How To Smoke Salmon – Easy & Tender Recipe

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The Best Smoked Salmon recipe 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. Discover how to make tender smoked salmon every time using this tried and true recipe.

Easy Smoked Salmon on a serving platter
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This easy smoked salmon recipe has given us the best results when catering events 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.

Recipe Highlights

  • 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. Follow our other recipe If you are smoking sockeye salmon which is a smaller salmon.
A closeup of tender smoked salmon filet

There’s a good reason that smoked salmon is one of the top requests we get for Ember & Vine catering events (our catering company). 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.

That’s it.

Recipe Ingredients

  • Salmon Filet – Buy an entire salmon filet for a crowd. We used a King Salmon, or Chinook Salmon, which is much thicker and requires a longer cooking time. If using a smaller variety like Coho or Sockeye then lower your cooking time as it will cook faster.
  • Mustard – Mustard acts as a binder for the seasoning.
  • Seasoning – We use kosher salt and coarse black pepper to allow the salmon flavor to shine.

Buying Salmon

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 cooking 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 is 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 upstream 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 several 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!).


  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Then add kosher salt and pepper over the flesh side. Alternatively, you can use our seafood seasoning as a dry rub for more flavor.

If seasoning in advance, season on a sheet tray and store covered with plastic wrap in your refrigerator until ready to cook.

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

  1. Start by prepping your smoker to 225 degrees (F) using fruit wood (we find the best wood for salmon is cherry or apple wood).
  2. Place salmon on the smoker and close the 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 the temperature at the thickest part with an instant-read meat thermometer. You can also poke and pull apart the flaky salmon and make sure that the interior is pink and not translucent.
  3. 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. 

Taking Temperature of Smoked Salmon

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What temperature should salmon be cooked to?

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 and know it is of high quality. Therefore we trust it cooked to medium.

Carry-over cooking will take the internal temperature of the salmon an additional 5 degrees.

How long to Smoke Salmon?

This will vary depending on the exact size of the salmon and the exact temperature of the smoker. For a 1 – 1 1/2 pound salmon it should be done within the first hour. Always cook to temperature, not exact time.

Do I need to Brine Smoked Salmon?

No, you do not need to brine salmon for flavor or added moisture. Cooking it using this method will have incredibly flavorful and tender results. If you want to brine, keep it simple with kosher salt, water, and brown sugar. But it is not necessary.

How to Smoke Salmon on the Traeger or Pellet Smoker

Follow the same process as the recipe instructions. You can adjust the temperature down using smoke or 180 for more smoke flavor.

Smoked Salmon Fillets for events or large groups

Expert Tips

  • Portioning Filet: Prior to smoking if you want to pre-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 using a spatula.
  • Steelhead: You can also use this recipe for steelhead, it will cook in the same way.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

The salmon will last for up to three days in the refrigerator.

If reheating leftovers the best method is the following.

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place a cookie drying rack inside a sheet tray. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the tray. Be sure the water doesn’t reach the salmon (this is just to add some humidity).
  2. Place salmon filets on the drying rack and cover with foil. Place in the preheated oven for up to 8 minutes. The water will help steam and keep the salmon tender.
  3. Remove and serve.

What To Serve With Smoked Salmon

Explore some of our favorite side dishes for salmon or check out all of our side recipes.

  • Garnish – We love adding freshly chopped parsley and a squeeze of grilled lemon over the top.
  • Roasted Potatoes – Crispy exterior and soft interior these potatoes are our number one side dish for salmon.
  • Grilled Vegetables – We love grilling a platter of vegetables when we do a whole filet as a great option for a family style layout.
  • Coleslaw – Since salmon is a richer flavor we like to offset that with an acidic side dish like our no-mayo coleslaw.

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.

Leftover Smoked Salmon Ideas

This is a great recipe to make and then add the salmon to any salad or pasta dish. Some additional ideas:

**This post was originally published in July, 2017, and updated in August 2022 with new photos and answering frequently answered questions.

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Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

4.57 from 132 votes

Smoked Salmon

Perfect Smoked Salmon. Recipe and video for fresh smoked salmon fillet. Secrets to juicy and tender salmon. Comes with wine pairing recommendations.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Resting Time: 10 minutes
Total: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
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  • Preheat Smoker: Set smoker to 225 degrees using fruit wood (like cherry or apple).
  • Season Salmon: Coat the flesh side of salmon with the Dijon mustard, and then season with 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.
  • Rest and Serve: Remove from smoker and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.



Catering hack: Before smoking if you want to pre-portion out the filet, run a sharp knife lengthwise along the center of 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.


Calories: 322kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 31mg | Sodium: 599mg | Potassium: 266mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 17IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 2mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Resting Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Course: Entree
Cuisine: American, bbq, seafood
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 322
Keyword: easy smoked salmon, how to smoke salmon, smoked salmon fillet, smoked salmon recipe, the best smoked salmon
Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!

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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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4.57 from 132 votes (115 ratings without comment)

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  1. 5 stars
    This is a keeper! Easy, tasty, and not fussy. I was given a 3 lb salmon side that needed to be cooked now, and I didn’t want to spend 24 hours of prep. And for the naysayers, I regularly cook brisket and pork butt, so I’m not afraid of long cooks.
    Thanks for the great recipe!

  2. 5 stars
    First time I smoked Salmon. It turned out awesome. Followed the smoking instructions to a “T”.

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe is a keeper, 5 plus stars. I also used this recipe on Steelhead trout. OMG It was so good and not dried out. Thank you for the recipe.

    1. For sides with the salmon here are some of our favorites. You can search for these recipes on the blog.

      Roasted Potatoes – these are easy but elegant. We have a duck fat version on the blog as well if you want to splurge but getting duck fat is not always easy.
      Grilled Mashed Sweet Potatoes – These are sweet and savory.
      Cold Lentil Salad – We add smoked sausage for some savor flavor, but it’s a nice cold salad if looking for a fun dish.

      If looking for greens we love our charred and grilled Caesar salad. We also have a fun beet salad where we use wine to re-constitute dried cranberries. – Sean

  4. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious–light smoky flavor and perfectly cooked fish. Don’t leave off the Dijon, as it definitely added an important note. I’m not likely to cook salmon on the grill again–the result from this method is worth the trouble of setting up the smoker.

  5. Smoking salmon without brining and drying is a waste of time. You have to give it time to form a pelicle or the smoke won’t adhere to the fish.

    1. Having cooked this dish at hundreds of professional events like Feast Portland, and IPNC, your comment is an incorrect statement. A pellicle is not required nor is brining for smoking salmon, smoke bonds to multiple surface types. And by using the Dijon mustard we create our own version of a pellicle. Brined smoked salmon is good, but it is not required.

    2. 5 stars
      This was absolutely DELICIOUS! It was juicy, flavorful, smoky and just so dang good. I served it with seasoned rice and sautéed garlic asparagus and it was hit. My mom and husband both said it was the best salmon they’d ever had (and I’ve made a lot of salmon!) I cant wait to make some salmon dip tomorrow. Thanks so much for an easy to follow recipe with amazing results. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

      1. So awesome to hear and thank you so much for the feedback!!!! It’s truly the easiest smoked salmon to make with the real secret being – not overcooking it! Can’t wait to hear how the smoked salmon dip goes!!

    1. We have smoked Mahi Mahi and I would think this method is great. You may want to just stick with a simple seasoning since the fish is so rich in flavor.

      1. 5 stars
        Thanks Sean. I will be using this recipe later today and using a 2.87 pound farm raised Atlantic salmon as the star in a Mother’s Day supper I’m preparing for Mom. I’ve followed y’alls recipes before so I know it will be OUTSTANDING!