The Best Smoked Salmon ever! This easy recipe uses a quick dry brine and hot smoking process to get tender and flavorful smoke flavor (versus salmon jerky). And I’m not talking about lox, which uses cold-smoking techniques and a longer cure process.
This easy smoked salmon recipe has given us the best results for catering and does not need a wet brine which adds more time to preparation. Read on for more details and our video tutorial.
Salmon is one of my favorite things to cook on the smoker or grill. But too often salmon gets a bad rap for being overcooked. Hot-smoked salmon is about setting a low temperature and not overcooking the salmon. Add a simple seasoning and you get the perfect salmon every time.
- Simple seasoning with Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.
- Source fresh salmon for the best flavor.
- There is no need for a salmon brine using the Dijon mustard to form the pellicle.
- You can use this same recipe for Steelhead, which is very similar to salmon.
There’s a good reason that this is one of the top requests we get for Ember & Vine catering events. And we always hear the same comment over and over: that it’s the best salmon people have ever eaten. The secret? Using good quality salmon, and not overcooking it.
The best salmon is going to be fresh and should have a vibrant pink color and little to no odor. Different types of salmon will have different levels of fat content, which changes the cook time.
- Farm Raised – This is salmon raised in a farm or open water pen, often you’ll find that the fat content is much higher and they will be bigger. This because they arguably don’t need to work as hard, so they slowly hang out in these large water pens. These are great for smoking as the fat content is very forgiving and makes for very tender and juicy salmon. Look for Columbia River King (King Salmon) or Atlantic salmon most commonly.
- Wild-Caught Salmon – From the wild, this is salmon that has been swimming in its natural habitat. When you watch the videos of salmon swimming up stream you can see quickly why these are much leaner than their farmed cousins. These are great for grilling hot and fast, but can also be smoked. If you smoke a wild caught, just know it may not have as much fat and will cook much faster. We prefer wild salmon for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is the flavor. Look for Columbia River King (otherwise known as Chinook), Coho, Copper River, Sockeye Salmon, and others.
- Either way it should be fresh — Smell it and check the eyes if buying a whole fish. It should not smell fishy, and the eyes should be relatively clear. An overly fishy smell or eyes that are glazed and frosted are indications of a not so fresh piece of fish.
Also consider using an entire salmon fillet. Good salmon will go quickly with a crowd and frankly having a multiple pound salmon fillet on your smoker is an awesome conversation piece. Even if you’re cooking for a small family, there are excellent uses for any leftovers (see the end of this post for a few ideas!).
- When buying your salmon fillet, ask the fish monger to take the pin bones out. These run along the top of the fish. These can be removed using tweezers yourself if the butcher or fish monger is unable to do it for you, but trust me, ask them to do it for you.
- Trim off the belly, we find a natural line that contours the fish. This allows us to cook that separately as a snack. The belly has some cartilage and membrane that is easier to remove and then cook with the salmon.
- On the salmon skin side, be sure to use a knife against the scales, scraping it (not cutting it) to de-scale it. A lot of times this too is already done if you buy from a grocery store but default to that as a practice.
- Pat dry with a paper towel to remove the excess scales and bones from prep. Then you can season and smoke it.
The goal is dry brining and using Dijon mustard to form a pellicle (see below for more detail) on the surface of the fish. Start with a coating of Dijon mustard. The amount will vary depending on the size of the salmon. Then add kosher salt and pepper over the flesh side. If seasoning in advance season on a sheet tray and store covered with plastic wrap in your refrigerator until ready to cook. Alternatively you can use our seafood seasoning as a dry rub for more flavor.
The Pellicle is a layer, or coating of protein, that is most commonly found in wet-brined salmon. It helps to form a harder coating that allows the proteins to stay inside the salmon and still take on smoke.
How to Smoke Salmon
- Start by prepping your smoker to 225 degrees (F) using a fruit wood (the best wood we like is cherry or apple).
- Place salmon on the smoker and close lid. Smoke until it hits your desired internal temperature. For tender salmon we cook it to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll see the salmon sweating out proteins, and you’ll see a nice red color start to form on the crust of the salmon. Check temperature at thickest part with a probe and you can also poke and pull apart the flaky salmon and make sure that the interior is pink and not translucent.
- The amount of time will vary when smoking but a typical 2 pound filet should take roughly one hour.
Pro Tip: Start checking temperature early. The smaller the fillet, or if using wild caught, start checking the internal temperature as early as 30 minutes.
The key to tender juicy salmon is cooking it at a low heat and paying close attention to the internal temperature using a good quality digital instant read thermometer.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
According to the USDA Salmon should be cooked to 145 degrees (F), If you are concerned about food safety then cook the meat to the recommended temperature. However we cook ours to an internal temperature no greater than 135 degrees because we trust our sourcing.
Carry over cooking will take the internal temperature of the salmon an additional 5 degrees.
This will vary depending on exact size of salmon and exact temperature of the smoker. For a 1 – 1 ½ pound salmon it should be done within the first hour. Always cook to temperature, not exact time.
will have incredibly flavorful and tender results. No need to brine for flavor or added moisture. If you want to brine, keep it simple with kosher salt, water, and brown sugar. But it is not necessary.
Follow the same process as the recipe instructions. You can adjust the temperature down using smoke or 180 for more smoke flavor.
Catering trick: Prior to smoking if you want to portion out the filet, run a sharp knife lengthwise along the salmon filet taking care to not cut through the skin. Then make small cuts horizontally. Then season and cook. When it is done, you can have your servings pulled right off.
Wine Pairing for Smoked Salmon
Hands down Pinot Noir is the most popular pairing for Salmon. Pinot Noir, especially from Oregon, has a lovely silky texture, with bright red fruit characteristics (cherry, strawberry and raspberry), often displaying earthy and spiced notes, with mild tannins. These characteristics are a fantastic match for the uniquely sweet flavors of Salmon and its silky textures. Pinot is not an over the top wine, nor is salmon an over the top protein (so long it’s prepared simply).
Plus they also say what grows together goes together. Pacific NW Salmon + Oregon Pinot Noir. You betcha!
Of course, there are dozens and dozens of wines that pair well with salmon but Pinot is a classic for a reason.
Explore unique wines as well from our Vindulge Wine Marketplace to pair with this recipe.
What to do with leftover Smoked Salmon
This is a great recipe to make and then add the salmon to any salad or pasta dish. Some additional ideas:
*This post contains affiliate links, which means should you click and purchase some of the items mentioned, we receive a small commission. This allows us to keep putting awesome content out there and we only partner with brands we love and use.
**This post was originally published in July, 2017, and updated in August 2022 with new photos and answering frequently answered questions.
Easy and Tender Smoked Salmon Fillet
- Preheat Smoker: Set smoker to 225 degrees using fruit wood (like cherry or apple).
- Season Salmon: Season flesh side of salmon with the Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
- Smoke Salmon: Place on smoker and cook until the internal temperature of the salmon reaches 135 degrees (F). If you don’t have a thermometer you can pull back the flesh and make sure the inner portion is pink and not translucent.
- Remove from smoker and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.