Smoking Salmon On A Charcoal Grill

Smoking Salmon On A Charcoal Grill: A Step-By-Step Guide

You’re searching for the secret smoking salmon, aren’t you? We’ve all been there — a grilling session that ends with less-than-stellar salmon. Dry, lifeless, and lacking that smoky whisper of the grill. As a master of the grill, I’ve walked this fiery path and turned countless fillets from mediocre to mouth-watering. Whether you’re taking your first steps into the grilling arena or you’ve got the char marks of experience on your tongs, this guide is your ally. Let’s turn up the heat and embark on this culinary journey together.

The Right Salmon For The Best Flavor

This is probably one of the most essential steps for smoking salmon for the dish you have dreamed about. Choose firm salmon filets with either a dark orange or red color. This indicates the salmon filet is fresh. You may still get a good flavor from a lighter color but you want to create a dish that will have you coming back for more. Check with your grocer for fresh salmon or if a fish market is available check there as well. Wild-caught salmon will have a richer flavor. Smoking salmon when it is fresh gives you a better flavor while still giving you that flakiness you have come to expect.

Smoke Salmon on a Pellet Grill

Preparing Your Salmon

After you have selected your salmon filets, do some simple preparation before you smoke them. Wash your filets thoroughly under cold water. Pat your salmon dry with paper towels, as you are patting the filets dry look for any pin bones. Using tweezers or fish pliers remove any bones you may find. This is for your protection and the protection of your guests. There are people who prefer smoking salmon with the skin on while others prefer to remove the skin. That is a matter of personal preference.

Brining Your Salmon Filets(Optional)

Brining your salmon filets may add some time to the process before smoking but it can be well worth it. The brining process helps infuse even more flavor into your filets and can even help your filets retain some of the moisture that may cook out during the smoking process. This is a simple brine you can use for your salmon filets add 1 cup kosher salt + 1 cup sugar to 1 gallon of water. If you want to add some herbs, spices, and citrus zest for added flavor this is the perfect time to do so. There are those who prefer smoking salmon only if it has been brined.

Fire Up The Grill

As your filets are brining you will find this is the perfect time to do a little housekeeping. Having clean grill grates reduces the chance of your filets sticking and tearing apart. This will also remove any ash or cooked food. After you have completed that task, it is time to set your grill up for two-zone heating. Place your briquettes on one side using a chimney, this leaves the other side free for indirect cooking. You can start the briquettes within the chimney or you can use an electric starter or a tumbleweed. Once your briquettes are covered with gray ash, it is time to start smoking.

Smoke For Flavor

If you are using charcoal briquettes to smoke your salmon with, you have a couple of options. You can use a briquette that has the wood smoke you desire, such as applewood. There are a variety of flavored charcoal briquettes available now.

You can use a cedar plank for added flavor, just be sure to soak it for at least 30 minutes before you start the smoking process.

Some people will take a small aluminum pan filled with wood chips, again, be sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes beforehand. Place them directly on the briquettes to get your smoke.

Some of the more popular woods for smoking salmon include apple, cherry, alder, cedar, and a variety of fruitwoods.

Removing Your Salmon From The Brine

Many people forget this stage when preparing to smoke salmon. This step will help to keep some of the added salt from your salmon. When you remove your salmon from the brine, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towels. If you forget this step your salmon may be saltier than you prefer. Also, this gives you the opportunity to check for any bones you may have missed earlier.

Indirect Heat For Smoking Salmon

Your charcoal is already hot and on one side of the grill, now it is time to put your salmon filets on to smoke. Some people will put them directly on the grill grates, while others will use a wire basket to put the filets in.

You will put the filets or wire basket on the opposite side of the grill. Since you are placing your filets on the opposite side of the grill, you will enjoy the benefits of indirect heat. This allows your filets to cook at a slower rate and allow the smoke to become infused in your salmon filets.

Temperature Control Is Key

Maintaining your temperature is key to smoking salmon. It is best to smoke salmon between 200F-225F(93C-107C). Close your vents partway to help maintain your temperature. This helps regulate the airflow and control the heat. Be sure to use an accurate thermometer to monitor the grill’s internal heat so you can make adjustments as needed.

Smoking Time

You have your grill set up and have placed your salmon on the grill. Now comes the hard part, close the lid and keep it closed unless you need to add some more fuel to maintain the temperature.

It will take 1 – 2 hours to smoke the salmon, depending upon the thickness of the filets. The more you open the lid the more the temperature will fluctuate. Once the salmon filets reach 145F(63C), it is done. If the flesh flakes apart easily with a fork then it is ready to take off the grill and allow it to rest.

Rest Your Salmon

After your salmon has reached the desired level of doneness, it is time to take it off the grill. Using a spatula or tongs, carefully remove your filets from the grill and place them on a clean platter.

Let your filets rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to be reabsorbed into the filets. This will help your salmon not only retain its moisture but you won’t lose any of the flavors. The end result is a salmon filet that is moist, flavorful, and tender.

A Little Garnish Makes The Difference

You have your perfectly smoked salmon but want to add just a touch more flavor. This can be accomplished by using thinly sliced lemons as a garnish or finely chopped dill. There is nothing wrong with making a creamy dill sauce or a tangy mustard-based sauce for dipping or pouring over the filets. These garnishes and sauces are perfect for bringing out more flavor from your smoked salmon.

As you prepare your filets for serving, you can display the filets on a platter or put them on separate plates, and garnish them with lemon wedges or chopped dill. If you have a sauce prepared then place it on the side for your guests to use according to their preference.

Salmon also pairs well with crusty bread, bagels, or crackers. This makes it perfect for an appetizer or as a main course. Everyone will enjoy this smoky delicacy you have prepared for their enjoyment.

Some Additional Tips

Experimentation with different woods will help you find different flavor profiles. By mixing and matching different woods you may find a combination that you prefer better than the traditional.

If you don’t like a heavy wood smoke flavor, you can use fewer wood chips or not cook quite as long.

For another type of flavor enhancement, you can add a glaze or dry rub before smoking your salmon. You can use a variety of spices, herbs, maple syrup, brown sugar, or honey.

To get a crispier crust on the surface of the salmon filets, sear for a few minutes before putting it on to smoke.

Leftover smoked salmon is great from the refrigerator in a salad, sandwich, or in a pasta dish.

My Final Thoughts

Smoking salmon on a charcoal grill is a fantastic way to infuse more flavor into your salmon in a delightful way to increase your experience with salmon. Following this step-by-step guide, you can now smoke your salmon with confidence to create perfectly smoked salmon for all to enjoy.

Choosing the right salmon to smoke, brine when needed, use indirect heat, and monitor your temperature closely. After you have smoked your salmon be sure to let it rest to reabsorb the juices for flakiness and flavor. Let’s start smoking and enjoying the delicious meal you have prepared.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you wrap salmon in foil when smoking?

It is possible. The foil locks in the flavor helping your salmon to be moist and flaky when smoked. The foil also helps keep the flavor locked into the salmon filet.

Should you flip your salmon filets when smoking?

Place your salmon filet on a piece of foil(skin-side down) and leave it uncovered. Leave your salmon on the grill at 225F until it is done. Flipping your salmon filets could cause them to tear and come apart. You don’t need to flip your salmon filets.

Is it possible to overcook salmon?

Yes! If you overcook your salmon filets, they may become and taste dry.

Flaky Goodness To Savor


21 responses to “Smoking Salmon On A Charcoal Grill: A Step-By-Step Guide”

  1. Great article! Smoking salmon on a charcoal grill sounds like a delicious and flavorful way to enjoy this fish. I appreciate the step-by-step guide and the emphasis on choosing the right salmon and proper preparation. The tips on brining, using indirect heat, and controlling the temperature are really helpful. I can’t wait to try this out and experiment with different woods for unique flavors. 

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      I hope you enjoy this method of smoking salmon. Salmon is a very tasty fish and when smoked properly is superb. This guide is very simple and easy to follow. I have had great success with it. I was skeptical at first about using brine to enhance the flavor of the salmon but when I added my favorite herbs it was phenomenal. I normally use either cherry or pecan, depending upon my mood.


  2. Great article, I love salmon but have never tried to smoke it this way on the BBQ. Interesting that it can take up to a couple of hours to smoke the fish, I will give the brining process a go as this sounds like this is the best way to infuse the flavor. I love lemon with salmon so am going to try a dill sauce to go with mine too. 

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      When you try this method of smoking salmon, you will find smoking it slowly enhances the flavor more than you anticipate. Brining will help enhance the flavor of the salmon with the infusion of your favorite flavors for salmon. You may want to try lemon slices on top of the salmon when you smoke it.


  3. pasindu dimanka Avatar
    pasindu dimanka

    I recently stumbled upon this article about smoking salmon on a charcoal grill, and I must say, it’s a fantastic step-by-step guide that has left me eager to try it myself. As someone who enjoys outdoor cooking and exploring new flavors, this article provided me with valuable insights and instructions.

    You begin by highlighting the unique and delightful flavors that can be achieved by smoking salmon on a charcoal grill. They emphasize the importance of selecting fresh salmon and provide helpful tips on choosing the right type and cut for smoking.

    I highly recommend this article to anyone interested in exploring the world of smoking salmon. Whether you’re a seasoned grill master or a novice looking to expand your culinary skills, this guide provides all the information you need to achieve delicious and flavorful smoked salmon on a charcoal grill.

    Thank you once again for the detailed instructions, tips, and inspiration. I look forward to trying out this smoking technique and creating a memorable dining experience for family and friends. Keep up the excellent work, and I eagerly await more articles from you in the future!

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      Smoking salmon on a charcoal grill infuses the smoke flavor more deeply into your fish. As you learn about smoking salmon and come to enjoy its flavor you will prefer it to most fish. Finding the right information about smoking salmon only increases your knowledge and expertise. Your family and friends will begin bringing you salmon to smoke for them after you have mastered the smoking process.


  4. Gary E Duncan Avatar
    Gary E Duncan

    The web page’s layout is easy to navigate. The topic is good and the content is helpful and written well. I’ve never smoked salmon before but have wanted to try. I have a Traegar smoker. A recap at the beginning to list the following would be helpful:

    Tools needed like a spatula, tongs, etc.

    Time required for prepping and cooking.

    Any ingredients needed. 

    The images used were good and not too many for the page. 

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      Once you begin your journey on smoking salmon, you will find it easy to do. This will give you an opportunity to showcase your smoking skills. As you gain experience, the options available to you when smoking salmon are limited only by your imagination.


  5. Eric Avatar

    Hey, Jerry! Your article couldn’t have come at a worse time because now I’m craving some delicious food! I’m a huge fan of salmon, especially when it’s smoked to perfection. Your informative article really hit the spot, and I appreciate how well you laid out the details. I’ve tried cooking salmon on cedar planks before, but I haven’t had the chance to smoke it yet. Speaking of which, when you smoke your salmon, what’s your favorite wood to use?

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      I regret posting this at a time when you could not fulfill your craving for smoked salmon. All is not lost though, you can go to your grocer or local fish market, pick up some quality filets and follow the steps. Since you have used cedar planks in the past, following this step-by-step guide should lead you to a delicious treat that will not soon be forgotten. When I smoke salmon, I prefer to use cherry or pecan.


  6. Hi there, Jerry.

    All I can say is Yum! Thank you for taking time to provide all of the knowledge, expertise, tips, and excellent information about one of my favorite foods. This was a real mouth-watering experience.

    You have put a lot of heart, soul, and time in preparing your post. From the preparation to setting up your grill. I enjoyed learning the tricks of the trade.

    I actually read it twice, so I could take a few notes. Cooking is not my best chore. However, I am certain that my next salmon meal will put a big smile on faces at my dinner table or at a campsite.


  7. Rachele Avatar

    Hi there, Jerry.

    All I can say is Yum! Thank you for taking time to provide all of the knowledge, expertise, tips, and excellent information about one of my favorite foods. This was a real mouth-watering experience.

    You have put a lot of heart, soul, and time in preparing your post. From the preparation to setting up your grill. I enjoyed learning the tricks of the trade.

    I actually read it twice, so I could take a few notes. Cooking is not my best chore. However, I am certain that my next salmon meal will put a big smile on faces at my dinner table or at a campsite.


    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      Since this is one of your favorite foods, this guide came at just the right time for you. Setting up your grill for indirect smoking is one of the keys to having great smoked salmon. Maintaining your temperature is not difficult to do and the rewards are great. I am certain that you will use your skills and have a smoked salmon feast that all will enjoy.


  8. keith Avatar

    Wow, my wife just told me we are having fish today!! We are not having salmon but these grilling techniques from your article will help make make a delicious sea bass on the grill. Very easy to understand and very encouraging to use the grill fro salmon and other types of fish. Thanks for the article and for helping me make my dinner choice easier.

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      I am glad this guide made it to you in time. You now have the opportunity to put it to the test. Even though you are having sea bass, this guide will still be beneficial to you. The steps are basically the same except for the fish. I am sure you will have a great feast that will be enjoyed by everyone.


  9. Anoth Avatar

    I’ve just read through your extensive guide on “Smoking Salmon On A Charcoal Grill,” and I must express my admiration for the level of detail and clarity in your instructions. It’s evident that you’ve poured your extensive experience and expertise into creating this comprehensive and insightful guide.

    Your tips on selecting the right salmon, especially emphasizing the importance of the color, were a revelation. I had no idea that the shade could be indicative of the freshness and richness of the fish’s flavor. Your guide also broadened my understanding of the crucial role of brining in ensuring that the salmon remains juicy even after the smoking process.

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      Selecting the freshest salmon only helps to increase the flavor of your grilling experience. Brining your salmon infuses more flavor into your salmon than you would ordinarily have. If you choose to add a glaze to your salmon at the end of the smoking process you will have even more flavor.


  10. Lauren Korte Avatar
    Lauren Korte

    From picking the perfect salmon to adding a garnish you have thought us how to make a delicious meal. Salmon can be tricky, I am not the best chef by any means, and your article walked me through step by step, like other posts and walkthroughs you have this one is amazing! YUM!

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      Following this guide should help you achieve that freshly smoked salmon dish you have heard about. This guide allows you the flexibility to experiment with different flavors and woods to find the flavor you prefer.


  11. John Avatar

    I wholeheartedly agree that smoking salmon on a charcoal grill is an exquisite way to elevate this versatile fish. The rich, smoky flavor that charcoal grilling imparts pairs wonderfully with the natural oils and umami of salmon, creating a dish that’s not only delicious but deeply satisfying.

    Your comprehensive guide certainly covers all the necessary steps in detail to achieve a perfectly smoked salmon, making it a fantastic resource for both beginners and seasoned grillers.

    The section on choosing the right salmon filet is spot-on. Fresh, firm, and vibrant-colored filets do indeed yield the best flavor, and wild-caught salmon does tend to offer a richer, more nuanced taste profile than farmed varieties.

    Brining is a technique that I believe is often overlooked, and I’m glad to see it included in your guide. It’s a powerful way to ensure your salmon is juicy, flavorful, and tender throughout the smoking process. I appreciate that you’ve suggested a simple brine recipe that can be easily customized with additional herbs, spices, and citrus zest.

    The attention to details like keeping grill grates clean, setting up a two-zone heating system, soaking wood chips or planks beforehand, and using popular woods like apple, cherry, or cedar, all contribute to achieving the perfect smoky flavor.

    I particularly appreciate your emphasis on temperature control. Maintaining a steady temperature between 200F-225F is indeed key to smoking salmon properly, and avoiding opening the lid too often is a tip that cannot be overstressed.

    The resting period after grilling is another critical step that I’m glad to see included in your guide. Allowing the salmon to rest helps the juices redistribute, ensuring a moist and tender result.

    Your tips on garnishing and serving smoked salmon are also great, and I completely agree that a creamy dill sauce or a tangy mustard-based sauce can add an extra layer of flavor that complements the smoky salmon beautifully.

    Lastly, your suggestions for experimenting with different woods, glazes, dry rubs, or even searing the salmon for a crispy crust are perfect for those who like to play around and personalize their cooking.

    1. Jerry McCoy Avatar
      Jerry McCoy


      A simple brine is usually the best approach when you want to add a specific blend of herbs and spices. Keeping your grill grates clean and free of debris is a must for any grilling endeavor. Maintaining your temperature is key to having freshly smoked salmon that is moist, flavorful, and tender. With the right sides and condiments, you are sure to have a feast that is talked about for several months.


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