- Two baking sheets
- Plastic wrap
- Cans, tubs, or jugs to weigh down the salmon
- Brown sugar
- Black pepper
- One large side of salmon
Smoking salmon is incredibly simple. You probably already have all of the supplies you need at home. All that's needed is time, and a fresh side of salmon with the skin still on.
Our simple smoked salmon recipe takes all the guesswork out of cooking to ensure you get perfect smoked salmon every time with minimal effort.
STEP 1: HOW TO CURE SALMON
When most people talk about curing, they’re talking about a dry cure. You also have the option of using a wet cure which is the exact same thing as brine.
Brine or Wet Cure
With smoked salmon brine, you’ve got three basic elements to deploy: sugar, salt, and water. As mentioned above, the salt denatures proteins and removes excess moisture while simultaneously enhancing the fish’s ability to stay moist while cooking. Meanwhile, your sugar will boost preservation by inhibiting the growth of bacteria which enables your salmon to attract and hold the water being added by the wet cure.
While wet curing your salmon lets you get creative with flavors, it’s sometimes considered less effective than dry curing in terms of preservation. It also takes a little bit longer -- which is why it makes sense to start with a basic dry cure when learning how to prepare smoked salmon.
A basic smoked salmon cure needs only three ingredients:
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 cup salt
• Black pepper
Simply combine the ingredients in a small bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap on a flat surface enough to cover the whole salmon, and then spread half the mixture on top. Lay your salmon fillet side down on top of the mixture, top it with the other half (spreading evenly). Next, just fold up the edges, wrap the salmon tightly, and stick in the fridge for 8-12 hours.
You’ll want to leave your fillet in the fridge for this amount of time no matter how thick it is, and you should try to weigh down the fish. Placing heavy cans or bottles on top will normally do the trick, and although you’ve got some leeway in terms of how long you’re curing, don’t let your salmon sit for more than 48 hours. That’ll make your fish way too salty.
STEP 2: DRY BRINE SALMON
After curing in the fridge, it’s time to let your salmon dry out overnight. Drying allows a film called a pellicle to form on your fish which helps the smoke from your wood pellet grill adhere to the fillet more efficiently.
All you’ve got to do is completely rinse the dry cure mixture off your salmon and pat dry (this ensures your fish doesn’t end up tasting too salty). Next, dry your salmon flat on a cooling rack on top of a sheet pan, place it in the refrigerator, and allow it to sit overnight.
STEP 3: HOW LONG TO SMOKE SALMON
After your salmon is cured and dried, it’s time to hot smoke that fish. Our experts recommend that you smoke salmon for 3-4 hours, at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you’re using a Traeger, getting to that temperature just means starting your grill and using your Smoke Setting. If you have a WiFIRE-enabled grill, you can also set to Super Smoke which is a lower temperature that will allow your fillet to soak up even more smoky flavors.
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.
From there, all that’s left to do is to remove the salmon from your grill, slice thin, and enjoy. It’s incredible served hot, chilled, or as part of a wide range of recipes (we’ll get to those pretty soon).
That’s really all there is to it.
WHY SHOULD YOU CURE AND SMOKE SALMON?
Before we jump into smoked salmon recipes, let’s talk about why you should be smoking it in the first place.
A lot of the curing and smoking process is about preservation. Your ancestor’s ancestors came up with the idea to cure (or brine) fatty fish like salmon before refrigerators existed as a way to keep it from going bad. It all boils down to salt content because salt slows spoilage.
By curing your salmon with a salty rub or brine, you’ll draw out excess moisture and reduce your cut’s weight by around 15%. The flesh subsequently condenses which slows down bacteria and keeps your salmon fresh longer. Curing your salmon also gives it that gorgeous, reddish hue and glossy sheen that make everybody and their mom salivate.
But curing isn’t just about preservation and appearance. By removing extra moisture from your fish, you’ll also be setting your salmon up for the perfect smoke. Salting salmon will lift and intensify its bold, natural flavors alongside any other herbs or spices you decide to add to your cure or brine.
From there, smoking your salmon is always going to be the best option. The low and slow approach will complement the preservation job of your cure by locking in moisture and preventing all those juicy, natural flavors from escaping. Your salmon won’t dry out, and the taste you get from smoking your salmon on 100% all-natural hardwoods is second-to-none.
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