Smoked Salmon for the Rest of Us

Followers of this blog know that when it comes to fish, salmon is the family favorite.  It is readily available, affordable when purchased in bulk, and quite versatile as evidenced here, here and here.  We do salmon many different ways and they’re all quite tasty, but in my opinion, this method takes the cake.

Smoked salmon.  The words get the kids running towards the table no matter what time it is.  We like it with bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, mixed with mayo for a lunchtime sandwich or hot off the smoker with rice for a dinner time entrée.

For most people, smoked salmon my just be a little out of reach.  Surely it must be hard to make, why else would it cost $20 or more per pound at the super market?  Don’t you need a smoker to make it?  I don’t have the time to do it.  Nonsense.  There is no reason why you aren’t smoking a thick slab of salmon right now.

(Use your best Billy Mays voice here) If you have a smoker – great!  No smoker?  No problem.  The very first smoked meat I made was salmon and trout, smoked in my gas grill, and it was so easy, and so delicious too.  We’ll talk hardware later.  Right now, let’s get a fish ready.


For this session I used half (about 1.75 pounds) of a rather large fillet that we bought at the local Costco about a month ago (don’t worry, I froze the portion in question).  If I remember correctly, the price was about $6.50 per pound – what a steal!

The first thing to do is prepare a salt pack to wick off some of the moisture.


Mix together

½ cup pickling salt

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp onion powder (I didn’t have any so I ground up the chopped onions)

1 tsp dill

¾ tsp garlic power

Zest of 1 lemon

Pack all sides of the fish with the mixture and place it in a zip top bag for two to four hours in the fridge.


What you want to see at the end is a noticeable quantity of fluid collecting in the bag, maybe a few tablespoons.


At this point remove the fish, rinse it, then dry it thoroughly and place it on a wire rack.


The fish needs to sit and air dry for 30 to 45 minutes, a fan will speed this process.  As it dries, it will develop a tacky surface, this is good for the introduction of additional flavors such as herbs and smoke.


While the fish is sitting, it would be a good idea to get a fire going in your smoker or grill.  I’m not going to get into this too much (I promise a dedicated post about smoking in a gas grill soon) but no matter what you’re using you’re going to want a low and even temperature.  I usually aim for 200 – 220 degrees.  If you have a grill, wrap some hardwood chips (oak, maple, hickory or fruitwoods) in a few layers of perforated foil and place directly on a low fire.  If you have a smoker, get a nice even hardwood coal fire going with a few chunks of the various woods mentioned above.

Back in the kitchen as your fish is drying, mix together the following:

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/3 tsp chopped dill (I used fresh, but the jar variety is fine too)

A few leaves of tarragon chopped


Spread this on the fish and head out to your cooking device.


Place the fillet on the grate, cover and walk away.


Cooking time will depend heavily on the size and thickness of your fish, the goal is to reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.  I let this one go for about an hour and twenty minutes.  When it’s done, you should see the edges becoming red and the fillet will take on a distinctly striped appearance.  When you decide that doneness has been achieved, remove it from the grate and wrap it in foil.


If you’re serving it hot, let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’re saving it for later, let it cool down for a half hour or so before you put it in the refrigerator.

This particular fish traveled up north with us to a family vacation to be consumed with cream cheese on bagels.  The sweet salty fish was the perfect foundation for a long day of hiking along the north shore of Lake Superior and at a fraction of the price of the store bought variety.

So the next time you have a pot luck brunch or high end wine party to attend, show up with this and let the praises roll in.


  1. Interesting stuff, great details, looks really delicious to me. I might just try that one out.

  2. Oh this looks incredible. I am so inspired. Hopefully my gas grill will work with a low flame and a packet of wood chips. Thanks for a great post!

  3. I am gonna try this out THIS week! I’m so glad I found this post!

  4. Awesome info, going to try this with a coho I caught today. Thanks!!


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