How to Smoke Salmon Perfectly on a Smoker Grill

The best smoked salmon recipe ever! This simple recipe uses a quick dry brine and hot smoking to make the salmon tender and flavorful (rather than making salmon jerky). And I’m not talking about lox, which uses cold-smoking techniques and a longer cure process. Discover how to make tender smoked salmon every time using this tried and true recipe.

When we cater events, this simple smoked salmon recipe works the best because it doesn’t need a wet brine, which takes more time to make. Read on for more details and our video tutorial.

Salmon is one of my favorite things to cook on the smoker or grill. But too often salmon gets a bad rap for being overcooked. Hot-smoked salmon is about setting a low temperature and not overcooking the salmon. Add a simple seasoning and you get the perfect salmon every time.

Some people really want smoked salmon, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s the best salmon people have ever eaten, that’s what we hear over and over again. The secret? Using good quality salmon, and not overcooking it.

For the best salmon, it should be fresh, bright pink, and have little to no smell. Different types of salmon will have different levels of fat content, which changes the cooking time.

Also, consider using an entire salmon fillet. A lot of people will eat good salmon quickly, and a salmon fillet that weighs several pounds on your smoker is a great conversation starter. There are great ways to use any leftovers, even if you’re only cooking for a small family (see the end of this post for some ideas!)

The goal is to dry brine the fish and use Dijon mustard to make a pellicle (see below for more information). Start with a coating of Dijon mustard. Then add kosher salt and pepper over the flesh side. Alternatively, you can use our seafood seasoning as a dry rub for more flavor.

If you want to season ahead of time, do it on a sheet tray and put it in the fridge with plastic wrap on top until you’re ready to cook.

The Pellicle is a layer, or coating of protein, that is most commonly found in wet-brined salmon. It makes the skin tougher so the proteins inside the salmon can stay put and still take on smoke flavor.

Smoked salmon is a delicious treat that is often reserved for special occasions and restaurant menus But with the right techniques, you can easily make restaurant-quality smoked salmon at home on your smoker grill This step-by-step guide will teach you everything you need to know to make tender, flavorful smoked salmon on your smoker grill.

Choosing the Salmon

The starting point for amazing smoked salmon is getting high-quality fresh salmon. Look for wild-caught salmon like sockeye or coho rather than farmed Atlantic salmon. The flesh should have a vibrant pink/orange hue and firm texture without any fishy odor. Buy salmon fillets with the skin on as the skin protects the delicate flesh during smoking.

For optimal results, use a large 2-4 pound salmon fillet which allows more time for the smoke to penetrate before the interior is cooked through. Smaller fillets under 2 pounds can dry out quickly in the smoker. Side fillets with uniform thickness work best rather than tail sections which taper.

Dry Brining

Before smoking, the salmon needs to be dry brined to form a pellicle which allows the smoke to adhere Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup salt, and black pepper Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on a baking sheet. Spread half the dry brine mixture over the plastic wrap.

Place the salmon fillet skin side down over the brine rub. Coat the top of the salmon completely with the remaining brine mixture. Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 8-12 hours. The dry brine draws out moisture while seasoning the flesh.

Forming the Pellicle

After brining, rinse the salmon well under cold water to remove excess salt. Pat the fillets very dry with paper towels. Place the salmon on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Leave it out overnight in the fridge. So, a sticky pellicle can form on the surface, which helps the smoke stick.

Prepare the Smoker

Soak wood chips in water for 30 minutes then drain well. Use fruit woods like apple, cherry, or alder which pair nicely with salmon. Set up your smoker grill for smoking with a temp between 180-225°F. Add a handful of drained wood chips to the smoker box.

Smoke the Salmon

In the middle of the thickest part of the fillet, put a probe thermometer. Place the salmon skin side down directly on the grill grates. Once the lid is closed, smoke until the internal temperature reaches 140°F, which should take about 3 to 4 hours. The low gentle heat ensures even cooking without drying out.

Use Super Smoke mode in the first 1-2 hours if available for extra smoke flavor. Add a few more wood chips if needed to generate continuous thin blue smoke. Don’t let the temp exceed 225°F to prevent the salmon from drying out.

Check for Doneness

Start checking the internal temp after about 2 hours. Salmon is safely cooked at 145°F but for the most tender, moist texture, remove it at 140°F. The salmon will continue to cook as it rests, reaching the ideal serving temp.

Check for flakiness by inserting a fork in the thickest part. The salmon should flake apart smoothly when it is ready. If undercooked, the interior will have a raw translucent appearance.

Resting and Serving

Once the salmon reaches 140°F internal temp, remove it from the smoker. Let it rest 10 minutes before slicing to allow juices to redistribute. Slice the salmon across the grain into thin pieces.

Serve the smoked salmon warm or chilled. The salmon can be refrigerated up to 3 days. For leftovers, flake into salads, fold into omelets, or enjoy on crackers for an easy appetizer.

With the right techniques, you can make amazing smoked salmon at home that rivals the best restaurant versions. Follow these tips for ensuring tender flaky salmon with a lovely wisp of wood smoke flavor. Experiment with different brines and wood types until you find your favorite.

Troubleshooting Smoked Salmon

Problem: Salmon comes out too dry and tough.

Solution: Check internal temp sooner and remove from smoker at 140°F. Ensure smoker temp doesn’t exceed 225°F. Brine for full 12 hours to season fish while retaining moisture.

Problem: Salmon has a bitter, acrid taste.

Solution: Use only fruit woods like apple or alder for milder flavor. Make sure wood chips are fully soaked and drained so they don’t combust.

Problem: Salmon has a raw appearance and taste when cut.

Solution: Smoke for a longer time until salmon reaches an internal temp of at least 140°F before removing from smoker. Check temp in several places.

Problem: Salmon skin is soggy and falls off.

Solution: Ensure salmon skin is fully dried out when forming pellicle before smoking. Smoke skin side down to help crisp the skin.

Tips for the Best Smoked Salmon

  • Use wild-caught salmon for better flavor and texture
  • Form an overnight pellicle for better smoke absorption
  • Keep smoker temp 180-225°F to prevent drying out
  • Use fruit woods like apple or cherry for milder flavor
  • Smoke until internal temp reaches 140°F then rest 10 minutes
  • Slice salmon thinly across the grain to serve

With a little practice, you can master how to make incredible smoked salmon at home. Impress your family and guests with your own house-smoked salmon, paired with a crisp white wine or bubbly. Enjoy the satisfaction of creating this gourmet seafood delicacy in your own backyard.

how to smoke salmon on a smoker grill

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

According to the USDA Salmon should be cooked to 145 degrees (F). If you are concerned about food safety, then cook the meat to the recommended temperature. But because we trust our sources and know the food is good, we cook ours to an internal temperature of no more than 135 degrees. Therefore we trust it cooked to medium. Carry-over cooking will take the internal temperature of the salmon an additional 5 degrees.

This will vary depending on the exact size of the salmon and the exact temperature of the smoker. For a 1 – 1 1/2 pound salmon it should be done within the first hour. Always cook to temperature, not exact time.

No, you do not need to brine salmon for flavor or added moisture. Cooking it using this method will have incredibly flavorful and tender results. If you want to brine, keep it simple with kosher salt, water, and brown sugar. But it is not necessary.

Follow the same process as the recipe instructions. You can adjust the temperature down using smoke or 180 for more smoke flavor.

how to smoke salmon on a smoker grill

  • Cutting the Filet: If you want to divide the filet up ahead of time, run a sharp knife along the length of the salmon filet, being careful not to cut through the skin. Then make small cuts horizontally. Then season and cook. You can use a spatula to remove your servings as soon as it’s done.
  • Steelhead: This recipe works just as well for steelhead.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

The salmon will last for up to three days in the refrigerator.

If reheating leftovers the best method is the following.

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place a cookie drying rack inside a sheet tray. Put a little water in the bottom of the tray. Make sure the water doesn’t get to the salmon (this is just to make it more humid).
  • Spread out the salmon filets on the rack and cover them with foil. Place in the preheated oven for up to 8 minutes. The water will help steam and keep the salmon tender.
  • Remove and serve.

This is How I get PERFECT Smoked Salmon EVERY Time


How long does it take to smoke a salmon in a smoker?

Preheat a smoker to 250 degrees F with hickory chips. Place salmon on the smoker. Smoke for 60 to 90 minutes, or until fish flakes nicely. Serve with freshly squeezed lemon just before serving.

Do you flip salmon when smoking?

No, flipping your salmon isn’t required as the smokers temperature should be set to 160°F (70°C) and high smoke. This slow cooking means tender pieces of salmon that get cooked from all directions.

How do you keep salmon from sticking to the smoker?

Slices of Citrus Fruit The most exciting technique to keep fish from sticking to the grill is to use slices of citrus as a barrier. Make uniform slices of your favorite citrus fruit and place them on the grill grates.

How long do you smoke salmon on a grill?

After setting to Smoke or Super Smoke, let your grill preheat with the lid closed for 5-10 minutes. Next, place your salmon directly on the grill grate (skin side down) and smoke for 3-4 hours or until your internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is smoked salmon good for you?

Salmon is a source of high-quality protein, magnesium, and selenium. In addition, it provides healthy fatty acids for the body. It contains large amounts of omega 3, which prevents cardiovascular diseases, has anti-inflammatory properties, and prevents certain types of Cancer.

How do you smoke salmon in a pellet smoker?

Make the salmon rub. Sprinkle on salmon. Smoke on pellet smoker. Serve immediately. Step 1: First of all, preheat your pellet smoker. Set the temperature to 275-300 degrees F. Make sure you have topped it up with wood pellets of your choice.

How do you cook salmon on a gas grill?

Preheat the grill to 225°F. If you’re using a Pit Boss, turn it to the “ Smoke Setting”. Load the pellet hopper with the wood chips of your choice. While the grill is heating, remove the salmon fillets from the packaging and rinse off under cold running water. Pat dry with a paper towel.

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