How Long to Smoke Salmon in an Electric Smoker

How Long to Smoke Salmon in an Electric Smoker
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Smoking a salmon fillet in an electric smoker that is ¾ inch thick should take no more than four hours at 165 degrees. To ensure that your smoked salmon is still moist, try not to exceed an internal temperature of 145 degrees, consider removing from the smoker at 140 degrees and resting.

Knowing how long to smoke salmon in an electric smoker will either make or break your final product. Salmon is one of the fattiest fish in the ocean and can live in fresh and saltwater. This makes the fish very unique. They are powerful and live most of their lives traveling, mating, and fighting for food.

But just because the fish is superior doesn’t mean that the cooking is the same. Salmon is still a very delicate fish and needs to be handled with care and a lot of attention. Salmon can be delicious and flaky, but it is also very easy to overcook and end up with salmon jerky.

The fat content in the fish allows it to hold up very well in the smoker, but the temperature and time will vary depending on a few factors. Also, the smoking method used, whether it is hot or cold, and if the fish has been prepared specifically, will determine the outcome of the fish.

Stick around while we teach you how to smoke salmon and how long to smoke salmon in an electric smoker!

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Preparing the Salmon

Before you place the salmon in the smoker, you will be prepping it somehow, just like any other item. You can throw it in plain if you wanted, but then that wouldn’t be very adventurous. First and foremost, you will want to clean the fish and remove all the pin bones using a pair of small pliers.

It’s a good idea to leave the skin on the fish while it smokes to help keep it intact. Now you can either go with a dry rub of special seasonings of your choice or use a marinade. Of these two options, most people like to go with a marinade.

If you don’t want to do that, some like to use some salt, fresh dill, and lemon slices. This goes on the outside of the fish while it smokes. But the most popular way to prepare the fish is by using a brine or curing the fish first.

To Brine or Not to Brine?

When hot smoking the fish, it is not necessary to brine or cure the salmon. When you cure or brine the salmon, it will draw moisture or water from the filets and add the brine, including the salt and other flavorings, into the fish.

To brine the fish, mix 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of pickling salt (non-iodized), and 2 cups brown sugar in a large plastic container. Submerge the fish fillets in the brine and allow to soak for at least 4 hours.

Some of the large salmon species like king salmon may need much longer in the brine. You could always place them in the brine and in the fridge overnight to be sure. Once the fish has been brined, remove it from the solution and pat it dry with paper towels.

Then place the fish on a plate, uncovered, and back in the fridge overnight to make sure it dries out completely. Once this last step is complete, the curing process is done. Once smoked, the fish should be able to last for up to 10 days at 40 degrees.

The curing or brining process preserves the salmon. Additional curing methods, like pink salt and dry smoking your salmon like jerky, can increase the shelf life.

Tip: if you don’t have pickling salt, you can put any non-iodized salt in a food processor and pulse it a few times. The result will be smaller crystals that will dissolve quickly.

Smoking Method

There are two ways to go about smoking your salmon, cold smoked or hot smoked. Sometimes mass producers or purveyors use a smokehouse or a specialized cold smoker for cooking the fish.

If you are doing this at home, you should probably stick to hot smoking until you have mastered the curing process for food safety reasons.

Click here for our article Cold Smoking vs Hot Smoking Foods a detailed explanation.

Cold smoked

Cold smoked salmon is delicious and is much easier to buy in the store. This type of smoking method leaves the fish looking uncooked; that is why a curing or brining process is necessary to preserve the fish and prevent any bacteria from forming during the smoking process.

The final product from cold smoking salmon is sometimes called lox and is very popular on bagels with cream cheese. Once it has been smoked, it is sliced very thin into strips vertically along the fish.

It is also much better with higher quality salmon like king salmon or Scottish salmon, a fish with a deep rich red color, and thick fat line deposits. Other salmon such as pink and sockeye can be used too, but they will not turn out as good.

To begin cold smoking, turn the electric smoker on to no higher than 100 degrees. Ideally, you want to get around 70 or 80 degrees. You might consider a cold smoke generator like the Smoke House Products Smoke Generator.

The smoking process will take around 5 or 6 hours for a few pounds of salmon, but it is necessary to get the right cook and texture on the fish. Traditionally you will not season or marinate cold-smoked fish.

Very mild woods like alder or fruitwood like apple or cherry will work the best and provide all the flavoring.

Click here for our article What Is a Cold Smoker: A Short and Simple Guide to Cold Smoking.

Hot smoked

Hot smoked salmon is the most popular way to cook salmon. It is straightforward and doesn’t take that long at all. You can use a brine if you want but don’t need to. The temperatures are high enough to prevent bacteria from being introduced during the smoking process, and nine times out of ten, you will eat it once it has finished.

Any type of salmon will work well this way. You can marinate the salmon beforehand or glaze it heavily with a sugary based coating afterward, which works well with salmon.

Start the smoker with any wood you prefer, but mild woods like alder or maple work best. Set the smoker to 165 degrees but no higher than 200 degrees. To find out how long to smoke salmon in an electric smoker using the hot smoked method comes down to the thickness and overall size of the fish.

For a ¾ inch fillet, four hours are regular, and a 1 inch fillet should be about five hours. However, time should not be the ultimate guide. The internal temperature needs to be 145 degrees, and then it has finished smoking.

Once finished, allow to cool down for about five minutes before serving. If you use a syrup or sugar glaze, pop it in the oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees to caramelize the sugars and get a nice sticky coating on the fish.

Tip: skip the oven and use a creme brulee torch or Searsall to caramelize the sugars and add an extra level of flavor. But use care not to burn your salmon.

Recommend Smoker For Salmon

There are many great smokers for Salmon and other fish, but we have a solid pick for you. The Big Chief top load smoker is by far our favorite pick.

Pros:

  • Five removable shelves
  • Large capacity
  • Easy to use
  • Ready to use – everything included
  • Durable aluminum construction

Cons:

  • Fixed temperature
  • Long cook times

Check out our full article on the Big Chief Smoker and our additional “how-to” articles.

Click here to see reviews on Amazon.com

Conclusion

We hope this gives you some insight into how long to smoke salmon in an electric smoker. Some smokers do vary from brand to brand and model to mode, but generally, electric smokers perform more uniformly than other types.

Click here for our article Smoking Salmon In An Electric Smoker for a great recipe.

FAQ

Can you reuse the brine for another use later?

No. The brine has been contaminated and needs to be discarded after the first and only use.

Is it possible to over brine fish or for too long?

Yes. Technically you really shouldn’t brine anything for longer than 24 hours; otherwise, it becomes too salty. It will also dry the product out and possibly even begin to cook it.

Is smoked salmon bad for you?

It isn’t really bad for you. Smoked salmon is packed with protein and omega 3 fats, but it does contain a fair amount of salt, almost too much for your daily diet.

How do you eat hot smoked salmon?

It is fine to just eat it by itself or in any way, shape, or form. Make sandwiches, pasta, and salads with the flaky meat. You can also make salmon rillettes, which is like a dip, or croquettes, which is like fried fish cakes.

How long will smoked salmon last?

If you buy it in the store, then you will need to go no longer than 5 or 6 days. Usually, there will be directions on the package. If you freeze it, it will keep even longer. If you smoke it yourself, then the fish can last up to 10 days or longer if frozen.

What is the best salmon to use for smoking?

Scottish salmon and king salmon are by far the best and most expensive cuts of fish. Other salmon such as silver, pink, and sockeye are also desirable fish. And at the bottom is chum salmon, farm-raised or Atlantic salmon. These are the lowest of the low and are usually sold in grocery stores.