Smoked salmon is a beloved protein staple of the Pacific Northwest. It’s also a coveted delicacy among the kind of people who know how to hit their smoke with just the right amount of power to lock in all that sweet, sweet flavor. There are many ways to smoke salmon; however, you can’t go wrong if you use an electric smoker. An electric smoker is affordable and easy to use, making it a great choice for beginner and advanced smokers alike.
Smoking Salmon Using An Electric Smoker
Follow these simple steps to smoke delicious salmon at home.
Step 1: Brine your salmon
In a large bowl, mix together the water, salt and brown sugar until dissolved. Once dissolved, add the spices and stir to combine.
Place the salmon in the brine skin side down and let it sit for 20 minutes. While it is brining, place the wood chips in a container of water to soak.
When ready, remove the salmon from the brine and place it on a plate skin side up. Make sure to pat off any excess moisture with a paper towel before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Preheat the smoker
Set up the smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Fill the water tray with water and turn on the heat, making sure that the temperature doesn’t exceed 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the smoke box on top of the burner and fill it with wood chips. Leave the lid open until you have a steady stream of smoke coming out of the lid. Turn off the burner at this point and place a large disposable aluminum pan underneath where you will be placing your salmon fillets.
Step 3: Prep the smoking rack
Place your salmon fillets on a disposable aluminum pan, skin side down. Season them with salt and pepper or whatever flavorings you prefer, such as dill, lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning. Place another piece of aluminum foil above them to create a “tent” around them to protect them from direct heat while they are smoking. If you are using alder wood chips, which is recommended for smoking salmon, you should use foil to keep your fish from getting too smoky or charred.
Step 4: Prep the smoking wood
The type of wood you use will depend on the flavor you want to infuse into the salmon. To achieve a milder smoke flavor, use fruit woods such as apple, cherry or apricot. Alder is also mild and is commonly used for smoking salmon. For stronger smoke flavor use hickory, oak or mesquite.
The amount of chips you need will depend on how long you are smoking the salmon. Smoking time varies by the size of the salmon and desired doneness. Alder and other fruit woods can be directly added to the electric smoker’s chip tray, but hickory, oak and mesquite should be soaked in water for at least an hour prior to adding them to create smoke.
Step 5: Smoke it
Follow your electric smoker’s directions for preheating to between 180 and 200 degrees F. Place the soaked wood chips in the smoker basket according to your smoker’s instructions and close its lid. Place a baking sheet with a wire rack on top on top of the smoker’s drip tray and place your prepared fish fillets on top of that. Close the lid to maintain temperature as per your specific model’s instructions.
Step 6: Let it rest
Remove your salmon from the smoker and place it in a covered container. Refrigerate overnight to give all of those wonderful flavor compounds time to meld together. Your smoked salmon will be ready to enjoy in the morning!
Things To Keep In Mind When Smoking Salmon
Remember these 9 tips to make sure you don’t ruin your salmon fillets when smoking them.
1. Use a good quality salmon
Smoking will not improve the quality of a poor-quality piece of fish — if anything, it will make it worse. You’ll want to use fresh wild or sustainably farmed salmon for your fillets, which you can get from your local fish market or grocery store.
2. Brine your fish before smoking
Soaking the salmon in a brine solution before smoking gives the fillets more flavor and makes them firmer, which makes them easier to slice. Brining also helps the fish retain its moisture during the smoking process.
3. Refrigerate the salmon 48 hours prior to smoking
Putting your fillets into the smoker at room temperature can cause them to cook unevenly, and they may get overcooked on the outside while remaining raw on the inside. Refrigerating them overnight allows them to reach a more even temperature and facilitates better cooking results overall.
4. Use only a small amount of smoke
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when smoking salmon is using too much smoke, which can give it a bitter taste with an overwhelming smoky flavor that masks the flavor of the fish itself. If you have too much smoke, try thinning it out by letting more air into your smoker for ventilation. This can help you achieve a more subtle flavor profile.
5. Don’t use too much salt when brining your fish before smoking
Like other curing techniques, brining helps preserve food by inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Traditionally, brines have a high salt content, which can make the meat rubbery and salty if used in excess.
The longer you soak the meat in a brine, the more of its moisture content will be replaced by salty liquid. Brines made with less than 3 percent salt by weight will produce meat that is too salty, according to Chef John at Food Wishes. Instead of using regular table salt for your brine, try using half as much sea salt or kosher salt instead.
6. Choose the best wood for smoking
The type of wood you use makes a difference in the final product. You may prefer one variety over another based on what you like in terms of taste and aroma, but some woods work better than others for smoking salmon fillets.
The best woods for smoking salmon are hickory.
7. Use dried wood for flavor
If you’re going to be smoking salmon and any other type of meat, you have to make sure that the wood is dry. Wet wood isn’t going to taste good at all. Dried wood is going to add a lot of flavor, no matter what type of meat you’re cooking.
8. Keep your smoker clean and oiled
Make sure that your smoker is always clean and well-oiled. If it isn’t, it can leave a nasty flavor in the meat that’s being cooked. You want the flavor of the smoked salmon or other meat to come from the wood chips only.
9. Don’t keep the heat too high
When smoking salmon, make sure not to keep the heat too high. If it’s too hot, then it’s not going to cook properly. You also don’t want it to come out raw either because that can be dangerous for your health. When smoking salmon, fish should always be cooked all the way through before eating it.