Smoked Salmon – A Simple and Delicious Recipe

Smoking salmon can be as easy or difficult as you make it. By using the highest quality salmon, however, you can produce a very high quality smoked fish product using even the most basic recipe and ingredients. Don’t be fooled into thinking the spawned out old boot that you just caught on the river is “good enough for the smoker”, as the quality of the fish you put in the smoker will be exactly what you get out of it.

Below is a simple yet delicious smoked salmon recipe that I use to smoke all my fish.

Preparing the Fish
After filleting the fish decide whether you want to leave the fish in whole fillets or single serving size pieces. I chunk my fillets into a size appropriate to serve several people, so we can pull it out of the freezer as we need it.

The pin bones can easily be removed from the fillet with a set of needle nose pliers or pin bone pliers. Pine bone pliers can be purchased online at or at most Metropolitan markets located in the Seattle area. At the end of the drying process the pin bones protrude from the flesh making them a little easier to pull out of the fish.


There are literally hundreds of different recipes for smoking salmon, most of which turn out a great tasting product in the end. This is a very simple recipe that I picked up years ago from a friend that produces some of the best smoked salmon I’ve ever eaten.

-1 Cup Brown Sugar (dark brown sugar works great, too!)
-1 Cup Coarse Kosher Salt
-1 Cup White Sugar
-3 Quarts of Water

Combine the above ingredients in a plastic container or non-metallic mixing bowl. To make the ingredients dissolve more readily I use hot tap water and then allow the mixture to cool completely before adding the fish to it. Also, be sure the salt you use for the brine is non-iodized. Iodized salt produces a metallic taste in the fish. For large quantities of salmon I place the brine and fish in a 5 gallon bucket and place it in a cooler full of ice overnight.


Kosher salt is highly refined which makes it dissolve quickly and absorb more readily into the fish. Because of how it’s refined it’s also a lot less “salty” than other forms of salt. Depending upon your taste you can also add garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon pepper, cracked black pepper, Worstershire Sauce, and just about anything else you can imagine to this recipe. I prefer to keep the brine simple and then add either cracked pepper or jalapeño slices to the fish at the end of the brining process.

Now that the brine is dissolved and ready place the salmon in the brine meat-side down and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. For a large load of salmon I’ll place it in a clean 5 gallon bucket that will then go in a cooler full of ice where it stays overnight.


Aside from the brine, the next step in this process is probably the most important in assuring your fish turns out great.

After removing the fish from the brine place it on the smoker racks and allow it to air dry until the surface is tacky-dry. If you spray a little non-stick on your smoker racks the fish will come off the racks nicely when it’s done smoking. During the drying period a glaze, also known as a pellicle, will form on the surface of the fish trapping the brine and fish oils within the meat. A fan can be used to speed up this process.

The Smoker
There are several commercially produced smokers on the market that work great for smoking fish. You’ll find smokers that use propane as a heat source and others that use an electric element to burn the chips and heat the unit. The smoker I use is an electric Masterbuilt with digital-controlled heat and time settings.

If I’m smoking smaller salmon like silvers I’ll cold smoke the fish at 110 degrees for two hours and then finish it at 170 degrees for two more hours. For larger pieces of king salmon the cold smoke time will stay the same but I’ll jack up the cooking time to closer to three hours or more until the fish is finished.


For safety reasons, you should always plan on placing the smoker a safe distance from anything combustible and don’t plan on smoking fish on your wooden deck.

Alder, apple, and cherry chips are all sold commercially by companies like Brinkman and Little Chief. Alder is definitely my first choice when it comes to smoking fish.


Smoking the Fish
Since the fish is already on the racks all you have to do now is slide the fish in your Masterbuilt smoker and turn the smoker on. For a load of silver salmon I’ll set the smoker at 110 degrees for two hours and I’ll add one tray of alder chips during that time. Once the cold-smoke process is complete I’ll crank the smoker up to 170 degrees for two more hours and by the end of this time the salmon is usually cooked to perfection. If you want a little drier fish you can extend the cooking time. For king salmon I keep the cold smoke time the same but extend the cooking process to three or even four hours depending on how thick the fillets are.

I just started adding jalapeño pepper slices to my salmon and absolutely the flavor and spice it brings to the fish. If you like a little heat I recommend giving this a try…it is AWESOME!


Packaging the Smoked Fish

If you want to store your smoked fish in the freezer you’ll want to use a vacuum sealer like a Food Saver to package the fish. After the fish is sealed be sure to write the date and the species of fish on the package.


Once you’ve mastered this process, however, you’ll find that the fish rarely even makes it to the freezer!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

High Tech Salmon Smoking!!!

I’ve been smoking (and eating) salmon literally my whole life. I’ve been fortunate to travel all over Alaska and have seen how the native Alaskans process & smoke their fish and game so I felt that I had a good handle on the process.

That was until I wrote my salmon smoking process up in blog form Smoking Salmon Simplified and received a multitude of questions that I couldn’t answer!

Basically, all I’ve ever used are the ol’ standby “box and hotplate” electric smokers like the Luhr Jensen Big Chief and Little Chief. All these units do is plug in, get hot and make smoke. There is no thermometer, no heat control…no nothing!

So, when I was asked by readers of the blog what temperatures to smoke fish at… I really had no clue! All I really knew was that smoking fish in the summer was a lot easier than in the winter! Now with this Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smokehouse I know that 120F is a great start for an hour then increasing the temp to 165 for 4-5 hours is just perfect for salmon!!!

All that was before I got my new Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smokehouse with thermostat, temperature control and a timer… Did I mention the wireless remote control?













Once out of the box, it just a few minutes to do some screwdriver “surgery” assembly and you’re almost ready to smoke!













After assembly, you’ll need to break the unit in by bringing it up to temperature and running a tray of chips through. I was amazed that the unit started smoking within five minutes of turning it on!













The process now follows my previous blog, Smoking Salmon Simplified and now I can add the handy and interesting concept of actual temperature readings to the recipe!

Don’t forget to air dry your brined fish for 24 hours! the cabinet of the Masterbuilt smoker is simply perfect for this process! Just open the top vent and remove the smoker chip tray to increase air flow and you’re in business!













As soon as you plug it in, the unit displays the interior temp of the unit. For smoking coho I recommend 175 degrees for five or six hours depending on the thickness of your fish.


The digital timer will shut the unit off while you’re away and as long as you can find the time to replace the chips a couple times during those six hours…


…you should see something like this coming out of your new Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smokehouse from Sportco and Outdoor Emporium!


To be honest, I’m just getting started with this unit! I’m smoking pheasants, ducks and possibly a Thanksgiving turkey! How about some smoked venison and/or elk?

I better start shooting straighter before I can promise that!!!

 Tom Nelson                                                                                                                      The Outdoor Line                                                                                                                                                                        710 ESPN Seattle

Smoking Salmon Simplified!!!

If there is a food that is more uniquely “Northwest” than smoked salmon I don’t know what it is… But, I would like to find out!

I love salmon, I grew up eating it, it’s good for you and If you give me the choice of a USDA Prime Rib Eye steak or an alder barbequed salmon; it’s salmon every day and twice on Sunday!

There is something primal about the relationship between salmon and smoke. Native Americans have used smoking as a method of preserving their fish and meats since the dawn of time and in the interim, all modern man has been able to do is refine the ancient process.  For the fisherman that is just getting in to smoking, I would offer the same advice that I give to new anglers: find one or two techniques, stick with them for consistent success and pay attention to details.

My process is a “wet brine” method and must be followed EXACTLY for good results. This is a tried and true method that works every time but you cannot skip a step and expect success. The process takes about three days: one to brine, one to air dry and one to smoke.

Have you ever heard the old saying “Beware the man with one gun, for he surely knows how to use it”? Well, I’m the guy with one smoking recipe and brother… well, just give this one a try and you won’t be disappointed!

First, the recipe:

2 gallons warm fresh water
4 cups brown sugar
2 cups pure (non-iodized or pickling & canning) salt
2 heaping Tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
6 whole Bay leaves crumbled
1 Tablespoon Garlic powder (Optional)
(For smaller batches just reduce ingredients proportionally)
Brining time: Depends on the thickness of the fish and desired taste. This is a reduced salt recipe that will not ruin fish if left in the brine for a longer period of time. For average adult chinook 15-18 hours will be fine. For coho, sockeye or pinks, 12 hours should do the job.

For the purpose of this process we’ll assume you have a “box and hot plate” type of electric smoker utilizing dried alder chips or chunks. With these smokers, typically you do not have temperature control but you can control the quantity of smoke. I use a minimum of three “pans” of chips. Keep in mind that warmer days are better for smoking and that the smoker does not and should not be smoking constantly. Usually 8-12 hours in the smoker gets the job done depending on your tastes.

I use warm (not hot) water since the ingredients will dissolve more easily and completely than trying to make this brine in cold water. In addition, if you are smoking frozen fish you can use very warm water and allow the fish to thaw in the brine. After a couple of hours, don’t forget to remove the frozen fish to cut proper smoking sized pieces. Then return the smoking chunks to the brine for the remainder of the brine time.

Never, ever use a metal container for brining fish! The result will be a “tinny” or metallic taste that many folks find unpalatable. I use food or chemical grade 5-gallon plastic buckets. Plastic buckets have the added advantage of coming with tight-fitting lids. When the brine is complete, it takes up about half the room in the bucket and you can add fish to bring the level up to almost the top of the bucket if you have a big batch!

So now you have all the ingredients and “raw materials” together and we’re ready to start the process.

Before I even touch the fish, I make the brine up in the bucket and it looks like this:

If we’re working with frozen salmon, we make a warmer brine, allow the fish to thaw enough to cut, take it out of the brine, remove the ribs and cut chunks from back to belly about 1 ½ to 2 inches wide.  Return these processed chunks to the brine for the remainder of the brine time.

When you get to the tail you are left with a large, flat piece.

Split the tail laterally so you retain a uniform size to your smoking chunks which results in consistent salt content and drying times.  

When you’re done with the tail it should look about like this.

In my opinion, the next two steps are the MOST CRITICAL and if ignored are often responsible for the dreaded “Bad Batch”!!!
After your brine time, remove the fish and feel the new firm texture. Water has been removed from the flesh, replaced by salt.  Now the critical step:

RINSE ALL THE BRINE OFF THE FISH! Under running tap water completely and thoroughly wash off the brine.  

Once rinsed, Air dry the fish without smoking for 18-24 hours depending upon humidity and air flow. If you are in a hurry you can speed the process a bit by placing a fan nearby to provide air flow but not too close, we’re not making jerky here! What happens during the air dry is a tremendous amount of flavor development.

In the brine we introduce salt and in the rinse we “freshen” or remove salt from the surface. During the air dry, salinity evens out throughout the fish and oil starts coming to the surface. To a large degree, this prevents the unsightly white “protein puddles” or ”curds” from forming on your fish and results in the deep red color we all enjoy!

You will know when the air drying process is done when a tacky glaze or “pellicle” forms over the surface of the fish.  

When it’s done it should look like this and you get to taste it first before anybody else knows it’s done!

Good luck with your smoking efforts, remember to not skip any steps and I’m confident you’ll enjoy consistent success with this method. Just remember: Once you smoke it and people start getting a whiff, it won’t be around for long so be sure to hide a little smokers stash!!!