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 pair of needle nose pliers or fish tweezers.
Step #2 Brine the Salmon
In a small bowl, mix all the brine ingredients 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 pushing them to one side of the grill. Throw a chunk or handful of wood chips 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.
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.
Did you try this recipe? Tell us what you think!Give this recipe a star rating, leave a comment below and share pictures of your food with us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter! We can't wait to see them! Don't forget to mention @TheMountainKitchen or tag #TheMountainKitchen!
Thanks for visiting TheMountainKitchen.com We hope you like this recipe. Please share your thoughts about this recipe with us!