If you love smoked salmon, learning how to smoke salmon in an electric smoker is a great skill to have. By smoking your salmon at home, you get to control what goes into your smoked salmon recipe. You also may find that you can save money by being able to purchase and smoke larger cuts of salmon rather than buying it pre-smoked. Learning how to smoke salmon is an easy and fun weekend cooking project that is perfect for entertaining a crowd. There are also endless varieties of ways you can use your home-smoked salmon. Try serving up Sunday breakfast with some smoked salmon, cream cheese, and bagels for a fun buffet. Or perhaps use your smoked salmon in a fun party dip to enjoy with friends.
Before we look at how to smoke salmon in an electric smoker, let’s learn a little more about this dish and smoking methods.
Smoked salmon around the Americas
Smoked salmon has its roots all over the world. Native peoples in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska regularly preserved their salmon by drying and smoking it over alder wood.
Smoked salmon is also an essential part of Jewish cuisine. Jews fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe settled in Britain and began to preserve Scottish salmon. European Jews also brought smoked salmon with them to the United States.
While you may think where there is smoke, there is fire, when it comes to smoking fish, including salmon, that is not always the case.
There are two types of ways to smoke salmon: cold smoke or hot smoke.
Cold smoking uses a mixture of salt and sugar, also known as a cure, that flavors the meat and draws out much of the moisture. After curing, the salmon gets smoked at relatively low temperatures, around 80-degrees Fahrenheit or less. While this smoke imparts flavor, it does not cook the fish. When cold smoking salmon, the fish stays in the smoker for a relatively short amount of time.
In contrast, hot smoking flavors the fish with a wet brine. The smoking temperature for hot smoking is over 120-degrees Fahrenheit. The hot smoking method both flavors the fish and cooks it, allowing you to consume it safely. Hot smoking typically takes several hours.
Electric smoker advantage
When smoking fish like salmon, precise temperature control is essential. While you can smoke salmon using a charcoal grill or pellet smoker, learning how to smoke salmon in an electric smoker can give you a bit more control.
Electric smokers allow you to control the temperature inside the smoker precisely. To produce smoke, an electric smoker uses an electric heating element to start the woodchips. When the ambient temperature reaches its threshold, the component turns off.
However, if the ambient temperature gets too cold, the heating element turns back on. This produces a more steady smoke and heat, allowing you to get a great smoky flavor without significant temperature fluctuations.
How to Smoke Salmon in an Electric Smoker: What You Need
Here is what you will need to smoke salmon in an electric smoker.
To make excellent smoked salmon, you will need to start with a great cut of salmon.
Fresh or frozen
While freshly caught fish is a great option when smoking salmon, you can also use frozen salmon in your electric smoker.
In fact, according to champion angler fisherman Buzz Ramsey, the freezing process destroys the cell structure in the fish. That allows the fish to take on more flavor from the cure and the smoking process, leading to a more flavorful product.
Wild vs. farmed
While you can smoke any salmon, it’s essential to be aware that not all salmon is the same.
Wild salmon is salmon that is caught in the wild. Wild-caught salmon is incredibly flavorful with a distinct pink-orange hue to the flesh. Be mindful that it tends to be on the leaner side and quickly dries out.
Farm-raised salmon is salmon that is bred and raised in captivity. This salmon tends to be fattier, with a mild flavor. Farmed salmon gets its color from additives to their feed.
Smoked salmon gets the majority of its flavor from two sources: brine and wood chip smoke.
Wet or dry
Salting is an integral part of the smoking process. When you salt your fish, you help impart flavor, and the salt helps to preserve the fish as well.
When preparing salmon for smoking, you can salt your fish using a wet brine or a dry rub.
Wet brines are typically used for hot smoking. A wet brine is a salt dissolved in water, along with any other flavorings. Wet brines may also be poured over the fish during the hot smoking process.
Dry brines are a dry combination of salt and other seasonings that you coat the fish in. Once coated, you let the fish rest in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few days, depending on the recipe. This process helps to draw out excess moisture from the fish.
The type of wood chip you use will determine the smoke flavor in your smoked salmon. Alderwood is a common choice for smoking salmon and is the wood traditionally used by the indigenous tribes of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. However, other light woods like apple, hickory, and oak can produce delicious smoked salmon.
How to Smoke Salmon in an Electric Smoker: Step by Step
Now onto the good stuff: learning how to smoke salmon in an electric smoker! This recipe is originally from Fine Cooking.
Be forewarned that this will take some time to brine, dry, and smoke properly. You want to give yourself about two days for this project. The good news is that most of this time is hands-off, so you do not have to worry about babysitting the salmon.
Assemble your ingredients
You will need the following ingredients for this recipe.
Assemble your equipment
Smoked salmon takes a fair amount of time as well as equipment. Be sure to have all of this handy so that you can cut down on the overall work.
While your electric smoker can maintain the smoker’s temperature, you need a meat thermometer to monitor your salmon’s temperature.
Instant read thermometers are suitable but require you to open the smoker to test the doneness. Whenever you open your smoker, you let out heat and smoke, which may prolong the cooking time.
Alternatively, continuous read probe thermometers stay in the fish and allow you to check on fish without opening the smoker continuously.
Have a good pair of oven mitts to take your salmon in and out of the smoker. Good gloves can also protect your hands if you need to add wood chips to your smoker.
Prepare your salmon
Prepare your salmon fillet by deboning and scaling, if necessary. Fishbone tweezers could help remove any stubborn pin bones if your fishmonger missed them initially.
Prepare the brine by dissolving your sugar and salt in one quart of hot water. Add the rest of the water and cool your brine completely before using.
Submerge your salmon fillet in the brine for at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours. Be sure to keep your brine and salmon cool in the refrigerator through the brining process. Rotate at least once halfway through the brining process to ensure that the fillet is evenly brined.
After brining, remove the salmon fillet. Pat dry with paper towels and then place on a rack, skin side down. Place the salmon back in the refrigerator, uncovered.
This drying process forms a membrane, known as the pellicle. The pellicle will make the fish look slightly darker, and be somewhat tacky to the touch. The pellicle will help smoke better adhere to the fish, making it taste better. It may take a few hours or up to overnight.
Prepare your smoker with the woodchips of your choice, according to your electric smoker’s manufacturer’s directions, bringing it to an internal temperature of 200-degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are worried about your salmon drying out, you may want to include a tray of water to keep the salmon moist while it cooks.
Once you have your smoker prepared and pre-heated, add your salmon to the smoker. Close the door and smoke until your salmon reaches 145-degrees internally for at least half an hour. Cooking times will vary between electric smoker manufacturers and the size of the fillet.
Cool and serve
Once your salmon is done smoking, remove it from the oven. While you can eat it warm, hot smoked salmon is easier to cut after it has cooled. Store any leftovers by wrapping in plastic wrap or butcher paper, and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Serving It Up
Whether you are a fisherman who wants to preserve your catch or an amateur gourmand looking to add to your repertoire, learning how to smoke salmon in an electric smoker is a great weekend project. By using an electric smoker, you can cut down on some of the guesswork that comes with using manual smoking methods.
Do you love smoked salmon? What's your favorite way to serve it? Are you interested in learning how to smoke salmon in an electric smoker? Let us know in the comments!