Smoking Salmon Made Easy(ish)

Smoking salmon takes time but it's worth it

Want to add a little spice to your holiday feast or just craving that rare delicious flavor of smoked salmon? Well, we understand that, us Geeks have cravings too, and smoked salmon is to smoke salmon

But, before you head down this culinary path beware, you can’t just throw it together at the last minute. Like all great foods, it takes time and preparation.

Select your fish

You have to choose the right fish. There are several types of salmon and some take smoke flavor better than others. Most Smoke Geeks prefer Keta salmon, sometimes referred to as chum. It's usually bigger and thicker than other types. 

The brine

Once you have your chosen salmon, prepare a brine for it. This step is essential, the brining process doesn’t just add flavor, it also reduces moisture from the fish and helps the preserving process.

Mix together sugar, salt, and water as the base of the brine. You can add any of the following, depending on your preference: soy sauce, white wine, garlic and/or pepper. Whip it all together really well so the ingredient dissolve. 

Use a glass casserole dish and soak the salmon in the brine for at least 8 hours, maybe even go for a whole 24 hours. Keep the salmon in the refrigerator while it soaks.

Let it dry

Once you take the salmon out of the fridge, you're still not ready to cook. We told you smoked salmon takes time. You need to find a place for the salmon to dry out. You can set it on a rack and place a fan next to it to speed up the process. Though this step will still probably take a couple of hours. The coating should be dry and sticky before you put it in the smoker.

Smoked Salmon Brine by AllRecipes

1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
lemon pepper to taste
1 (3 ounce) package dry crab and shrimp seasoning mix
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, crushed or to taste
1 dash hot pepper sauce (optional)
4 lemons, sliced and crushed
2 oranges, sliced and crushed
1 lime, sliced and crushed
1 large yellow onion, sliced


  1. Pour the water into a large bowl or small bucket. If you must use a pot, use one that does not contain aluminum. Stir in the kosher salt, white sugar, brown sugar, lemon pepper, parsley and seasoning mix. Add the garlic, hot pepper sauce, lemons, oranges, lime and onion.
  2. Soak your salmon in this brine in the refrigerator for 12 to 36 hours. Smoke using your desired method (see Cook's Note).

Finally, ready to smoke

The most common wood for smoking salmon is alder wood, but many Geeks also really like to use apple, hickory or oak wood. Choosing the right wood is all about personal preference. There is not one perfect choice. Go with what you love.

When it comes to smoking there are two popular methods.

  1. The easiest is to set your smoker up at about 150 degrees and let the salmon cook anywhere from 2 -6 hours.
  2. Another popular process is to set your smoker at 100 degrees for the first two hours, then baste the salmon with leftover brine. Turn the smoker up to 140 degrees for another two hours, baste again. Finally, raise the temperature to 175 degrees and smoke for two more hours.

Try out both if you want to find out which method you like best. Either way, the thickest part of the salmon should be 140 degrees when it is fully cooked.

Time to eat?

Now that you're done smoking you might think it's finally time to eat. Sorry, not so.

For the best results allow the salmon to rest for a couple of hours before serving. The leftovers, should there be any, will last several days in the refrigerator. Or you can freeze it for up to 6 months.

  • Tom Potter says:

    I just picked up a new electric smoker. My wife and I purchase a half a side of beef every 15 months or so. My cousin raised them free range with a bunch of corn in their diet.
    Tomorrow I will be performing my first smoke. I have a full brisket and I’m both nervous and excited.
    I know the low and slow but I’m worried about somehow drying it out. I had all kinds of friendly suggestions and the most popular seems to be a little fine mist spray of apple juice every couple of hours. Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks.

  • TopGeek says:

    Tom, I’m excited for you! Here are a few tips to keep that brisket from drying out throughout the cooking process:

    – Salt the brisket about 12 hours prior to smoking (1/2 teaspoon per pound; not including the fat trimmings)
    – Inject the brisket with beef broth (1 oz. of broth per pound)
    – Ensure you have a water pan positioned over the coals throughout the smoking process (don’t let it run dry)

    Happy Smokin’

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