Easy Smoked Salmon Recipe
Smoked Salmon is juicy and flaky with a simple salt, sugar and pepper cure. An easy step-by-step guide to make the best and most delicious hot Smoked Salmon at home. Cure the salmon with a simple rub, smoke it for two hours and enjoy it plain as an appetizer, on sandwich, with bowl of rice or even in a salad!
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Easy Smoked Salmon recipe was shared with us several years ago by my brother Slavik and his wife Lyuba. The night we were treated with this delicious goodness at their house, we knew it would become a staple for us. Since then, it had been the only recipe we use for smoking salmon.
An easy to follow, step-by-step tutorial to smoking salmon at home. A rub that makes the most delicious, moist smoked salmon ever.
Why You’ll Love Smoked Salmon:
Perfectly smoked salmon is one of those simple delicate indulgences that you can never get enough of. While smoking salmon is both, art and science, it’s a lot easier to make it at home than you might think. Your family and dinner guests will be humming over this salmon recipe. It’s sure to become your go-to smoke salmon recipe for any season, holidays especially.
My husband, the fisherman does most of the work when it comes to smoking fish. I only cure it and from then on, he does the rinsing, pre-cutting and smoking and of course I do the testing and eating.
Easy Smoked Salmon Recipe:
This Smoked Salmon recipe is super easy and turns out mouthwatering. It’s slightly salty, sweet and spicy and can be even spicier if you decide to sprinkle red pepper flakes or ground black pepper onto fillet before smoking. It’s optional, but we always sprinkle half of fillet with extra pepper and other half without for the kids; it adds even more flavor.
The top of smoked fish is softer almost like the interior of the fish rather than gummy like you get from cold smoking salmon. We prefer it this way because it makes salmon very delicate and great for special occasions.
The recipe for smoked salmon is more in between the hot smoked salmon and the cold smoked because it’s being smoked between 100-120°F. Therefore, we cannot really call it either, but it does turn out really warm.
It’s really about getting the right balance between the flavor of the salmon, the salt, a little sweetness and the smoke. When all of these are combined together, you get something truly wonderful that is not only amazing to eat by itself, but it can be used as an ingredient for so many other dishes.
The curing period is what’s important in here because if you avoid this step, the salmon will turn our very bland in flavor especially if you have one of the fattier fillets (like we do here).
Ingredients for Smoked Salmon:
The ingredients for this recipe are incredibly easy and they are your basic pantry staples. Simple yet flavorful is the motto here! You can use couple of 2 to 3 lbs salmon fillets for this recipe, or half the cure ingredients and use one fillet. We used a wild-caught King Salmon that was about 9-10 lbs, skin-on.
An easy and simple cure is necessary for adding flavor to smoked salmon and helps season the flesh. You will need kosher salt, granulated sugar, brown sugar and crushed peppercorns for the simple cure. The cure will be rinsed off before smoking, so be generous when rubbing those spices onto fish, to make sure it’s fully-flavored once smoked.
How to Smoke Salmon:
Many people are afraid to even try smoking salmon at home because of all the theories out there that make it sound complicated, but it’s so easy and here’s why.
- Cure it – cure the salmon with a simple salt, sugar and pepper rub for 18 hours. This process eliminates some of the moisture from the inside of the fish, while at the same time infusing it with salt to help preserve the salmon.
- Rinse and Pat Dry the salmon with paper towel to remove the excess liquid.
- Prep the smoker – preheat smoker to 120°F.
- Transfer to smoker – place the salmon skin-down on a piece of foil and transfer it to the smoker. Remove the foil, do not leave it underneath the salmon.
- Smoke salmon – smoke it at 100-120°F for 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 100-120°F in its thickest part.
- Rest to cool – rest the salmon for 10-15 minutes before enjoying or cool completely and refrigerate for 10-12 hours for even better flavor.
Which Salmon is Best to Use in This Recipe?
We are using a 9-10 lbs King Salmon in this tutorial, but salmon from Costco works just as great in this recipe. Use wild-caught salmon when it’s in season. If wild salmon is not available, fresh frozen wild salmon will work. A skin-on salmon is best to smoke, especially if you’re planning to pre-cut like we do before smoking it. Any of these types will work: King Salmon, Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon.
Use whole fillet (half of the fish) rather than smaller portions because it’s easier to handle the whole fillet and keeps the salmon moist once smoked. Smaller pieces will dry out and will need different instructions for smoking.
Do You Need to Freeze Salmon Before Smoking It?
Freezing salmon before smoking is not only better, but it’s safer because it eliminates the parasites during the freezing process. It is recommended for salmon to be frozen for at least 7 days before smoking, cooking, baking, grilling or eating raw.
How to Thaw Frozen Fish?
In general, thawing food can be done in refrigerator, cold water or microwave. It’s a bit different with salmon (fish) because we found that thawing it in the refrigerator is the best way to preserve the flavor and not end up with mushy fish. It’s also “very important” that the salmon is completely thawed before adding the rub onto fish for the curing period. Salmon that is not fully thawed will continue thawing during the curing process and it will wash off the rub, preventing the fish from getting seasoned properly.
- Thaw in refrigerator – plan ahead and thaw in the refrigerator where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature (at 40°F or below). Defrost time depends on the size of fish, but it can take up to 24 hours to thaw.
- Thaw in cold water – a quicker and common way of defrosting fish with a bit more attention than thawing in refrigerator. The fish must be in a sealed bag for safety and to preserve the flavor, submerged in water until it is fully defrosted. Keeping it sealed in bag will prevent the fish from absorbing water and resulting in a watery fish. Defrost time will depend on the size of fish.
- Defrost in microwave – it is not recommended to thaw salmon in microwave because food thawed in microwave is meant to be cooked immediately as some parts of the food may become warm.
Which Smoker Do We Use?
After our old grill got on fire few times, we decided to switch over to another brand before we burn our house down. We did a thorough research before getting another grill and fell in love with RecTeq wood pellet grill (smoker). So far, the results had been impressive after using it for almost 3 years. The smoker comes separately as an accessory that is easily attached to the grill.
One of the reasons we love it is because we can grill and smoke all-year long, no matter how cold it is outside. With the previous grill, we did not have that option and were limited to spring and summer grilling only.
If you are new to smokers, they are electric and use wood pellets, which add a wonderful smoked flavor and aroma. We had been using only the Hickory Wood Pellets since the beginning. RecTeq has so many amazing options such as large cooking area, a WiFi capability that we love and many other amazing options that you can read about on their website.
How Long to Smoke Salmon:
There are few factors to consider in order to determine the time it will take to smoke your fish. The actual temperature in the smoker and the fat content and thickness of the fillet are the most important.
We smoke the salmon for 2 hours at a maximum 120°F, and no more than 2 hours and 30 minutes for thicker fillets. When the fat from salmon starts dripping, it’s a sign that the fish is fully cooked. You can double check the doneness of the fish by making sure that the internal temperature has reached 100-120°F.
Smoked salmon will have white stuff on top of it – that’s just simple protein called albumin. This protein is liquid when fish is raw and thickens when it comes in contact with heat. It’s completely harmless and can be eaten or wiped off with paper towel prior to serving.
What to Serve with Smoked Salmon?
Smoked salmon is very versatile and goes well with many dishes. Our favorite way to enjoy smoked salmon is eating it on its own or with a slice of Easy No-Knead Bread or White Bread. Here are some other delicious suggestions:
- Place sliced salmon on a platter and garnish with fresh herbs, fresh peas, lemon wedges or anything you have on hand to add contrasting colors.
- Use smoked salmon as an appetizer for holidays or parties. Make Smoked Salmon Avocado Sandwiches or Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese Sandwiches.
- Use smoked salmon in Shuba Salad by replacing herring with salmon
- Add it to a fresh greens or lettuce salad
- Smoked salmon with scrambled eggs – a tasty breakfast idea
- Top a rice bowl with salmon.
- Use it in a croissant sandwich with some eggs added in a sandwich as well.
- Make a smoked salmon with cream cheese dip.
- Toss it with pasta (yum)
How Long Smoked Salmon is Good For?
Hot smoked salmon lasts for about 1 week in the refrigerator. Keep it tightly closed with plastic food wrap in a baking dish to prevent it from drying out and to avoid your whole fridge and everything in it absorbing the smoked flavor from the fish.
Hot Vs Cold Smoked Salmon:
There are two ways to smoke salmon – hot smoking or cold smoking. This tutorial is in between, but closer to hot smoked salmon, and not for cold smoked salmon that you usually purchase vacuum-sealed from your local grocery store. Cold smoking is an entirely different lesson and requires many more hours of smoking.
Hot smoked salmon is typically fully cooked by heat that is produced by smoking at temperature between 120-180°F. However, we smoke salmon at temperature between 100-120°F, which prevents it from overcooking. Cold smoked salmon is usually smoked at lower temperature, around 80°F for at least 6 hours and can go as long as 18 hours.
Tips for Best Smoked Salmon:
- Purchase skin-on fillets. Salmon is very tender and flaky and the skin helps keep it together in the smoker without falling through the grates.
- The cure. A simple mix of kosher salt, granulated sugar, brown sugar and crushed peppercorns makes the salmon juicy and rich in flavor. Don’t worry about the intense salt amount, as some of it is rinsed off before the fish is smoked.
- Do not overcook the salmon! This is very important. Adding too much wood can add too much smoke flavor to the salmon. If you smoke for too long or the temperature gets too high, the salmon will dry out.
- Smoker temperature is crucial. Smoke salmon at temperature between 100-120°F, until it reaches internal temperature of 100-120°
- Do not use foil underneath the fish while smoking. Foil does make it easier to transfer and easier cleanup, but it prevents the fish from fully smoking. Once the fat from the salmon starts dripping, it’s a sign that the fish is ready to be taken out.
Our Holiday Favorites:
My family loves to celebrate especially when it comes to major holidays like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. These dishes appear at every major holiday and no celebration will be complete without them.
- Slow Cooker Pork Ribs – we use this same recipe to brine the ribs 18-24 hours and smoke after; so good
- Mashed Potatoes – a must side dish at every gathering; completes the main entrée
- Cheese Crepes – we serve these together with fruits, before desserts (a make-ahead recipe).
- Cabbage Salads (Green Cabbage Cucumber Salad, Cabbage Pepper Salad, Cabbage Carrot Pepper Salad) – if serving more than one salad, do variety such as one with oil dressing, one with mayo and one with another kind of dressing.
- Spartak Cake or Honey Cake – we usually end up with 2 cakes plus other desserts, but one of these is always a must because they are just divine
Easy Smoked Salmon Recipe
- Rinse thawed fish under cold water. Paper towel pat dry to remove any excess water.
- In a medium bowl, combine: 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 brown sugar and 1 tablespoon crushed peppercorns. Give a good whisk.
- Spread extra-wide aluminum foil a little longer than the length of the fish onto the baking sheet and top with an equally long layer of plastic wrap. Sprinkle about 1/3 of the rub onto the plastic. Lay the salmon skin down onto the rub. Use the remaining rub to cover the skin and sides of salmon. Gently pressing, rub it all over the fish. Use more rub on thicker parts of the fish and less on the thinner. If using 2 smaller salmon sides, use half of rub per fish.
- Fold plastic or aluminum over to cover then close edges of foil together and crimp tightly. Some juice will leak out during the curing process, so make sure there is a place for the runoff to gather – you don’t want it leaking into your fridge. We don’t weigh the fish with anything heavy, but you can if you want to.
- Refrigerate fish for 18-24 hours. (We do 18-20 hours).
- Unwrap salmon and rinse off the cure with cold water. Pat salmon with paper towels to remove excess water. Using a sharp thin knife, pre-slice fish to about 3/4-inch thick slices, but do not slice the skin. This will make a lot easier to slice salmon once smoked without mushing it. It will make serving so much easier and delicate.
- Preheat smoker to 120°F and smoke salmon for 2-2 1/2 hours, keeping the temperature inside the smoker between 100°F and 120°F, until the thickest part of salmon reaches internal temperature of 100-120°F. Since salmon fillets can vary in size, keep an eye on the salmon towards the end since a thinner fillet will cook faster and a thicker fillet such as wild King salmon fillet may take longer to smoke. Because each smoker works differently, the best way to know if fish is fully cooked is when the fat starts dripping from the fish, it's a sign that it's ready to take out (or about to).
- Serve salmon once cooled to room temperature or refrigerate for 10-12 hours before serving. It tastes better and not as fatty after it had a chance to fully set in refrigerator. (Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut the skin to separate the slices). Smoked salmon stays good for up to 7 days in the refrigerator.
- *If using Costco salmon, use 2 fillets in this tutorial. The amount of rub can easily be decreased or increased for less or more salmon fillets.
- Best Salmon: Purchase skin-on fillets. Any of these types will work: King Salmon, Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon.
- Freeze: Freezing salmon before smoking is not only better, but it’s safer because it eliminates the parasites during the freezing process. It is recommended for salmon to be frozen for at least 7 days before smoking, cooking, baking, grilling or eating raw.
- Thawing: Plan ahead and thaw salmon in refrigerator, where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature (at 40° F or below). Defrost time depends on the size of fish, but it can take up to 24 hours to thaw. Thawing in refrigerator provides the best results when thawing salmon.
- The Cure: A simple mix of kosher salt, granulated sugar, brown sugar and crushed peppercorns makes the salmon juicy and rich in flavor. Don’t worry about the intense salt amount, as some of it is rinsed off before the fish is smoked.
- Do not Overcook: This is very important. Adding too much wood can add too much smoke flavor to the salmon. If you smoke for too long or the temperature gets too high, the salmon will dry out.
- Foil: Do not use foil underneath the fish while smoking. Foil does make it easier to transfer and easier cleanup, but it prevents the fish from fully smoking. Once the fat from the salmon starts dripping, it’s a sign that the fish is ready to be taken out.
- Storing: Smoked salmon lasts for about 1 week in the refrigerator. Keep it tightly closed with plastic food wrap in a baking dish to prevent it from drying out and to avoid your whole fridge and everything in it absorbing the smoked flavor from the fish.