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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.
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.
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
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