We’ve gone all-in with our smoker this year, and today’s Smoked Salmon is one of the best foods to emerge from the grates. This easy smoked salmon recipe is appropriate for beginners, can be used on any style of smoker, and it includes helpful tips so that even first-timers can create smoky, succulent salmon with success.
First, let’s clarify the type of smoked salmon we are making: hot-smoked salmon.
You can absolutely chill it and serve it cold, but it’s not the same thing as cold smoked salmon.
- Hot Smoked Salmon is smoked at a higher temperature (around 150°F to 170°F, though you can go up to 200°F with great results) for a shorter amount of time—1 1/2 to 3 hours for a large (3-to 4-pound) side of salmon. Hot smoked salmon is flaky and buttery with a pronounced smoky flavor.
- Cold Smoked Salmon is smoked at a lower temperature (around 80°F) for a longer period (12-24 hours). Cold smoked salmon is firm and with a mild smoky flavor.
This post will walk you through the easiest way to cook smoked salmon on an outdoor smoker.
From choosing and seasoning your salmon, to prepping your smoker, to ways to serve smoked salmon — I’ve got you covered! .
You can use this smoked salmon recipe on any style of smoker, including charcoal smokers (Weber, Big Green Egg), pellet smokers (Traeger), and electric smokers.
What You’ll Need
- Center Cut Side of Salmon. If you’re going to the trouble to make smoked salmon, cook a lot of it! We typically cook a 3-or 4-pound side (or even 2 sides at the same time). You can absolutely cook a smaller side, you’ll just need to reduce the cook time accordingly.
- Charcoal. Charcoal users will need their charcoal to build a fire; if using a pellet or electric smoker, you don’t need to worry about this.
- Wood Chips (or Wood Pellets). The best woods for smoked salmon are fruit woods like apple, or a mild wood like alder or oak. Do not use mesquite, which can overpower fish.
- Instant Read Thermometer. The true, best way to know when salmon is done. If you’re going to be smoking, it’s an essential. In smokers especially, cooking time can vary widely. The best, truest way to know your salmon is done is by temperature.
About this Easy Smoked Salmon Recipe
This smoked salmon is flavored with a paprika seasoning blend, honey for sweetness (salmon loves sweet!), and Dijon for a bit of punch and zip. Dill gives it a fresh finish.
Many traditional smoked salmon recipes call for brining the salmon, then air drying it for several hours prior to smoking in order to form a thin, dry surface on the outside called the pellicle.
The purpose of the pellicle is to create a tacky surface so the smoke’s flavor has something to cling to as the salmon cooks.
I found that coating the salmon with a sticky substance (honey) served the same purpose, and the pellicle wasn’t necessary.
Skipping the brining and pellicle saves hours, meaning you can be enjoying this easy smoked salmon sooner than later!
How Long to Cook Smoked Salmon
How long it takes to smoke salmon will vary based on many factors: the type of salmon you choose (farm raised is fattier and thus takes longer than wild-caught), what smoker you have, the temperature inside your smoker, how consistently your smoker retains heat…even the weather!
For this reason, judge how long to smoke salmon by the temperature on your thermometer, not the time on the clock.
While salmon should always be cooked to temperature, not time, you can estimate the following windows.
- 3- to 4-pound side of salmon. 2 to 3 hours at 200 degrees F.
- 1- to 2-pound side of salmon. 45 minutes (for a small, 1-pound side) to 2 hours at 200 degrees F.
If your salmon is larger or smaller, or your smoker is hotter or colder, you will need to add or subtract time accordingly.
The FDA advises to cook salmon to 145 degrees F. However, the salmon’s temperature will rise as it rests.
- If you cook the salmon all the way to 145 degrees F, your salmon will be dry.
- For this reason, I recommend removing the salmon from the smoker when it reaches 135 degrees F for medium salmon.
- For medium-rare salmon, remove at 130 degrees F.
How to Make Smoked Salmon
Get outside and have some fun with this simple smoked salmon.
This recipe comes together in 4 steps:
- Heat Your Smoker. 200 degrees F is easy to maintain on any kind of smoker (keeping a fire lower than this is challenging on a charcoal smoker).
- Trim the Salmon (if needed). If the salmon still has the belly (thin white strip that runs up the side) and thin tail piece attached, trim these off so the salmon smokes evenly.
- Season and Slather to Make It “Sticky”. Slather the salmon with honey and Dijon to act as the “pellicle.” Then, sprinkle it with your seasonings of choice.
- Smoke the Salmon to Temperature. Remember, although the FDA considers 145 degrees F “done,” the salmon’s temperature will rise as it rests, so remove it early—130 to 135 degrees F.
- Center-Cut Side of Salmon. This large cut is taken from the middle of the fish. It has a relatively uniform thickness, making it ideal for smoking because it cooks evenly.
- Dijon. Tangy Dijon mustard pairs beautifully with salmon and the other flavors in this recipe.
- Honey. A little sweet to balance the smokiness. Along with the mustard, the honey helps the smoky flavor stick to the salmon.
- Salt + Pepper. Simple, classic, must-have seasonings.
- Paprika. Slightly sweet paprika thrives alongside the smoky flavors.
- Dill. Adding dill is a tip I picked up from my brother-in-law. It’s fresh, delicious, and complements the salmon so well.
- Trim the salmon, removing the belly (thin white strip) and tail.
- Dry the salmon, then place it on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
- Heat your smoker to 170 to 200 degrees F. Add wood chips before lighting.
- Brush the salmon with mustard and honey.
- Stir the spices together, then add them to the salmon.
- Top with the dill.
- Brush the smoker grates with oil, then add the salmon. Cover and cook for about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes at 200 degrees F (based on a 2-pound fillet).
- Let it rest. Serve as desired and ENJOY!
Tips for the Best Smoked Salmon
- Choose Good Quality Salmon. The salmon is at the heart of this recipe and its quality will have a direct impact on your results. When possible, buy wild-caught, which is higher in nutrients, lower in fat, and has a better flavor than farm-raised salmon.
- Pat the Salmon Very Dry. This is important for the spices to stick and for the final texture.
- Use Good Quality Wood and Charcoal. For the charcoal, we like hardwood lump charcoal (such as FOGO).
- Check Early. At the 30-minute mark (for smaller pieces) or 45-minute mark (for larger pieces), give the salmon a temperature check so you can gauge how quickly it is progressing.
- Don’t Overcook the Salmon! Use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature and remove the salmon when it reaches 135 degrees F. If you overcook salmon, it will taste dry.
Ways to Eat Smoked Salmon
Smoked salmon is delicious whether you serve it on its own or as a part of a recipe. Here are a few ways you can serve it:
- Bagel. Top a bagel with cream cheese, capers, and smoked salmon. YUM!
- Salad. For a hearty, healthy salad, combine mixed greens, tomatoes, avocado, and smoked salmon. Swap it for the chicken in Cobb Salad or use in place of tuna for a Nicoise Salad.
- Pizza. Smoked salmon can be a delicious pizza topping with cream cheese “sauce” and onions (especially red onion). Use my Whole Wheat Pizza Dough for the crust or store bought options like Naan Pizza.
- Dip. Smoked Salmon Dip is absolutely delightful and always a crowd-pleaser.
- Pasta. We already know salmon and pasta are a dream team (thanks to Salmon Pasta), but smoked salmon takes things to an entirely new level. Try adding it to this Pasta al Limone (smoked salmon will be tasty with the lemon juice and lemon zest).
- Sandwich or Wrap. Wrap smoked salmon in a tortilla or add it to a slice of Oatmeal Bread with cream cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
- Eggs. Smoked salmon with eggs is a scrumptious meal. You could even add it to a Potato Frittata.
- To Store. Tightly wrap salmon in plastic wrap and refrigerate in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. If you’d like to serve your salmon warm, very gently reheat it in a skillet over low heat.
- To Freeze. Tightly wrap smoked salmon and freeze it in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, trim the salmon (if needed).
The possibilities for leftover smoked salmon are endless. One of our favorite ways to enjoy it is flaked into some Homemade Fried Rice.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Smoker. A charcoal smoker, pellet grill, or kamado smoker will work for the smoking process.
- Brush. Perfect for brushing the salmon with honey and mustard.
- Instant Read Thermometer. A meat thermometer is the single best way to check your salmon for doneness.
Smoked salmon success is yours with this easy recipe! With so many ways to enjoy it, how will you serve it first?
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! This smoked salmon can be used on pellet grills, such as the Traegar, kamado smokers (like the Big Green Egg), and more traditional charcoal smokers (such as Weber).
Hot smoked salmon is considered cooked. Cold smoked salmon is cured then smoked at a low temperature and is considered raw (but is safe to eat!). This recipe is for hot smoked salmon, which is cooked over heat.
Lox and smoked salmon (especially cold smoked salmon) share many similarities but are not the exact same thing. Lox is always cured in a salt and spice mixture, and smoked salmon does not have to be. Unlike smoked salmon, lox is not smoked after it has been cured in the dry brine.
This smoked salmon recipe can be enjoyed hot, cold, or at room temperature. Serve just after it has rested while still warm, let it cool to room temperature for a buffet, or chill it completely prior to serving. There’s no wrong way to enjoy it.
Access to wild-caught salmon can be difficult depending on where you live. If farmed salmon is what you have access to or what works with your budget, you can absolutely make smoked salmon with Atlantic salmon or other farmed salmon.
- 2- to 3- pound center-cut side of salmon skin-on with pin bones removed*
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard or additional honey
- 1 1/2 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt DO NOT use table salt; (I use Morton’s Kosher)
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup loosely packed, chopped fresh dill about 1 bunch (optional)
- Charcoal pellets, or whatever fuels your smoker
- 2 handfuls wood chips such as apple, cherry, oak, or alder (do not use mesquite which can overpower fish)
- Canola oil to prevent sticking
- Trim the salmon (if necessary).
- Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Pat the salmon very dry on both sides. Place the salmon on a parchment-lined baking sheet or similar surface to where you can carry it out to the smoker easily.
- Heat your smoker nice and low—150 to 170°F is ideal, but can be difficult to maintain; 200°F is attainable, what we use, and will give you delicious results. On our kamado smoker (Green Egg) the fire is very small (see photo above). Add 2 handfuls of wood chips in with your charcoal prior to lighting (I do not soak mine first).
- Brush the salmon all over with the Dijon mustard and honey. (These act like the pellicle, the sticky layer that allows the smoke flavor to adhere).
- In a small bowl, stir together the paprika, salt, and pepper. Scatter all over the top of the salmon.
- Top with fresh dill, sprinkling it all over the salmon.
- Liberally brush the smoker grates with oil. Place the salmon on the smoker. Cover and cook until the salmon reaches 135°F (for medium to medium-rare salmon) or up to 145°F (for well-done salmon; note the temperature will continue to rise as it rests). The total time your salmon needs to smoke will vary based on A LOT of factors: its thickness, if it's wild-caught vs. farmed (farmed salmon has a higher fat content and takes longer), how much your smoker temperature fluctuates, and how hot the smoker is—plan on 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for a 2-pound fillet at 200°F. Decide when to take the salmon off the smoker based on its temperature, not the time on the clock. If cooking a smaller fillet (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), check in at the 40-minute mark to gauge its progress.
- Let the salmon rest a few minutes. Enjoy hot or room temperature, or to serve cold, let cool to room temperature, wrap tightly, and refrigerate until completely chilled.
- *A center-cut fillet is cut so that it is shaped somewhat like a rough rectangle—the skinniest part of the tail end of the salmon and the salmon belly (the thin white strip that runs down the side of the fillet) are both trimmed away. You can purchase the salmon already cut, or easily trim it at home (reserve the tail and belly and cook separately). If you are purchasing a piece of salmon with the belly and tail still attached, be sure to buy a bit more than the weight you want to smoke, since you’ll be trimming some away. The seasoning measurements listed are flexible and designed for a 2 1/2-pound side, so feel free to scale up or down depending on the size of your fish.
- Smoked salmon vs. Gravlax vs. Lox: Lox and Gravlax are both cured in salt and not smoked. Unlike Lox, the brine for Gravlax typically includes sugar and dill. Smoked salmon is the only variety that is smoked.
- What’s That White Stuff? That white stuff you’re seeing is called albumin. It’s a protein from the salmon that can congeal during cooking, and it’s completely safe. If you don’t enjoy the look of it, feel free to scrape it off.
- TO STORE: Tightly wrap salmon in plastic wrap and refrigerate in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: If you’d like to serve your salmon warm, very gently reheat it in a skillet over low heat.
- TO FREEZE: Tightly wrap smoked salmon and freeze it in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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