Most people who have a smoker at some stage wonder how to smoke salmon. The mellow to rich taste of salmon and the chunky flakes of the meat lend this excellent fish to the BBQ smoker process well.
If you don’t have a barbecue smoker, a barbecue grill with a lid is the next best thing.
It can also be grilled, broiled, poached and cooked in various other ways if you are inclined to try them.
Salmon grills quickly and it is easy to see when it is cooked – when the flesh becomes flaky during cooking it is done. There is also a subtle change in colour that gives it away.
We will only consider the hot smoking process here, which takes a lot longer. I have given two methods, one for smoking salmon fillets and one for whole salmon.
How to Prepare Your Salmon for Smoking
You need 6 fillets or a whole salmon of 3 ½ to 4 lb.
Fillets are effectively ready prepared and can be brined, or not and smoked straight away.
A whole salmon may be ready prepared by a fishmonger or at the supermarket
- If not it will need the head, tail and fins removed and gutting.
- The scales need to be removed by scraping the dull edge of the knife along the body in an against the grain fashion.
- Wash it inside and out and get all traces of guts and scales out of there.
- Next split the salmon length ways along one side of the spine. The spine can be removed altogether by cutting along the other side of it.
- If need be cut the now filleted salmon into smaller portion sizes.
You can skip this step, however, there are lots of reasons why you might want to brine your salmon (or any smoking meat) and Cookshack has several brine recipes and great info on the subject.
Brining is similar to marinating so experiment with brine ingredients as you wish.
Basic Brine Ingredients
- ¼ cup salt, either non-iodised or Kosher (iodised salt affects the flavour adversely)
- ¼ cup of brown sugar
- 4 pints of water
This should make more than enough for your salmon fillets.
Mix all the ingredients together in a suitable pan and gently boil whilst stirring it all. When the salt and sugar are dissolved turn off the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Place the fillets side by side in a glass or ceramic oven dish, pour the brine over until they are covered.
If the fillets are up to ½ inch thick 15-20 minutes is enough brining time, up to 1 inch thick go for 30 minutes, and more than 1 inch go for and hour.
After brining run cold water over the fillets and leave them skin side down somewhere cool and shady for a couple of hours to allow the “pellicle” to form.
They are now ready for the BBQ smoker.
How to Smoke Salmon
Whether you have brined or not prepare your charcoal and select your BBQ smoking wood or woodchips.
Apple is my usual, cherry is great also. I believe pear, peach and pecan are good as well, but I have never tried them.
In the Northwest United States, alder is considered best. Oak or hickory are fine, but use them sparingly as they have a stronger taste more suited to meat than fish. Skip mesquite altogether, it’s just too much for fish.
Place the water pan beneath where the fillets will go. You could add a couple of slices of lemon to the water.
Once the wood is decided on and a couple of handfuls of the chips are soaking, turn your attention to the charcoal. When it stops smoking, and is covered in a film of ash adjust the vents and try to get the temperature down to between 150F and 200F.
Maintain the temperature within this ball park for the duration.
Put the soaked wood chips in your smoke box.
How to Tell When Your BBQ Smoked Salmon is Ready
When around 2 ½ hours has elapsed test whether the fish has become flaky – raw fish has a slight translucence to it, which should now be replaced by opaqueness.
Unless the fillets are very thick, it shouldn’t take more than 3 hours. Keep checking every 30 minutes until it is done.
Serve it straight away or let it cool for later.
If you enjoyed learning how to smoke salmon try trout using the same method sometime as well.