Motor City Smoked Salmon

Smoke salmon like a pro!

Smoked salmon is one of the friendliest meats to smoke and for me it always reminds me of Northern Michigan. During trips up north there was always a little roadside store that had fresh smoked salmon we would pick up to our snack for the rest of the trip.

Salmon is loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats, and are a good source of protein. So always start with the freshest fish possible.

The Brine

For this recipe we are going to brine our salmon. Basic brine for salmon is water, salt and white or brown sugar. The brine not only adds flavor but the sugar and salt in the brine work together, improving the texture and help to hold moisture. You can create a more interesting and complex brine by adding other ingredients, but for this recipe we will stick with the basics.

Basic brine for 1 pound of salmon

  1. 1 quart of cold water
  2. 3/8 cup of table or canning salt
  3. 3/8 cup packed brown sugar

If you do not have a full pound I recommend backing off the salt a little.

Mix ingredients together in a zip lock bag or baking dish skin side up. Add the salmon and place in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. (Use plastic wrap, not foil to cover the salmon). When you are ready to smoke, prep your fire basket with the charcoal and wood of your choice. Then get your charcoal chimney started.

The Wood

Alder, apple, peach, or other fruitwood chips are my favorite woods. Avoid hickory or mesquite; they are too strong. Just remember too much smoke is worse than too little. For this recipe I used apple wood chips. I did not soak the chips because I want the chips to start smoking as soon as I add the salmon. Now let’s get the salmon ready.

When removing the salmon, be sure to rinse and dry the fillets. This will wash away the salt and excess spices that may have clumped together while resting.

Pit Tip: Smoke brined salmon immediately after it has finished brining and has been well rinsed.
Salmon is a great fish to smoke on a cedar plank. This not only creates delicious smoky flavor, but makes transporting the fish from the smoker to the table a breeze. (I did not use a cedar plank for this smoke.)

The Smoke

Pour your lit coals over the wood and unlit coals in the fire basket. Using the fire basket handle, lift and set the fire basket down inside the smoker. Insert the grill grate and place the salmon on the rack skin side down.

Now there is no definitive smoker temp and time. I have seen different smoker temps all over the place but the rule of thumb is, as with most meats, low and slow. I get the results I’m looking for when I smoke salmon at 225° F for one to two hours. You are looking for an internal temperature of the salmon to be 140 to 145° F but no more than 150° F. Total cooking time will be about 90 minutes depending on the actual temperature of your smoker and the thickness of the meat. Start checking your temps after 60 minutes.

When complete, remove the salmon and let rest for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and if there is any dark brown flesh, scrape it off with a serrated steak knife and discard it. It can taste muddy.
By chance there is any leftovers, it can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for a month or so if it is tightly packaged in plastic wrap and then foil.