoking, empty pan and replenish with new chips. You don’t necessarily need to have the unit “smoking” for the entire duration. After 3 or 4 panfulls, the fillets can simply be left in the smoker to finish curing for the required time. But if you get your chips for free, go nuts.

– Time required in the smoker is a huge variable, some people like their pieces as dry as jerky, while others prefer a very moist result. Most are somewhere in the middle though, so you’ll have to monitor it and decide for yourself. If the element in the smoker is working properly and the correct temperature is obtained, I generally find that smaller pieces (like the tail sections from a 5-10 lb salmon) will be done in about 4 hours. While big thick slabs from a 30-40 pounder may require 12 hours or more. If you have a variety of fillet sizes, remove them from the smoker according to their size.

– When you feel that you’re done, unplug the smoker, open the cover and let it cool down for about an hour. Then remove fillets from racks and place on large plates and place in fridge for 2-3 hours. I then vacuum seal them and freeze them, marking the date with a Sharpie marker.

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