Smoking salmon is a delicious and easy way to add flavor to this popular fish. However, there are a few key things to consider when smoking salmon in your smoker. In this article, we’ll cover the cook times, temperatures, and techniques for smoking salmon to perfection.
On average, it takes about 1 hour to smoke salmon at 220°F, but if you’re looking for a deeper smoke flavor, you can try cold smoking at 180°F. Keep in mind that the cook time and texture of the salmon will vary depending on the temperature of your smoker, as well as the size of the fish. No matter what temperature you choose, it’s important to follow safe food handling practices and ensure that your salmon has reached a safe internal temperature before serving.
|180°F||5 hours||More smoky||Moist|
|220°F||1 hour||Less smoky||Crispy skin (if skin is left on)|
- The cook time for smoking salmon varies depending on the temperature of the smoker and the size of the salmon.
- On average, it takes about 1 hour to smoke salmon at 220°F and closer to 5 hours at 180°F.
- The texture and taste of the salmon will be affected by the temperature of the smoker.
- There are no strict rules for smoking salmon, and it can be cooked at temperatures between 170°F and 220°F.
- The only difference will be the cook time and the texture of the fish.
- For food safety, avoid smoking salmon at lower temperatures, especially in the “Danger Zone” of 140°F.
- Cooking salmon at 220°F will result in a shorter cook time and crispy skin, but the smoke flavor may not be as prominent.
- Cooking salmon at 170°F will result in a longer cook time and more smoke flavor, but the skin may not be crispy.
In this recipe, you will need salmon, salt, sugar, and water to make a brine for the salmon. To prepare the brine, dissolve the sugar and salt separately in a pot and then pour the mixture into a container or a ziplock bag. Soak the salmon in the brine for about 2 hours, then remove and pat the fish dry with a paper towel. To dry out the salmon, place it on an airing rack for no longer than 2 hours.
To smoke the salmon, you will need a kettle grill and charcoal briquettes. Light about 5 or 6 briquettes in a chimney starter and wait until they are fully lit. Place the lit briquettes on the side of the unlit briquettes in the grill and allow the grill to stabilize for about 20 minutes.
Adjust the vents on the grill to about 1/4 open on the top and bottom vents. Give the grill about 20 minutes to come up to temperature, which should be between 250°F to 275°F. Once the temperature has stabilized, place the salmon on the smoker and add a couple of chunks of wood to the fire.
Smoking Salmon Between 170°F and 220°F
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to smoking salmon. You can cook the salmon anywhere between 170°F to 220°F and it will turn out fine. The only difference will be the total cook time and the texture of the fish. For food safety reasons, be careful smoking salmon at lower temperatures, especially in the “Danger Zone” of 140°F range where bacteria multiplies every 20 minutes according to the USDA.
Salmon at 220°F
The advantage of cooking Salmon at 220°F is it will only take about 1 hour to cook, and if you leave the skin on, it will be crispy. The smoke flavor will not be as prominent as it would be on salmon cooked at a lower temperature simply because the fish is spending less time in the smoker.
Salmon at 170°F
If you want to cook salmon in the lower range, the best temperature is 170°F. At this temperature, the salmon will spend about 5 hours in the smoker, absorbing smoke. More time in the smoke makes for a more flavouful salmon.The downside will be the texture of the skin if you choose to leave it attached. You won’t be able to get that nice crispy skin unless you cook at 220°F.
Smoked Salmon on a Kettle Grill
Slow smoked salmon with charcoal and wood
- 1 cup of salt
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- 1 gallon of water
Dissolve the sugar and salt separately in a pot and pour it in to a container or a ziplock bag.
Soak the salmon in the brine for about 2 hours (not longer).
Then remove and pat the fish dry with a paper towel.
To dry out the salmon, place them on an airing rack for no longer than 2 hours.
Smoking The Salmon
Place 100 charcoal briquettes in the kettle grill.
Light about 5 or 6 briquettes in a chimney starter and wait until they are fully lit.
Place the lit coils on the side of the unlit charcoal and give the kettle about 20 minutes to stabilize.
Adjust the vents on your Weber kettle to about 1/4 on the top vent and 1/4 on the bottom vent.
Give the kettle about 20 minutes to come up to temperature. If you want to cook the salmon faster, place about 80 unlit coals in the kettle and light another 30 in a chimney starter.
Place the lit coals to one side of the 80 underneath coals.
Give the kettle grill about 20 or 30 minutes to come up to temperature. Adjust the top vent to half and the bottom vent to half.
Once the temperature is stabilized at 250° F to 275° F, place the salmon on the smoker.
Throw a couple of chunks of wood onto the fire about prior to adding the meat.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 117
Measure With a Thermometer
When smoking salmon, always use accurate thermometers and don’t trust the built-in thermometers on your smoker. You’ll be surprised how inaccurate factory thermometers can be. If you’re curious, remove it from your smoker and perform an ice bath test.
If a thermometer is inaccurate, then what’s the point? If you are thinking about cooking at low temperatures, invest in a quality thermometer. You don’t need to spend a tonne of money on thermometers either. Check out this article I wrote a while back: Best Thermometers Under $50.
When is it Done? How To Tell When Salmon Is Cooked
There are two ways to tell when your salmon is cooked:
- Internal meat temperature: Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the salmon. The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145°F.
- Flakiness and ooze: When the salmon begins to flake as you touch it and ooze a white liquid on the surface, it is just about done.
It is important to cook salmon to the recommended internal temperature for food safety reasons. When smoking meat, it is recommended to cook to temperature rather than time to ensure the meat is cooked perfectly and safely.
Unlike traditional cooking methods, when smoking meat, we cook to internal meat temperature rather than time. This guarantees the meat will be cooked to perfection and ensures the meat is cooked safety. According the USDA, fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F. Use an instant-read thermometer for fast and accurate readings. For more information, check out this article: Best Instant Read Thermometers.
Skin On or Skin Off?
When it comes to smoking salmon, you have the option of leaving the skin on or taking it off. There are pros and cons to each option:
- Skin on:
- The salmon will hold together better when the skin is left intact, especially when removing it from the grill.
- Cooking the salmon at a higher temperature will result in a crispy skin.
- The skin adds flavor and texture to the fish.
- Skin off:
- The salmon may be more prone to breaking apart without the skin to hold it together.
- Removing the skin allows for a more even smoke flavor throughout the entire piece of fish.
The next big question that arises when smoking salmon is whether to leave the skin on or skin off. Fish will begin to flake when it is close to done, which can cause it to break apart. The salmon will hold together better when you leave the skin intact, especially when you remove it from the grill. The other reason people like to leave the skin intact is for flavor and texture. When cooking the fish at a higher temperature, the skin will become nice and crispy.
Best Wood For Salmon
Always select a mild smoking wood when cooking salmon because it has a sensitive flesh and can be easily overpowered. The best wood for salmon is from the fruit variety, such as apple or cherry. Pecan also blends well with fish, so too does maple and other moderate dry woods. Avoid using hickory or mesquite when smoking salmon as these woods will overpower the meat. If you must use these woods, only use a small amount and mix them with milder smoking woods.
When it comes to smoking salmon, it is important to choose a mild smoking wood because the delicate flesh of the fish can be easily overpowered by strong flavors. Fruit woods, such as apple and cherry, are excellent choices for smoking salmon because they provide a subtle, sweet flavor. Pecan, maple, and other moderate, dry woods also work well with salmon.
Expert barbecue competition pitmasters recommend avoiding hickory and mesquite when smoking salmon, as these woods have a strong flavor that can overpower the delicate taste of the fish. If you do decide to use hickory or mesquite, be sure to use a small amount and mix it with a milder smoking wood to balance out the flavor.
Should You Brine Salmon?
Brining salmon before cooking it in the smoker can be a great way to add flavor and prevent the fish from drying out during the cook. There are two main types of brines: dry brines and wet brines.
- Dry Brine: To make a simple dry brine, you will need course salt such as kosher salt or sea salt. Sprinkle the salmon on both sides with the salt and then place it on a rack or a plate. Put the salmon in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to give the salt a chance to penetrate the meat and add flavor. The salt will also help the fish retain moisture during the cook.
- Wet Brine: To make a wet brine, you will need to dissolve salt in water to create a brine solution. Soak the salmon in the brine solution for a longer period of time, usually 4 to 8 hours. Wet brining can add more flavor to the fish and help it retain moisture, but it does take more time and effort.
Wet Brining the Salmon
Wet brining is another method for adding flavor and moisture to salmon before smoking it. To make a wet brine, you will need to dissolve 1 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of sugar in 1 gallon of water. Soak the salmon in the brine for no longer than 2 hours, then remove and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the salmon on a drying rack for an hour or so (no longer than 2 hours). As the salmon dries, a pellicle will form on the surface, which will help to protect the fish during the cook.
- To make a wet brine, dissolve 1 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of sugar in 1 gallon of water.
- Soak the salmon in the brine for no longer than 2 hours, then pat dry and place on a drying rack for an hour or so.
- A glaze can be applied in the final 10 minutes of the cook to add flavor to the salmon.
- Choose a sauce that goes well with fish, such as an Asian-flavored sauce or a sweet sauce.
- Avoid burning the glaze during the cook.
Apply a Glaze
A glaze is another way to add flavor to salmon while it is being smoked. The best time to apply a glaze is in the final 10 minutes of the cook. A glaze can be any sauce that goes well with fish, such as an Asian-flavored sauce or a sweet sauce. Just be sure not to burn the glaze. Simply brush the salmon with the sauce in the last 10 minutes of the cook and allow enough time for the glaze to set.
The Science Behind Smoking Salmon
If you’re interested in the science behind barbecue, check out this video by Mad Scientist BBQ.
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.
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