Cold smoked salmon is the perfect way to enjoy one of our favorite fish dishes. Made with salt water and a sugar solution for salting before being cooked at low temperatures, this smoked fish is like no other. Learn how to properly chill salmon with our tutorial and guide.
I am a huge fish lover and of all the different types out there my favorite is smoked salmon.
It is the perfect accompaniment to many different types of dishes, whether as a snack or dinner. It can be salty or creamy and is simply delicious.
Despite this, few people seem to know how to grill it. The good news, however, is that cold smoking is incredibly easy, and I think a lot more people should know how to do it.
I think some people are scared of smoked salmon because of the way they handle raw fish. Luckily, the cold smoking process makes it perfectly safe. Cold smoking is indicative of a form of curing that allows all of the proteins in the salmon to rebuild, making it safe to eat ( source ).
Cold smoked salmon is easy to cut up in a few simple steps: scale, debone, and slice. It is then pickled in brine and cured before being roasted at a low temperature of 80F for about 5 hours.
The process can be time consuming, but the results are more than worth it. Here’s how to do it.
Choose frozen salmon
I realize this may sound counterintuitive as fresh meat is infinitely better than frozen . Listen to me.
Frozen salmon is perfect for cold smoking. Why is this? Well, freezing fish below 0°F (-18°C) helps kill some of the unwanted parasites that are often found in raw fish ( source ). What you may not know is that freezing fish for a week is key to controlling them.
Yes, it’s true that cooking is just as effective at killing unwanted bacteria. The problem is that cold smoking doesn’t reach the same temperatures as cooking. This means we cannot reach the high temperatures necessary to make the meat safe.
Freezing gives us good exercise and also an alternative way to fight the effects of bacteria.
As a side note, freezing fish also causes the water within it to expand and rupture some of the cell membranes. This is really nice because once the meat is thawed, the liquid in the steak can be drained. This makes the curing process quicker and easier as our curing solution can penetrate the pulp much more efficiently.
How to prepare salmon for cold smoking
Once your salmon is thawed, you need to start flaking. To do this, run the back of a knife along the side of the fish to remove as many scales as possible. Rinse off the scales and repeat the process until you have removed as much as possible.
How to Bone Salmon
Fish is generally much better when it’s boned. It makes it easier to eat, but it also makes it a lot more efficient to cook.
Luckily, you don’t need any special equipment. Instead, YOU can die with a simple pair of tweezers.
Run your finger over the fillet and when you find a bone, use the tweezers to remove it. In general, these bones are fairly evenly distributed throughout the flesh of the meat, so finding them shouldn’t be too difficult.
Once you’ve gotten through the fish I recommend checking a second time just to make sure you got as many bones as possible.
Watch this video for a great guide on how to mince, fillet and chop salmon:
How to cut salmon
Many people don’t bother to slice salmon before smoking, but I encourage you to do so.
If you leave the meat whole, the smoke has a much deeper surface to penetrate. This could result in your fish being smoked unevenly.
Instead, I recommend cutting it into long, even strips. This means it doesn’t take as long to grill, but the flavors and textures stay the same throughout. Just be sure to leave the skin on so it will hold together when grilling.
How to Salt Salmon
An important part of meat preparation for many different types of meat is curing.
Curing is a cooking process that uses ingredients to protect meat from drying out during cooking. Smoking exposes the meat to hot temperatures for long periods of time, so it’s important that we don’t allow too much moisture to escape from the meat during this time.
The process consists of immersing the meat in salt water for several hours. During this time, the salt will be absorbed by the meat and help retain moisture.
One of the most important things to consider when brining is the temperature of the water. Temperature is so crucial in low and slow grilling, and the same is true of salting.
We need to use a water temperature of around 1.5 to 4.5°C (35 to 40°F). If we get over that, bacteria could develop in the meat. Go downstairs and the salt won’t get a chance to do his job.
For best results, salt your salmon overnight. Once you’ve done that, remove it from the brine and rinse off any excess salt under a cold tap.
How to cure salmon
Many people alternate pickling and pickling, but they serve two very different functions.
Curing is a process that preserves meat and protects it from bacterial growth ( source ). Not only that, it can also help carry some extra flavor.
Salting cold-smoked salmon has an additional effect: it evenly distributes the salt content of the fish.
See, while brining is great, it can often cause too much salt to build up near the center of the meat. Curing helps fix this by spreading it more evenly throughout the fillet.
As with salting, curing requires mixing. I recommend a dry mix of 20% molasses sugar (or brown sugar if you don’t have one) and 80% Himalayan salt (plain rock salt is fine too) to settle your steaks.
Divide a third of your regimen into a casserole dish. Make sure the plate is big enough to hold the salmon fillet. Carefully place your steak on the tray with about a half inch between the steak and the outside edge of the plate. If you cut the steak into pieces, also try to leave a half inch between each piece.
Pour the rest of the cure over the salmon, making sure it is completely covered and there are no gaps.
Keep it in the fridge for 24 hours, or at least overnight. The longer you let it cure, the better the results. However, do not allow to cure for more than 48 hours.
Pause the movie
After all of the above steps, one of the results you should notice is a film layer forming on the outside of your fish. This is a thin layer of liquefied protein that coats the entire steak in a clear coating. This is important as it helps retain a large amount of liquid in the fish, preventing it from drying out during smoking.
Cook to 80°F
When smoking barbecues , it is crucial to keep the heat as perfect and constant as possible over a long period of time.
For cold smoked salmon we need to avoid 27°C. Everything goes overboard and we run the risk of cooking it, which we don’t want with this style of meat preparation.
If you use a regular barbecue smoker, I recommend investing in a good cold smoker.
Get the right type of grill
Unfortunately, not all types of barbecue smokers are made for this type of cooking, so find out ahead of time if yours is.
While wood and charcoal smokers are often the first choice for many grill fans, many are not designed for cold smoking. On the contrary, many e-smokers can.
There are some specific models that are perfectly adapted to this type of cooking. One is Weber Smokey Mountain. Electric or Propane Smokers also provide an easy way to smoke fish, such as B. the Masterbuilt Electric Smoker.
How to smoke salmon
Preheat your smoker, remove the salmon from the plate and rinse plenty of brine under a cold tap.
When your smoker has reached our target temperature of 27°F (80°F), open the door and place the salmon on the cooking grates or wire rack. Be sure to leave enough space around the salmon to allow for good airflow and smoke circulation. Feel free to give it equal space in the front and back.
Your salmon will take about 5 hours to smoke, but the real key will be that it has lost about 15-20% of its weight.
Your salmon is ready to eat right away, but it’s best to place it in the fridge after cooking and let it sit for 4-6 hours before serving. When you’re done, use a long, sharp knife to slice the salmon diagonally into paper-thin slices.
If you want to store it, I recommend vacuum sealing it and storing it in your fridge. If you have to freeze it should stay up to a year.
Which salmon is best for cold smoking?
Honestly, a lot of it comes down to personal taste. There is a wide range of salmon species to choose from and the species available to you will be limited by both geography and price.
Some of the varieties that exist are King, Scottish, Coho, Sockeye, Chum, and Atlantic ( source ). It’s worth noting that different types of salmon vary in the amount of oil and flavor they contain. The more oil they have, the more buttery flavor and moisture they carry.
Species like chum or pink salmon tend to have lower oil content, while king and sockeye salmon have much higher oil content and flavor.
No matter which variety you choose, fresh is always best. Fish spoils very quickly, so I recommend buying it fresh before freezing it for a week to kill parasites and bacteria before cooking.
What is the best wood for cold smoked salmon?
While woods like hickory are excellent for more robust traditional meats like beef and pork, I would try to avoid them as much as possible. They overcome the more subtle flavors of the salmon and very quickly coat it with a flavor that goes much better with red meat.
Instead, I recommend opting for one of the following options:
- Alder: Much more delicate and even has some sweet notes. Perfect for almost all types of fish.
- Oak – Slightly more traditional and a very popular choice. It has high levels of smokiness, but if you use a modest amount, it can pair perfectly with the strong flavors of the salmon.
If you don’t like any of this, be sure to check out my guide to smoking salmon here .