Cold Smoked Salmon

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Cold Smoked Salmon is a delicious delicacy that tastes even better when you make it yourself. The process takes a little patience, but you will be rewarded with the best smoked salmon of your life. Smoky, velvety, salty, and absolutely perfect sliced thin and served with bagels and cream cheese.

Cold smoked salmon on cutting board with bagels and cream cheese.

Cold Smoked Salmon

Cold smoked salmon is salt cured and then smoke preserved, in contrast to a hot smoked salmon which is wet brined and cooked in a higher temperature smoker. The results also vary with the cold smoked salmon having a velvety smooth, firm texture that requires thin slicing and the hot smoked salmon being more juicy and flaky that you can eat with a fork.

Cold smoked salmon is a specialty in many different northern hemisphere cultures and dates back centuries. Each has their own variation on the dish, but the basic steps are quite similar. The variations come in the flavors added to each step and the types of wood used, based on what was locally available. I have also taken some liberties and added my own variations to the process to bring in some additional flavor profiles to the final smoked salmon. I think it is absolutely delicious and I bet you’ll love the process of making the salmon as much or more than you like eating the finished product.

Raw salmon on cooling rack above baking sheet.

How Long to Cold Smoke Salmon?

It takes approximately 18-24 hours to cold smoke salmon. Since the salmon is not rising in temperature during the smoke time, you don’t smoke to a specific internal temperature. Check the color and the texture of the salmon for clues about when it is ready to come off of the smoker. Look for an even golden color across the top of your salmon and firm texture in the meat. You don’t want to experience much give when you press on the salmon with your fingers.

Can You Eat Cold Smoked Salmon Raw?

Smoked salmon is technically uncooked. This means it is incredibly important that you start with a fish that is very fresh and high quality. Think of it like a sushi roll or sashimi. Sliced thin, the texture is incredibly luxurious and velvety. In a difference from sushi style salmon, this smoked salmon is salt cured and smoked. Adding these antibacterial and preservative steps will help from a food safety point of view. This salmon is perfectly safe to eat raw when processed according to these instructions. I would pass if you are pregnant or have other health concerns that prevent you from otherwise enjoying raw salmon.

Salmon on baking sheet being sprinkled with brown sugar.

Preparing and Curing Salmon

Before you cold smoke your salmon, you’ve got to salt cure it. Here’s how to prepare and cure your salmon so it’s ready for the next step:

  1. PREPARE YOUR SALMON. Start by purchasing the right cut. I prefer salmon that is thick with good fat marbling, so I recommend a King salmon filet. Run your fingers along the filet and use pliers or tweezers to remove any remaining pin bones.
  2. CURE YOUR SALMON. The salt and sugar act as both a cure to prevent bacteria growth and a seasoning for your salmon. I include dill and coriander for additional flavor, but it is optional.
  3. RINSE YOUR SALMON. You need to soak your salmon for a short period of time to remove any excess cure from the exterior and draw out some of the salinity from the fish.
  4. DRY YOUR SALMON. Leave your fish in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 4-8 hours. This step dries the moisture off of the salmon and creates a tacky exterior called a pellicle. This attracts the smoke particles and encourages them to adhere to the salmon in the next step.

Salmon on grill grates in plume of smoke.

How to Smoke Salmon Cold

Once you’ve got your salmon cured, you’re ready for the next step of cold smoking it. This part of the process can take up to a full 24 hours, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. It’s not something you can throw together at the last minute.

  1. Set your smoker. Cold smoking is exactly that: cold. You are shooting for temperatures of less than 80 degrees F. I achieve this by using the chamber of my smoker (with no fire in the firebox) and a 12-inch smoke tube filled with wood pellets. Which type of wood to use is personal preference, but I recommend a mild wood like alder or maple. 
  2. Smoke your salmon. Place your salmon directly onto your grill grates. You want to plan on at least 18 hours in the smoker for your salmon. You may need up to 24 hours depending on how thick your salmon is.
  3. Chill your salmon. Move your salmon to the refrigerator and chill completely before slicing very thin and serving with your favorite accouterments like cream cheese, lemon wedges, capers, thin sliced red onions, and bagels.  Your salmon will last 3 days in the fridge. If you can’t eat a whole side of salmon in 3 days, you can separate into smaller portions and vacuum seal. This will extend the life of the salmon to 3-4 weeks in your refrigerator, 3-4 months in your freezer, or almost indefinitely in a deep freezer.

More Salmon Recipes

If this recipe has you hooked, I’ve got several more amazing salmon recipes for you to try out next. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sliced salmon on cutting board with bagels and cream cheese.

Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe

Follow the recipe, and I’ll teach you the simple steps to making your own cold smoked salmon at home. You can find over 500 more delicious BBQ recipes just like this one in the Hey Grill Hey app for your next backyard BBQ.

Hey Grill Hey is dedicated to help you make better BBQ, feed the people you love, and become a backyard BBQ hero. You can find more of my smoking and grilling recipes and videos on YouTubeInstagram, or our Facebook Page.

Cold Smoked Salmon

By: Susie Bulloch (heygrillhey.com)
4.63 from 8 votes
Cold Smoked Salmon is a delicacy that tastes even better when it's made at home. Just a few easy steps to the smoked salmon of your dreams.
Prep Time1 day
Cook Time1 day
Total Time2 days
Servings4 people

Video

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Ingredients
 

  • 2 pounds salmon fillet skin on
  • 1 ½ cups salt
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons coriander seeds lightly crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh dill chopped

Instructions
 

  • Prep wrap. Lay out two long pieces of plastic wrap on a rimmed baking sheet. Overlap the two pieces of plastic wrap 2 inches and extend past the baking sheet 6 inches on the long sides (to allow to fully wrap over the salmon).
  • Make seasoning. In a large bowl, combine the salt, brown sugar, coriander, and dill. Sprinkle 1 cup of the salt and sugar mixture on the plastic wrap, making it extend 1 inch past where the salmon will lay.
    1 ½ cups salt, 1 ½ cups brown sugar, 2 Tablespoons coriander seeds, 2 Tablespoons fresh dill
  • Season salmon. Place the salmon skin-side down on top of the salt and sugar mixture. Sprinkle the remaining salt and sugar on top of the salmon, making sure there are no exposed pieces of the salmon remaining.
    2 pounds salmon fillet skin on
  • Wrap and cure. Lift up the ends plastic wrap and fully cover the salmon, making sure that no ends of the wrap are hanging over the edges of the baking sheet. Place in the refrigerator for 24 hours, flipping the salmon over so it is skin side up after the first 12 hours.
  • Remove and soak salmon. Remove the salmon from the fridge and unwrap. Carefully lift the salmon from the salt and sugar mixture and gently shake off any excess. Place the salmon in a vessel (such as a 9x13 pan) and fill with cool water until the salmon is covered. Allow the salmon to soak in the fridge for 15-20 minutes. This will draw out some of the salinity and rinse off any particles from the cure.
  • Develop salmon exterior. Place the salmon on a flat, elevated surface that will allow the air to circulate on all sides of the salmon (like a roasting or cooking rack) over a rimmed baking sheet and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours (or up to 8 hours) to develop a tacky coating on the exterior called a pellicle.
  • Prepare your smoker for cold smoking. Your smoker needs to be under 80 degrees F, so be sure to also check your outside temperature. My smoke set up for this recipe is using a smoke tube and alder or maple pellets in my offset or pellet smoker (with no additional fire running). I have also seen many people use other varieties of cold smoke generators.
  • Smoke. Place the salmon directly into the smoker, skin side down. To keep things simple, I just leave it on the rack I used during the pellicle stage. Close the lid and smoke for 18-24 hours, depending on the amount of smoke you want your salmon to take on and how thick your salmon piece is. You are looking for an even light brown color across the top of your salmon and a feeling of firmness (not a lot of give) when you press on the salmon with your fingers.
  • Chill and serve. Remove the salmon from the smoker. Chill completely in the fridge. Serve as desired. I like to slice mine thin against the grain. and serve the bagels, cream cheese, chives, capers, lemon, red onions, etc. This salmon will last for 3 days in the fridge.

Notes

The salt and sugar will draw moisture out. This is normal, so if you see salmon juice on your baking sheet, do not be alarmed. The rimmed baking sheet will help contain this while the salmon is in the refrigerator.

Nutrition

Calories: 2554kcal | Carbohydrates: 326g | Protein: 181g | Fat: 58g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 499mg | Sodium: 170261mg | Potassium: 5063mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 320g | Vitamin A: 659IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 538mg | Iron: 13mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About

FOUNDER/BBQ BOSS LADY

Susie is the BBQ Brain behind the Hey Grill Hey website. Her passion for smoked meats and developing fun, new recipes have landed her on the Food Network, cooking turkeys with Shaq, and on a couple of Guinness World Records. When she’s not grilling, she is hanging out with Todd and their three kids, preferably outdoors!

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Reader Reviews

40 Reviews

  1. Duncan says:

    Third time I’ve used this recipe and it works every time. Thanks.

  2. Tim says:

    Help. I had a problem with the heat coming off the smoking tube, shot up to 300 plus .
    Set the kettle top off set on bottom and shut the air vent below off. Only filled the tube half way. Thoughts