How to Make Smoked Salmon at Home

Smoked salmon makes a delicious addition to your summertime meals, especially during salmon season, when fresh King and Coho salmon are readily available (if you have the right connections, of course!).

If you’ve never made wild smoked salmon before, don’t be intimidated — you can easily make your own smoked salmon at home, and we’re going to show you how.

Why Smoke Your Own Salmon

You could buy your smoked salmon at the grocery store… but why would you, when making smoked salmon at home is so easy (even for the average home cook) and doing it yourself allows you to create the exact flavors you want, to perfectly complement your favorite dishes? 

When you smoke salmon at home, you can also ensure you’re only smoking salmon that is of the utmost quality — meaning you can best take advantage of all the benefits of smoked salmon.

Smoked salmon benefits include the same salmon health benefits you likely already know and love: omega-3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins and more. According to a nutritionist, smoked salmon across the board is filled with these health benefits, but sometimes, store-bought smoked salmon can also come with a bit more sodium than is ideal. This, of course, is another reason why you might want to smoke your salmon at home, as you can better control the overall salt content.

Choosing the Right Salmon to Smoke

But which salmon is best for your wild smoked salmon recipe? If you’re shopping around for the right salon to smoke, look to King or Coho salmon. King salmon is ideal for just about every salmon recipe, including smoked salmon; high in oil, rich in flavor and overall larger, king salmon is our top pick for smoking. 

However, you can’t go wrong with Coho salmon, either; lower in fat, but still high enough in oil for smoking, high-quality, wild-caught Coho salmon is a good pick for those looking for a cut of salmon with a lower fat content. 

What You Need to Smoke Salmon at Home

There are two methods of smoking salmon — hot smoking and cold smoking. Hot smoking is the easiest method for most home cooks and doesn’t require any special smoking equipment. Cold smoked salmon requires a long period of cooking time at a low temperature, and thus requires specialty equipment, which many home cooks don’t have ready access to.

For hot smoking, you’ll simply need a grill or a smoker box (either will work, and you usually can find smoker boxes that work atop your current grill at your local hardware store); wood; salt and seasoning; and, of course, your salmon. 

If you’re looking for how to cold smoke salmon, you’ll need the smoker box specifically (no shortcuts on the grill here!), as well as the wood or smoker pellets, salt and seasoning and your salmon. 

For both smoking methods, you’ll need some basic kitchen utensils and hardware, such as plastic containers for storage.

How to Hot Smoke Salmon at Home 

1. Brine Your Salmon

Your first step is to brine your salmon. A basic brine recipe is 1 quart water, 1/3 cup kosher salt and 1 cup brown sugar. After mixing all your brine ingredients together, pour it over your salmon and let it rest in a large container in the fridge, for no less than 4 hours, but no more than 48 hours. (You can adjust the salt and sugar ratios, for a saltier or sweeter end result.)

2. Air Dry the Salmon

After brining your fish, allow it to air dry in a cool spot, at least 2 hours or up to overnight (in the fridge). At this point, you can add a smoked salmon rub, if you so wish, but the brine will give your salmon enough flavor on its own, even if you don’t add any extra seasoning. 

3. Smoke It

If using a smoker, add your salmon to your smoker, keeping the smoker at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoke your fish until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit as well (which may take as little as an hour for very thinly-sliced salmon, or up to 4 hours for larger pieces of salmon).

If using a grill, without the use of any specialty smoking equipment, soak your wood chips in water for half an hour, drain them and then add them to an aluminum pan or makeshift foil pan. Fill a separate aluminum pan with about an inch of water and heat your grill to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Place the pan of water on the colder side of your grill (under the grill grate) and place the pan of wood chips on the hot part of your grill (also under the grill gate). Place your dry salmon on the grate, over the pan of water, cover the grill and allow the salmon to smoke for 30 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

How to Cold Smoke Salmon at Home

For cold smoking salmon at home, you’ll want to follow the same brining and drying process, but then, you’ll want to add your salmon to a smoker outfitted with a smoke generator filled with fine sawdust. The smoker will need to be carefully monitored, to ensure it stays just below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the salmon in the smoker for up to 24 hours. 

The cold smoked salmon is still technically raw after this process, but now has a rich, smoky flavor. Rather than relying on the smoked salmon internal temp. to see if your salmon is done, you’ll want to rely on feel and appearance. The salmon is done when it’s firm and darker in color. 

Homemade Smoked Salmon

The Most Common Salmon Smoking Mistakes to Avoid

The most common salmon smoking mistake is not allowing the salmon to dry thoroughly after the brining process. This is a very important step, as it allows the salmon to develop what’s called a pellicle, a layer of proteins on the salmon’s exterior. This layer helps the salmon better retain its smoky flavor. 

How Long is Smoked Salmon Good For? 

Smoked fish will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. And can you freeze smoked salmon for an even longer shelf-life? Absolutely! Smoked salmon will stay fresh in the freezer for up to six months. 

Make sure, though, however you store your smoked salmon at home, that you keep it in an air-tight container.

Making Delicious Smoked Salmon Starts with the Freshest Fish

Smoking your own salmon at home isn’t difficult, but it does result in a seriously impressive addition to your summertime dinner menus. Whether you hot smoke or cold smoke your salmon, start with fresh, wild-caught salmon. For the best results, try making smoked salmon with a fresh Alaskan salmon fillet. Alaskan Salmon Co. brings you Alaskan salmon from the fisherman straight to your door. Your tastebuds will thank you.