Learn how to make an easy Traeger smoked salmon with a delicious homemade dry brine. This fish can be made with any smoker or pellet grill. Full of flavour and so easy to make, this will become a summer staple.
Last year we bought a pellet smoker and it has made summer entertaining just the best! It’s easy to make recipes that feed a large group, things that you can make ahead of time and dishes that are just a little bit extra special, like this hot smoked salmon.
Why this recipe works
The key to a good smoked salmon is to brine it. I like to use a dry brine since it’s a little bit easier and doesn’t require a ton of space in the fridge. The goal of the brine is to develop well-seasoned, moist salmon. After the brine, you need to let your salmon dry out (I do this in the fridge) to form a pellicle.
The pellicle is a thin, sticky layer on top of the salmon that the smoke will adhere to. If you skip this step, you won’t get the smoky flavour you’re looking for.
- Salmon fillet I use a 2.5 lbs large salmon fillet or side of salmon. You’ll want skin-on salmon. Because it’s being smoked, I’d recommend splurging on some nice salmon.
- Kosher salt and yes, ½ cup of salt. This is a key ingredient to any dry brine as it will remove some of the moisture from the fish while seasoning it at the same time.
- Brown sugar is another key ingredient in most dry or wet brines.
- For seasoning and flavour I like to add black pepper and fresh, minced rosemary. This is where you can be a little bit creative and use your favourite herbs or spices.
- When it comes to brining, don’t over-brine or you’ll risk ending up with something that is way too salty.
- Rinse the dry brine off of the fish before drying it out in the fridge overnight. When you’re rinsing it, you may not feel like you’ve removed all of it, but that’s ok! Just rinse as much as you can.
- The dry brine will completely change the texture and colour of your fish. You’ll end up with salmon that is much deeper in colour and also has hardened. These are good signs that your salmon has brined for enough time.
Step by step instructions
Here are the steps for making dry brined, hot smoked salmon. I’ve explained in more detail here than in the recipe below to answer all of your questions as you go.
Step 1: Cure the salmon
- Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. And lay out a large piece of plastic wrap on a baking sheet–this piece needs to be large enough to wrap up your piece of salmon.
- Spread half the mixture, in the size and shape of your salmon fillet, on the plastic wrap. Lay your salmon fillet, skin side down on top of the mixture. Top the other half with the remaining mixture, spreading evenly over fish. Fold up the edges and wrap tightly.
- Place another baking sheet on top of the salmon with some heavy cans to weigh down the salmon slightly. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
Step 2: Dry the salmon
- After your fish is cured, you’ll need to let it dry out overnight to create the pellicle. Unwrap fish carefully, you’ll notice that there is a lot of extra moisture in the plastic wrap. Completely rinse the dry brine mixture off the salmon and pat dry.
- Place salmon on a wire rack on your baking sheet, and dry out overnight (about 8-12 hours) in the fridge.
Step 3: Smoke
- Preheat your pellet grill to 225F. Once preheated, place salmon, skin-side down on grill. Cover and cook for about 90 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 140F (it will continue cooking slightly when you remove it from the heat).
Frequently asked questions
I’ve had the best success smoking the salmon at 225F for 90 minutes.
The recommendation from the FDA is 145F for the internal temperature.
For salmon, alder, cherry, pecan or maple are recommended. I’ve also had success with Traeger’s “signature blend”.
I like to serve this recipe with a summery salad like my authentic Greek salad or lemon orzo salad. For leftovers, I love flaking the salmon up and stirring it into my pasta with cherry tomatoes and garlic.