This Hot Smoked Salmon recipe is easy to make on your wood or pellet smoker and can be used in so many ways.  Eat it plain as an appetizer or for dinner, scramble it with eggs, make smoked salmon chowder, and lots more!

An image of a piece of hot smoked salmon on a wire rack.

Hot Smoked Salmon

I have been wanting to figure out how to make smoked salmon on our Traeger smoker for a long time and finally decided to just make it happen.  

We love smoked salmon at our house and I will semi-frequently buy it from the store, except it is so darn expensive for one little piece!  I don’t know why, but it has been one of those things that I’ve told myself for years I should just make at home since we have a smoker and everything, but it’s always intimidated me.

But I’m happy to say that after just a couple of attempts, I’m very pleased with how this hot smoked salmon turned out and I wanted to share the recipe with you as part of House of Nash MEATS week! 

An image of smoked salmon being flaked with a fork.

House of Nash MEATS

House of Nash MEATS is my husband’s brainchild.  He approached me a few months ago and asked if he could do a few meat-centric recipes for the blog using our Traeger grill, and I was all for the idea!  

I got the Traeger for Paul, oh, 4 or 5 years ago for Father’s Day and we use it all. the. time.  If you don’t have one, I super duper highly recommend considering getting one because 1. they make all your food taste amazing, 2. they are incredibly easy to use (think as easy as using a slow cooker except it’s outside and with smoke), and 3. it’s fun!  

Paul had all sorts of ideas from smoked brisket to pork belly and pulled pork to ribs, but my one request was for smoked salmon.  But then he got super busy with work and one day I finally didn’t want to wait any longer and was craving salmon so I took matters into my own hands!  

Incidentally, I’m adding it to my collection of Alaska-inspired recipes for my American Eats series, because don’t you just automatically think about Alaska when eating salmon?  I know I do.

An image of a large piece of wild caught salmon that has been brined, cured, and smoked on a pellet smoker.

What is Hot Smoked Salmon?

You might have noticed at the store that not all smoked salmon is the same.  There is cold smoked salmon and hot smoked salmon, and today I’m sharing a hot smoked salmon recipe because it’s my favorite.

Hot smoked salmon is common in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.  The salmon is smoked at a higher temperature than cold smoked salmon, typically around 160°F to 180°F, until it reaches an internal temperature of 135°F to 140°F to preserve it.  It also adds the most incredible smokey flavor to the salmon.

You do not need to eat salmon prepared this way while it is hot.  In fact, I like it best when it is chilled from the fridge.  I like to flake it off and eat it with crackers.  But you could also roll it up with cream cheese in a tortilla, use it to make smoked salmon risotto, or add it to pasta.

An image of a large whole piece of salmon with the skin-on that has been smoked on a Traeger pellet grill.

How to Make Hot Smoked Salmon

  1. Brine:  Brining the salmon draws out some of the moisture from the salmon while also improving the flavor by letting the salt and the brown sugar in the brine both flavor and preserve the fish.  This brining or curing process prepares the meat to accept the smoke better and have superior flavor to salmon that has not been brined.  My brine is made simple with water, salt, and brown sugar.  4-8 hours in the brine in the fridge will do for this smoked salmon recipe.
  2. Dry overnight:  The most unusual step in preparing hot smoked salmon is to remove the salmon from the brine and let it dry out on a rack over a baking sheet, uncovered with skin side down.  Ideally, this would be done in a cool (less than 60°F), breezy spot like under a ceiling fan set on high, but doing it in the fridge for 8 to 12 hours works as well.  What happens is that a sticky film known as a “pellicle” will form across the top of the salmon as it dries out.  It is this pellicle that the smoke will actually adhere to, giving its flavor to the salmon.  
  3. Rub:  I used a combination of brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper.
  4. Smoke:  Get the temperature of your wood or pellet smoker up to 180°F, with a water tray in the smoker for moisture and to balance out the temperature, then place the salmon skin side down on the grates and smoke for 4 to 5 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 135°F to 140°F.  I like to baste the salmon with maple syrup once an hour while the salmon is smoking, but that’s totally optional.

An image of the ingredients for brining salmon before smoking it on a pellet grill. An image of a large piece of salmon in a brine made from water, salt, and brown sugar. An image of brined salmon that is drying out to form a pellicle on top before being smoked. An image of hot smoked salmon being flaked with a fork.

Equipment Needed for Making Smoked Salmon

  • Smoker:  We use a Traeger (<–affiliate link), but any wood smoker or electric pellet grill will work.  
  • Wood:  I think fruit woods like apple, cherry, or peach are wonderful for smoking salmon because of their mild flavor.  Maple, oak, and alder will all do nicely as well though.  
  • Meat thermometer:  I never grill or smoke meat without one.  
  • Salt:  You will need a large box of coarse kosher salt, not table salt, for making the brine.  I like Morton’s.  
  • Something sweet:  I use brown sugar in the brine and baste with real maple syrup.  Honey would also work.
  • Large containers for brining:  Because salmon is a large, flat fish, I use 9×13-inch pans with lids for brining, but you could also use large 2 gallon ziploc bags. 
  • Wire rack:  I just use my cooling racks.  These allow for air circulation around the salmon while it is forming its pellicle in the fridge.

An image of a large piece of salmon on a pellet smoker.

Tips for Making Hot Smoked Salmon

  • I prefer to use large, skin-on pieces of salmon, but you can use salmon fillets instead of that’s what you have.  You can also use skinless salmon and it will turn out fine.
  • This recipe works with any kind of salmon, including sockeye, coho, steelhead (technically trout but often grouped in with salmon recipes), and even farmed Atlantic salmon, although I prefer wild-caught.  
  • The smoked salmon will last for 8 to 10 days in the refrigerator, stored in an airtight container.  If you have a vacuum-sealer, it will last for up to 3 weeks.  And if you make lots of salmon at once, you can freeze it for up to 1 year.

More Salmon Recipes

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Yield: 12 serving

Hot Smoked Salmon

This Hot Smoked Salmon recipe is easy to make on your wood or pellet smoker and can be used in so many ways.  Eat it plain as an appetizer or for dinner, scramble it with eggs, make smoked salmon chowder, and lots more!

Ingredients

  • 2-3 pounds salmon

Brine

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt

Rub

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Basting

  • 3/4 cup maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Mix the brine ingredients together in a large shallow dish with a lid or a 2-gallon ziploc bag.
  2. Add the salmon to the brine, then cover or seal and brine for 4 to 8 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. Remove the salmon from the brine, rinse, and pat dry.
  4. Place the salmon skin side down on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Allow to dry in a cool, breezy spot for 2 hours or for 8 to 12 hours in the refrigerator to develop a pellicle.
  5. Heat your smoker to 180°F. Set a water tray on the smoker grate to create a humid environment.
  6. Mix rub ingredients together, then sprinkle over the salmon.
  7. Place the salmon on the grill with the skin side down and close the lid. Smoke for 3 to 5 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 135°F to 140°F, brushing with maple syrup once each hour.
  8. Remove from the grill and serve or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 8 to 10 days.

Notes

Adapted from Cooking LSL.

If your smoker goes lower, start smoking the fish at 150°F and increase to 180°F after 2 hours. It will take slightly longer to smoke the fish, but you run less of a risk of drying it out by cooking too quickly.

If you have a vacuum-sealer, you can seal the salmon and it will last for up to 3 weeks in the fridge. Or you can freeze it for up to 1 year.

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HAVE YOU TRIED THIS RECIPE?

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Curious about foods from other states in my American Eats series?  Check them out below!

Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • Iowa • Louisiana • South CarolinaTexas