Smoked Salmon With Honey Glaze – A How-To Guide

Smoked Salmon With Honey Glaze – A How-To Guide

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David and I get excited every year when salmon season rolls because that can mean only one thing… SMOKED SALMON!

We fell in love with fresh salmon years ago when we first had bagels and lox. Our first experience smoking salmon at home was when we did a cedar plank smoked salmon. That method does not involve curing or drying the meat. The salmon fillet is smoked on top of a cedar plank. We love that recipe but we also wanted to experience smoked salmon the way it has been enjoyed for thousands of years, by curing it.

We spent a lot of time last summer smoking salmon and perfecting our recipe. Now, we want to help you make delicious smoked salmon, so today we are going to show you exactly how easy it is to make smoked salmon with a honey glaze in this how-to guide.

smoked salmon with honey glaze ready to eat with mountain view

The goal of a perfectly smoked salmon is moist flaky meat that has the perfect balance of salt and sweetness to complement the rich fillet. For this recipe, we finish off the salmon with a glaze of pure rich honey instead of maple syrup like most recipes call for. When the salmon has cooled, the honey forms a candy-like coating on the salmon that is to die for!

The process may seem complicated, but it’s really not. Smoking salmon is actually quicker and easier to smoke than it ever would be to smoke pork or beef. 

There isn’t a lot of hands-on preparation. Most of the time comes from curing and drying the salmon fillet to prepare it for the smoke. It just takes a little time to ensure you get the perfect piece of smoked salmon. 

Let’s smoke some salmon!

cured dried salmon fillet on sheet pan

The Salmon

David and I have tested this recipe on Sockeye, Coho, and King. Any of these types of salmon will work. For this guide we used Sockeye, but you can use your favorite kind of fresh salmon. 

What to look for when purchasing salmon:

  • Wild Caught: Wild-caught salmon is only available 3 to 4 months out of the year, so we strive to find the freshest wild-caught salmon possible when they are in season. We prefer wild salmon over farm-raised, because farm-raised salmon can be injected with coloring and who knows what else.
  • Quality Fresh Fish: The salmon should never smell overly fishy or have a foul odor. The meat should be firm and plump without wrinkles
  • Skin-on-Fillet: It is best if the salmon fillet still has the skin intact because it helps hold the meat together when brining, curing, and smoking the fillet. Look for salmon with shiny, moist skin. 
soaking wood chips

What Type of Wood Do I Use To Make Smoked Salmon?

I’ve read that alder wood is the traditional wood of choice in the Pacific Northwest for smoking salmon. However, that’s not something we see very often here on the store shelf in the Southeast. Instead, we have used both soaked maple chips and dry cherry chunks. Between the two, we love the sweetness of the cherry wood the best. 

Hickory, oak, and pecan are also good options for smoking salmon, but we have not used them. 

smoked salmon on platter with fish spatula

How To Make Smoked Salmon With Honey Glaze

The 3 Most Important Steps To Smoked Salmon: Curing, Drying, and Temperature. The step-by-step guide below will show you how each comes into play.

Step #1  Prepare The Salmon For Brine

When it comes to salmon fillets, your fishmonger or grocer has probably done all the work for you, so there isn’t much prep to get the fish ready for the brine. 

pulling bones from salmon fillet

However, it is important to run your fingers down the center of the fillet to make sure that all of the pin bones have been removed. David uses a clean pair of needle nose pillars to remove any pin bones. He starts as the tail and works his way to the head pulling out any bones he feels or sees. 

If you prepare fish often, a pair of fishbone tweezers may be worth buying. You can find a set of tweezers HERE.

fillet of salmon with brine in bowl

Step #2  Brine the Salmon

Curing salmon in a brine solution not only preserves it, but it also helps to eliminate some of the moisture in the fillet. By infusing the fish with salt it helps to salmon last longer after it is smoked. 

Our brine solution is very simple consisting of water, kosher salt and brown sugar. The salt helps draw out some of the moisture and seasons the fish, while the brown sugar gives it a little bit of sweetness to help round out the flavor. We love using this simple solution because it does not mask the fish and it allows the salmon flavor to come through. 

salmon curing in refrigerator

In a small bowl, mix all of the brine ingredients together with a whisk, until the salt and sugar have dissolved completely. Transfer the cleaned salmon filet inside a 2-gallon plastic bag, then pour in the brine solution, squeezing out as much air as possible. Place the bag onto a sheet pan or casserole dish. Situate the fillet inside the bag so that it is completely submerged inside the brine solution. Place it inside the refrigerator to cure. 

If there is not enough brine to submerge the entire fillet, you can double the brine solution and make another batch.

About Curing Times

Curing times may vary according to the thickness of the fillet. Sockeye salmon fillets are usually pretty thin, so it has been our experience that the fillet needs 8 to 12 hours of curing time. A really thick piece of salmon may need up to 24 to 36 hours to brine. Be careful not to over-brine the salmon or it will be way too salty to enjoy.

placing salmon fillet in refrigerator

Step #3  Air Dry the Salmon – Forming the Pellicle

This next step is completely effortless BUT one of the most important steps to smoking good salmon. The salmon needs to form a pellicle. This is a slightly tacky layer that has a thin dry sheen to it like the flesh has been brushed with lacquer. This layer gives the smoke something to stick to. 

salmon fillet with pellicle

Remove the salmon from the brine and carefully rinse with cool running water. Gently pat the fillet dry with paper towels, then lay it skin side down onto a platter or sheet pan long enough so that it lays completely flat. Leave the salmon uncovered and place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

We typically dry our fillets in the refrigerator overnight for about 12 hours.

salmon fillet on grill

Step #4  Fire Up the Grill, But Watch The Temperature!

For this smoke, David uses his Weber Performer which makes the temperature control a little harder to maintain. Precision comes with knowing your charcoal grill and with experience of course.

The salmon is smoked using a hot smoking process, but before firing up the grill or smoker, it’s important to know that when smoking salmon or fish of any kind, it is important to maintain a low constant temperature. The goal smoking temperature is between 150 and 200 degrees. 

Light the charcoal chimney with about a dozen briquettes inside. It’s important to start with a small fire and work your way up if it’s not hot enough. 

When the coals are ready, set the grill for indirect heat, by pouring the hot coals from the chimney into a charcoal basket or push them to one side of the grill. Throw a chunk of the cherry wood onto the coals.

David tending to fire

Step #5  Smoke The Salmon

Place the grate on the grill. Preheat the grill to an ideal temperature of about 170 degrees. Add more charcoal to make the fire hotter, if needed. Having a hinged grate makes it easy to tend the fire and add wood.

Use a paper towel to add oil to the hot grate, then lay the cured and dried salmon fillet skin side down on the cool side of the grate. Alternatively, you can use a perforated grilling tray that allows 360-degree smoke and heat penetration. This will ensure the salmon doesn’t stick. It’s also good to use if you smoke a salmon fillet without the skin.

Cover with the lid and smoke the salmon. Keep the temperature low and slow. Adding too much heat at once will cause a white albumin “bleed” on the surface of the meat. Albumin is a liquid protein in raw fish. When the fish is exposed to heat, the albumin coagulates and starts to solidify. As the meat cooks, the albumin squeezes out onto the surface of the meat.

salmon fillet with albumin bleed

The picture above is one of our first salmon fillets. We learned about albumin early on. The temperature of the fillet got hot too quickly. It’s pretty nasty looking, but this weird slimy white substance on the surface of the salmon is normal and there is nothing wrong with the fish.

Forming the pellicle and monitoring the temperature of the grill will help to minimize the collection of albumin. A little bit is normal, but If you get a lot the salmon is not ruined. You can also brush the white gunk off when tending to the coals. 

checking the temperature with instant-read thermometer

Smoke the salmon for about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add more coals and wood as needed. Spot-check the temperature of the salmon with an instant-read thermometer. At this point the fillet should be around 120 degrees F. Close the lid and continue to smoke for the remaining time checking the fish every 30 minutes.

For the last hour, use a silicone grilling brush to baste the salmon with honey. At this point, there is no need to add any more wood to the coals. Just maintain the low steady temperature.

brushing honey onto smoking salmon

The salmon is done with the meat flakes and the internal temperature of the salmon in the thickest part reaches 135 to 145 degrees F. 

Remove the smoked salmon from the grill and serve. 

Allow the salmon to cool on a rack for at least one hour before putting it into the refrigerator. It will keep in an airtight container for 8 to 10 days.

fork with a bite of salmon with mountain view

CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO ON HOW TO SMOKE SALMON:

We hope this how-to guide helps you create amazing smoked salmon in your back yard, but hurry, salmon season doesn’t last forever. Get you fillet on that smoker soon!

Other Delicious Salmon Recipes:

smoked salmon with honey glazed ready to eat
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Smoked Salmon With Honey Glaze

The 3 most important steps to smoked salmon are curing, drying, and temperature. This step-by-step guide will help you smoke salmon in your own backyard!
Course Appetizer, dinner, light fare, Snack
Cuisine American, BBQ
Keyword Cured Salmon, salmon, Smoked Salmon
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Both Curing Time & Drying Time (Each) 12 hours
Total Time 16 hours 15 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 410kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ to 2 pound fresh salmon
  • ¼ to ½ cup honey locally sourced is always best!
  • cherry wood chunks

Brine Solution:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt

Instructions

Step #1 Prepare The Salmon For Brine

  • Start at the tail of the salmon running your fingers down the center of the fillet and work your way up towards the head of the fillet making sure all of the pin bones have been removed. Remove any bones you feel or see with a clean pare of needle nose pliers or fish tweezers..

Step #2 Brine the Salmon

  • In a small bowl, mix all of the brine ingredients together with a whisk, until the salt and sugar have dissolved completely. Transfer the cleaned salmon filet inside a 2-gallon plastic bag, then pour in the brine solution, squeezing out as much air as possible. Place the bag onto a sheet pan or casserole dish. Situate the fillet inside the bag so that it is completely submerged inside the brine solution. Place it inside the refrigerator to cure.
  • If there is not enough brine to submerge the entire fillet, you can double the brine solution and make another batch.
  • Curing times may vary according to the thickness of the fillet. Sockeye salmon fillets are usually pretty thin, so it has been our experience that the fillet needs 8 to 12 hours of curing time. A really thick piece of salmon may need up to 24 to 36 hours to brine. Be careful not to over-brine the salmon or it will be way too salty to enjoy.

Step #3 Air Dry the Salmon – Forming the Pellicle

  • This next step is completely effortless BUT one of the most important steps to smoking good salmon. The salmon needs to form a pellicle. This is a slightly tacky layer that has a thin dry sheen to it like the flesh has been brushed with lacquer. This layer gives the smoke something to stick to.
  • Remove the salmon from the brine and carefully rinse with cool running water. Gently pat the fillet dry with paper towels, then lay it skin side down onto a platter or sheet pan long enough so that it lays completely flat. Leave the salmon uncovered and place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  • We typically dry our fillets in the refrigerator overnight for about 12 hours.

Step #4 Fire Up the Grill, But Watch The Temperature!

  • The salmon is smoked using a hot smoking process, but before firing up the grill or smoker, it’s important to know that when smoking salmon or fish of any kind, it is important to maintain a low constant temperature. The goal smoking temperature is between 150 and 200 degrees.
  • Light the charcoal chimney with about a dozen briquettes inside. It’s important to start with a small fire and work your way up if it’s not hot enough.
  • When the coals are ready, set the grill for indirect heat, by pouring the hot coals from the chimney into a charcoal basket or push them to one side of the grill. Throw a chunk of the cherry wood onto the coals.

Step #5 Smoke The Salmon

  • Place the grate on the grill. Preheat the grill to an ideal temperature of about 170 degrees. Add more charcoal to make the fire hotter, if needed. Having a hinged grate makes it easy to tend the fire and add wood.
  • Use a paper towel to add oil to the hot grate, then lay the cured and dried salmon fillet skin side down on the cool side of the grate.
  • Alternatively, you can use a perforated grilling tray that allows 360-degree smoke and heat penetration. This will ensure the salmon doesn’t stick. It’s also good to use if you smoke a salmon fillet without the skin.
  • Cover with the lid and smoke the salmon. Keep the temperature low and slow. Adding too much heat at once will cause a white albumin “bleed” on the surface of the meat. Albumin is a liquid protein in raw fish. When the fish is exposed to heat, the albumin coagulates and starts to solidify. As the meat cooks, the albumin squeezes out onto the surface of the meat. It’s pretty nasty looking, but this weird slimy white substance on the surface of the salmon is perfectly normal. Along with forming the pellicle, monitoring the temperature of the grill will help minimize the collection of albumin. A little bit is normal, but If you get a lot the salmon is not ruined. You can also brush it off when tending to the coals.
  • Smoke the salmon for about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add more coals and wood as needed. Spot-check the temperature of the salmon with an instant-read thermometer. At this point the fillet should be around 120 degrees F. Close the lid and continue to smoke for the remaining time checking the fish every 30 minutes.
  • For the last hour, use a silicone grilling brush to baste the salmon with honey. At this point, there is no need to add any more wood to the coals. Just maintain the low steady temperature.
  • The salmon is done with the meat flakes and the internal temperature of the salmon in the thickest part reaches 135 to 145 degrees F.
  • Remove the smoked salmon from the grill and serve.

Video

Notes

Allow the salmon to cool on a rack for at least one hour before putting it into the refrigerator. It will keep in an airtight container for 8 to 10 days.

Nutrition

Calories: 410kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 94mg | Sodium: 5323mg | Potassium: 881mg | Sugar: 44g | Vitamin A: 68IU | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 2mg
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1 thought on “Smoked Salmon With Honey Glaze – A How-To Guide”

  • Hi Debbie & David. Smoked salmon is staple in British Columbia. The Coast Salish people here also use maple to smoke their salmon, especially in Vancouver Island since we have a lot of maple trees there. And you’re right, wild salmon is the best. One of my friends is a fisherman so he always gets me some. Thank you for another detailed recipe. -Thinh

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