How to Smoke Salmon

hot smoked salmon

We smoke a lot of salmon at Acme Smoked Fish. Like, a lot! About 14 million pounds of smoked salmon per year, to be exact. We're proud of our history, traditions, and recipes, but most importantly, we're proud of how many people across the world we get to feed with our smoked salmon. We're not sharing this to brag. In fact, quite the opposite. We want to invite you into our world and answer a question we often receive: "How do you smoke salmon?"

How we smoke salmon isn’t necessarily the only way it's done. There are many formulas and techniques for achieving beautifully smoked salmon, and lots of people and companies smoke salmon in many ways. However, with over 100 years of experience, we're excited to share how Acme Smoked Fish smokes salmon… sort of!

hot smoked salmon

Again, we’ll tell you a bit about how we smoke salmon, but what we do happens at a large, industrial scale. Right now, we’re here to impart some tips and tricks on how to smoke salmon at home. One consideration to keep in mind during this ‘how-to’ is that we are sharing a hot smoked salmon recipe. Cold smoked salmon, which is the variety that many people call Nova or lox, is a different thing entirely. Making cold smoked salmon is difficult to do at home, and we DO NOT recommend that you try. Not because we’re worried you all at home will put us out of business, but because it takes stringent protocols and particular measures, along with years of practice to do it safely.

hot smoked salmon

First, for the hot smoked salmon uninitiated, let’s get into a few fun facts about hot smoked salmon. Whereas here in the Northeast we’re all about cold smoked salmon (which some call Nova or lox) on the other side of the country (in the Pacific Northwest) hot smoked salmon reigns supreme. If you’ve never tried the silky smooth, delicately delicious flavor of hot smoked salmon, it’s about time you tried!

hot smoked salmon ramen

Some of you might be asking, “How do you eat hot smoked salmon?” Well, we have an answer for that too. Of course, you can enjoy it similarly to cold smoked salmon over a bagel with cream cheese and all the fixings, but there is so much more you can do. You can flake hot smoked salmon over a mixed greens salad or toss it with a pot of pasta. You could lightly mix shredded hot smoked salmon with butter or mayonnaise for smoked salmon salad or rillettes. You could make devilled eggs topped with bite-sized chunks of hot smoked salmon. The possibilities are nearly endless.

So, onwards and upwards! Let’s learn to make hot smoked salmon. Below are a few things you will need…

  • Smoker: You could use a fancy smoker, like a Traeger, or a fancy grill, like a Big Green Egg, but you certainly don’t need to invest in either of these just for making hot smoked salmon. Any grill with a thermometer to monitor temperature is all you need.
  • Wood: For the amount of hot smoked salmon one would make at home, you can use either wood pellets or wood chips to achieve the smoke you’re going to need. You could use wood chunks, but they will take a while to burn to the proper heat and smoke level. Forget about using whole or even split pieces of wood logs. They will be way too much for at-home, small batch salmon smoking.
  • Salt: This is one place where your at-home hot smoking kit won’t differ too much from ours here at Acme Smoked Fish. Every smokehouse worth its salt needs good… salt! All you need is a box of kosher salt, which you can source from almost any supermarket. Avoid using regular table salt, as it contains iodine and potentially other compounds that will impart undesirable flavors in your smoked salmon. Good salt and clean, fresh water will be the basis of your brine.
  • Sweetener: This one is optional, but salmon goes well with sweet flavors, especially hot smoked salmon. You can use regular white sugar if that’s all you have, but we would suggest brown sugar as an alternative. Other excellent sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, birch syrup, and agave syrup. Depending on the sweetener(s) you choose, you can add them at either the brining or glazing stage, or both.
  • Brining container: You will need a large plastic container for brining your salmon. Any Tupperware that is large enough will do, but a Cambro or something similar will be best. If your fridge is short on space, you can buy the big, long plastic containers available at many supermarkets. These are cheap, easy to clean, and you can stack them simply in your fridge if you are using multiple containers. Your fish does not have to brine all in one container if the brine ingredients are mixed equally. Regardless of the container you use, mix all your brine ingredients together (along with the sweetener, any spices are optional as well) and then submerge your salmon fully for the duration of the brine.
  • Wire rack: After your fish has brined, you will need to temper it with proper air flow. Once you take it out of the brine, spread it out on wire racks to achieve adequate air flow on all sides. Even better if you can direct a fan set to low towards your fish resting on the rack. You will use these racks again (make sure to clean them between uses) to rest your salmon after you remove it from the smoker.
  • Basting brush: Like the sweetener, this one is optional. For a little extra flavor, you can use a basting brush to glaze your salmon with one of the sweet syrups listed above (honey, maple syrup, birch syrup, agave syrup, etc).

hot smoked salmon

When it comes time to start brining your salmon, you will need to use somewhat small pieces, about 1/3- 1/2 pound each, so they can fit easily in your brining container and then later fit on your grill or smoker. At Acme Smoked Fish, we smoke salmon with its skin on, but you can do so without the skin. Just keep in mind that it is more likely to stick to your grill or smoking racks that way.

See below for our detailed instructions for making hot smoked salmon at home!

  • Brine ingredients (for every 2-3 pounds of fish):
    • 2 quarts water
    • 1 cup kosher salt
    • 1 cup brown sugar (optional)
    • 1-2 tablespoons other spices, such as black pepper (optional)
  • Mix your brine ingredients together and place your salmon in your brining container with the brine, cover and put in the refrigerator. This curing process will infuse your salmon with the flavors of your brine, as well as cure it, which will help preserve the salmon.
  • You will want to brine your salmon for at least 9 hours to achieve the proper flavor and cure. If you have chosen to smoke full sides of salmon (which can range from 2-8 pounds or more) 24 hours in brine would be the minimum cure time we would suggest. We do not suggest exceeding 72 hours brining time in an at-home setting though. Remember, more isn’t always better.
  • Take your fish out of the brine and pat it dry. Set the fillets on your rack with the skin side down. Ideally, you'd do this with a fan (set to low) facing your salmon. If you can, try to do this in a room that is cool. 60 degrees is ideal. Let your salmon dry for about 90 minutes. Do not exceed 2 hours. You want the surface of the fish to develop a shiny, slightly firm surface before smoking.
  • Prepare your smoker and your smoking rack. Even though we are making hot smoked salmon here, you don’t need to achieve that high of a temperature. Start by bringing your grill to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • At this point we have a couple of optional steps. As we suggested earlier, you can baste your salmon pieces with a sweet syrup for extra flavor. Additionally, you can use a high smoke point oil (such as canola or avocado) to brush the skin of your salmon, so that it is less likely to stick to the grate of your grill and your wire racks.
  • Place your salmon pieces on your grill using both the grill grate and wire racks, if needed. Remember, you are only starting at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Slowly, over the course of about 2 hours, bring your grill or smoker’s temperature up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoke your salmon for about 3 hours in total. Your salmon needs to reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit during this time, so after testing with a meat thermometer, if you don’t find that you have reached that temperature, keep going until you do.
  • Once your fish has reached temperature and is adequately smoked, pull it from the grill or smoker and let it rest on your cooling racks for at least an hour before storing in your fridge. You can use the racks you just smoked your fish on, but clean, cool racks are best. Don’t use racks that haven’t been washed since the pre-smoke, drying phase.

hot smoked salmon

Once refrigerated and wrapped in plastic, your hot smoked salmon will keep for a week. If you vacuum-seal it, the fish will keep for up to 2 weeks. Or freeze your fish for up to 6 months.

Now you’re ready to go smoke some salmon! Don’t worry, we’re happy for you that you can now make hot smoked salmon at home. After all, we know that you will still come to Acme Smoked Fish for your cold smoked salmon and lox.



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