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
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.
Cold Smoked Salmon Process
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Smoke your salmon. 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. Your salmon will need at least 18 hours in the smoker, or up to 24 hours depending on how thick your salmon is.
- 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.
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.
More Smoked Salmon Recipes
Best Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe
Follow the recipe, and I’ll teach you the simple steps to making your own cold smoked salmon at home. 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 YouTube, Instagram, or our Facebook Page.
Cold Smoked Salmon
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.