How to Smoke Salmon

Picture of How to Smoke Salmon
These instructions are for smoking salmon in a smokehouse.

My dad's sister in Alaska is the queen of smoked salmon. They grew up on a Southeast Alaska beach, fishing and eating salmon, so they know what good salmon tastes like, and everybody in town goes to her for salmon smoking.

This is her recipe, which we use for smoking salmon in the smokehouse we built down here in Washington.
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Step 1: You Need

Picture of You Need
  • A smokehouse and firewood
  • Racks
  • Good, fresh, oily fish- king (Chinook) and sockeye (red) salmon are good for smoking.
  • Bucket
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Brown sugar
  • Nail
  • Russet potato
  • Oil or cooking spray
  • Really sharp knives

Step 2: Preparing the Fire

Picture of Preparing the Fire
Green wood makes a lot of smoke, so it's nice if you can cut down a tree. We have a profusion of alders, so that's what we used.

Light a fire in the base of the smokehouse and get the temperature up to 100F.

Step 3: Preparing the Racks

Picture of Preparing the Racks
Clean your smoking racks and brush or spray them with oil so that the fish won't stick.

Step 4: Preparing the Brine

Picture of Preparing the Brine
We use a 5-gallon bucket.
Put some cold water in it, then add salt and stir until a russet potato with a nail in it floats to the top.
Note: Add your salt a little at a time, and make sure that it dissolves fully! Otherwise your brine could be too salty at the bottom.

Add about 1/3 cup of brown sugar. This will cause the fish to glaze during the smoking process.

Step 5: Preparing the Fish

Picture of Preparing the Fish
Remember to handle salmon delicately throughout this process; it tears easily.

Clean out the fish- gut it if yours is fresh; even if it's storebought, open up the belly and make sure to wash out the blood and guts under cold water.
Wipe down the outside and clean off the scales.
wont eating the scraps taste fishy and slimy?
try adding slabs of ginger before the water boils. will eliminate the strong fishy smell.'s boiled so I wouldn't think so
Being from the Philippines where this is how they do 70% of all their fish dishes... yes, it is rather fishy and slimy. If you're not used to the smell and texture, it can get overwhelming.
WriterChick2 years ago
And here I thought the hard part was keeping the salmon lit ....
NAH . . . . to me the hard part is keeping the papers from getting soggy
jongscx Questor2 years ago
I've always used a pipe, much more classy.
What size nail? 8p? 16p? Sized to the potato? Ruset?
I would stay away from galvanized or VC (vinyl coated).
I've always tried to keep it a steady temperature, what is the reasoning for varing it?
Smoking food is always good.

oppie2 years ago
Neat trick with the potato and nail which is essentially a hydrometer to achieve a certain specific gravity in the brine. I work in a lab with lots of fancy instruments but still appreciate "folk methods" that just git 'er done.
KryptoTSD2 years ago
I bet that smoked Salmon Lox is just scrumptious with bagels and cream cheese!
Lox is cold smoked. This is hot smoked. It won't have the raw texture of lox.
Okay. How do I make Lox? I would really like to know, because I like smoked Salmon...
vincent75202 years ago
Absolutely great !…
The sugar spoon is one of the tricks : glad you mentioned it !…
I'll keep the potato and nail trick in mind in my next "smoking" session.

I have only two remarks about the smokehouse :
1) you should definitely make an instructable !
2) also wouldn't it be better if you used plain wood when building it instead of the compressed chips planks (or whatever it's called in the US) as they contain a lot of highly toxic materials that may contaminate your food without you knowing it.
Greg Davies2 years ago
Thank you for the instructions. Planning on doing this soon.
cowboynwh2 years ago
You should write up an instructable on your smokehouse it looks awesome! I love smoked salmon I always had a freezer full when I lived in Oak Harbor but I moved back to Oklahoma. :( but we have crappie :) and there just as good. Enjoy some for me. ;)
SelkeyMoonbeam (author)  cowboynwh2 years ago
:) For the smokehouse- see my reply to radarguy.
caitlinsdad2 years ago
That's interesting to check for salinity of the brine with a potato and nail. Is there any electrolytic process going on with the nail, can it be a rusty nail or coated or it's just some tradition?
I remember, we used a raw egg in Germany (in the shell!). When it floated, the brine was right...
SelkeyMoonbeam (author)  erwin2 years ago
cool! I'll have to try that.
SelkeyMoonbeam (author)  caitlinsdad2 years ago
Heh, it's just to ensure proper density! Since we fill up the bucket with a hose, it's much easier to do this than to measure out water and salt cup by cup.
Plus the potato is good in the fish-scraps stew, and we probably get some good minerals from the nail.
radarguy2 years ago
We just have an electric smoker and the last time we tried salmon in it we weren't too successful. It was more for a hot entree. So can you tell us more about how to make your smokehouse?
SelkeyMoonbeam (author)  radarguy2 years ago
Sure- we built the smokehouse a couple of years ago, but it's pretty simple. It's just a shack, something like 1 x 1 x 2.5 meters, slant-roofed so it can shed rain.
The front is on hinges, so it can be swung open and closed.
The sides have small 1x1" pieces of wood nailed into them to make slides for the fish racks.
We used one of those commercial firepit things, the giant bowl on a stand, to put the fire in (but without the stand).

The really important things:
-Put metal flashing around the base of the shed, where the fire is built, so that your shed doesn't light on fire.
-Stick a thermometer through the wall so you know how hot it is inside.
-Make sure your door can be closed tightly- we use bungee cords, hooked to some screw-in hooks.
-Leave a small gap somewhere near the top so that smoke can escape.
vanisaac2 years ago
As an alternative to brining, sprinkle rock salt on top. Just brush off the loose rock salt - you can save it outside (it can smell a bit) and use it for icy sidewalks or ice cream making - and rinse the rest off with water. You then brush a paste of water and brown sugar on top, which forms a more cohesive glaze (it helps hold the fish together), and depending on how thick you slather it on can give you a sweeter end product.
I want to go to there. Ship some to HQ? :)