The Secret To Cold Smoked Salmon (Its Actually Not That Hard) [April 2019] - Simply Meat Smoking

The Secret To Cold Smoked Salmon (Its Actually Not That Hard) [April 2019]

Smoked salmon is one of the great joys of life! In my opinion, one of the best types of smoked salmon is cold smoked salmon.

It is the perfect accompaniment to a platter, great with eggs benedict or just fantastic on a cracker with cream cheese.

The possibilities are endless and I am yet to come across a combination that I don’t like.

The process of cold smoking salmon is actually surprisingly easy and is something that I wish that I had come across earlier in my smoking career. 

Picking out Fresh Salmon at The Market

Cold smoked salmon has now become something that my whole family is obsessed with.

Someone is always asking me to make it.

I love creating it, but it does take time, a little bit of know-how and a couple of special pieces of equipment.

I often get asked a lot of questions about how to cold smoke salmon and just the basics of smoking salmon in general.

In This Article I Will Cover

The Basics of Cold Smoked Salmon

There are a few things about cold smoking salmon that you should know before you start:

  • 1
    Closely Watch Your Temps: Don' t let your smoker reach a temperature of over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This will end up cooking the salmon and you will come away with a different result than desired. 
  • 2
    Yep, Its Still Raw Fish: Cold smoked salmon is technically still raw, however, the curing process allows you to eat it. This is because the highly saturated brine causes the proteins in the salmon to denature. 
  • 3
    The Necessary Equipment: To cold smoke salmon (or any other fish) you need a smoker that can be set up for cold smoking. Unfortunately, this means you lot out there with a charcoal smoker or wood smoker you will have to head over to your friend's house who has a cold smoker. 

Note: You can also build your own cold smoker out of your gas or charcoal grills.

​Should I Be Using Fresh or Frozen Salmon?

It may come as a surprise to you but frozen salmon is actually better to smoke with than fresh. This is because the freezing process does two things:

  • Kills Any Parasites: Salmon can have harmful parasites throughout the fillets. The best way to kill the parasites is to deep freeze them at -10 degrees.
  • Ruptures the Cell Membranes: During the freezing process, the liquid inside the cells expands. This puts more pressure on the cell walls and causes ruptures. 

Once the walls have been ruptured and the salmon starts to thaw, the liquid from inside the fillets drains from the flesh. This means there is less water for the brine to remove.

What Type Salmon Should I Use For Cold Smoking Salmon?

Now you know you should be using frozen salmon, what kind of salmon should you use?

​Choosing your salmon is very important. There are plenty of different kinds of salmon out there, but what one is right for smoking?

​Each different ​type of salmon has different oil levels. You will get a better smoke out of salmon with a higher oil content.

The Best Type of Salmon for Smoking

Sockeye salmon, King salmon (Chinook salmon).

It is not imperative that you use one of these cuts, however, for you seafood lovers out there it will be well worth it!

How Do I Prepare Salmon For Cold Smoking?

2 fillets of salmon ready to be cold smoked
  • 1
    Scale Your Salmon: To scale the salmon run the backside of a knife over the skin and rub up and down to de-scale the skin. Rinse to get all scales off and repeat as needed.
  • 2
    De-Bone: To de-bone the salmon, you will need a pair of needle nose pliers. It is possible to do this by hand but it is much, much harder. To find the bones, run your hand down the fillet and when you find a bone pull firmly with a pair of needle nose pliers to remove. The bones are evenly spaces running the length of your fillet from head to tail. I usually double check a second time after finishing to make sure I have got every last bone! 
  • 3
    Cutting The Salmon: If you have a large smoker, leaving the fillet whole is ideal, however, for smaller smokers, I recommend cutting into chunks. Either way, make sure you leave the skin to prevent the fillet from falling to pieces. Each cut or fillet of salmon is slightly different in size and thickness. The bigger the fleet the longer it will need to brine and smoke. This is because there is more flesh for the brine and smoke to get through. You can speed up the process by making scores into the fillets. Be sure not to score the flesh too deeply.

How To Brine Salmon Fillets

The brine is a very important part. It is a very delicate process and one that you should take a lot of care while doing. Essentially, the better you brine - The better your final result will be.

Here are some of my top tips to remember when brining your salmon:

  • You must make sure that the brine is over 35 degrees and under 40 degrees. This is because if it is to warm it will allow bacteria to grow, too cold and the brining reaction time will be slowed down too much.
  • When brining it is important to let it sit for at least 6 hours for smaller pieces and up to 12 hours for larger pieces. If the fillet is fresh or frozen will also play a big role in how long to brine. If the fillet is fresh, it will need more brining time than frozen.
  • check
    Once the fillet has finished brining, any excess salt will need to be removed. To do this you need to rinse the fillet in fresh water for at least 20 minutes. This can be done by running the fillet under cold water while sitting in a container. Periodically agitate the salmon to ensure all of the salt has been removed.
  • check
    Take care and be gentle with the salmon while agitating it, it is very delicate and can be broken up very easily. 
  • check
    If you are feeling game, take a thin slice of the salmon fillet at this stage and check for saltiness. If it is too salty let it sit in the fresh water for a further 10 – 15 minutes. 
    If raw salmon is not quite your thing, heat in the microwave for a minute before tasting.)
  • For every 2 quarts of water, use about 2/3 cup each of salt, white sugar and brown sugar, which is enough for up to 4 pounds of salmon

What Is The Curing Process For Salmon?

The curing process is another long process. To cure your salmon evenly spread 1/3 of your cure in a glass baking dish that is slightly larger than your fillet/ fillets. Lay out your salmon pieces (give yourself a buffer between the salmon and the edge by around 1/2 inch).

stored your remaining cure overtop and make sure there are no gaps and everything is covered completely.

You are going to want to keep your salmon covered in the refrigerator for at the very least 12 hours.

24 - 48 hours is ideal. You will get a much better result the longer you let the salmon cure for. 

The Secret To Cold Smoked Salmon (Its Actually Not That Hard) [April 2019] 1

While the salmon is curing it is the perfect time to add additional herbs or spices. This will give the salmon a more in depth flavor and also a more interesting appearance.

Over the curing period, the salt that remains in the salmon will evenly distribute throughout the fillet. This will stop the fillet from having a salty center.

At this stage the proteins in the salmon will start to bind together, this will start to dehydrate the salmon. Which makes the salmon perfect for adding to the smoker. 

What is Pellicle Formation?

Now, the pellicle starts to form.

The pellicle is a very thin layer of dry proteins that were liquified during the brining process. You can tell when the pellicle layer has been formed because you will see a glossy, clear coating over the entire fillet.

The pellicle is essential because it stops large amounts of liquid from escaping from the salmon as it smokes.

​Charlie's Hot (Smoking) Tip

​Not only do I love cold smoked salmon, I also love hot smoked salmon! I find that due to flavour you need for smoked salmon, you need to make sure your not leaking ANY smoke! 

I would recommend using a smoker that holds it heat aswell. I usually use my Camp Chef Smokepro Lux for this hot smoked succulent treat! This smoker is apart my  pellet grill reviews,  I thought it was that good I had to make it apart of it!

How To Cold Smoke Salmon (My Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe)

Finally, we are ready for the smoking!

Remove your salmon from the refrigerator and wash off any excess cure.

When smoking it's important to have a good amount of space around each fillet. This will ensure that there is good smoke circulation and all pieces are smoked evenly. Also try to have each piece of the salmon evenly spaced from the front, back and sides.

Depending on the size and the number of fillets in the smoker, the actual smoking process should take around 10 – 20 hours. Keeping in mind larger/ thicker pieces will take longer than smaller pieces. If the smoker has more inside of, it will also take longer to smoke.

During the smoking process, the fillet will become more firm and look drier. The longer the fillet is smoked for the more intense the smoke flavor will be.

Once smoked the salmon is smoked I like to eat it right away. However, the best way to store it (if you can wait that long to eat it) is to vacuum seal it. It will last for several months unopened. Or if you would prefer to freeze it will last for up to 1 year.

My Favourite Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe

This is a basic cold smoked salmon recipe. It is a great recipe to use a base to work on your own secret recipe. Please feel free to swap out different ingredients for your own or add in slightly different amounts of the brine ingredients to make it your own.
Total Time3 d 8 hrs
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: seafood
Servings: 10
Author: Charlie


  • 2 - 3 pounds salmon fillet fresh and from the head end if possible

Brine (optional but recommended)

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or molasses
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups coarse sea salt
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 2 whole bay leaves

Garnishes (optional but recommended)

  • Brined capers Drained
  • Brioche toast points or crackers Toasted or grilled
  • Fresh dill Chopped
  • Lemons Sliced
  • Red onion Thinly sliced


  • Running your fingers overtop of the skin side of the samon fillets and feel for any bones. Pull out any bones with a pair of tweezers. Once all the bones have been removed, run your fingers over one more time to double check all bones have been removed.
  • Combine your brine ingredients into a large deep pot and heat on medium heat until a gentle boil has been reached. Once boiling simmer for 5 minutes and then turn off. Cover to let cool to room temperature. Once at room temperature try to balance a boiled egg in the brine. If it sinks, slowly mix a further ¼ cup of salt into the brine until it floats. Once the right salt level has been reached refrigerate until 40 degrees or less.
  • Once the brine has come to temperature brine the salmon, cover and set in the refrigerator for 6 – 12 hours.
  • Once brined, rinse the salmon with plenty of fresh, cold water to clear out any access salt.
  • In a mixing bowl mix together the salt and brown sugar.
  • In a glass baking dish slightly larger than the fillets, spread out 1/3 of the cure. Lay the salmon fillets on top of the cure making sure that the cure extends around ½ inch from each side of the salmon. Spread the remaining cure on the top side of the salmon, making sure that the fillet is covered completely.
  • Cover the dish completely with plastic wrap and place the coolest part of your refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours to cure. For best results place a weight on top of your curing salmon. I recommend something like a pie dish or a baking tray with a couple of cans of food. You are looking for around 1 - 1.5 pounds of weight.   The key here is the longer the better.
  • After curing, gently rinse the salmon under cold running water. In a large bowl filled with 3 inches of water soak the fillets for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes drain well in a colander.
  • Dry the fillets on both sides with a paper towel then arrange them skin side down uncovered on a wire rack to air dry. Pop in the refrigerator and let air dry for around 4 hours. The fillets should feel a little sticky at this point.
  • Prepare your smoker for cold smoking as per your manufacturer's instructions.
  • Place in your smoker and smoke until the salmon feels leathery, firm and has a nice bronze color. This should take a minimum of 10 hours.
  • Before serving wrap the salmon in butcher/ baking paper and rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours. Ideally leave overnight.
  • Diagonally cut thin (or thick depending on your preference) slices with a very sharp knife and garnish with lots of fresh dill, lemon slices, capers, red onion and crusty bread or crackers.

​Charlie's ​Tasty Tip

I​f your family isn't too keen on ​fish, ​how about chicken?  Chicken is a safe option that always comes out absolute delicious in the smoker!

​However, chicken can be fickle! Overdone it can be like cardboard! So I always get asked  by my friends ​how I smoke wings . These bad boys are sweet, spicy & smoky, no one at my cookouts can resist them!

Final Thoughts

There you have it, cold smoked salmon.

Its as simple as that.

I know your family and friends are going to absolutely love you for this one!

Do you have a different way to cold smoke salmon? Or have some life changing cold smoked salmon recipes I need to try?

I would love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Smoking everyone,


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About the Author Charlie

You will more often than not find me tinkering around in my backyard. I will have one hand tightly gripped around a can of beer and the other hand tightly gripped around my spatula. Not so long ago (almost 8 years now) I got obsessed with Grilling, smoking and BBQ-ing. I can't get enough of it.. and neither can my family!

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Leave a Comment:

Laura Albers says December 13, 2018

Wow! Amazing! Thank you!!

KnightWASP says January 18, 2019

Thanks for the recipe! Can you add how much water for the brine? It took me a bit to get the salt mixture correct.

    Charlie says January 22, 2019

    Hiya, all done there had to be something I was missing. Happy smoking!

Eric says January 21, 2019

Confused. Your article says to brine and then cure on a rack in the fridge. However the recipe says to brine and then cure again with more salt and sugar in a glass baking dish. Seems like you would use one or the other curing methods but not both. Anxious to try but looking for clarification. Thanks.

    Charlie says January 22, 2019

    Hiya Eric, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have updated this. I recommend going with the glass baking dish method. Happy (salmon) smoking!

Mitch says February 1, 2019

How much salt and brown sugar for the cure

    Charlie says February 2, 2019

    Hiya Mitch, you are looking at around 1 1/2 – 2 cups of sugar and 3/4 – 1 1/4 cups of salt for the cure. I have just noticed I don’t have any cure in the recipe I will update this shortly!

Fatima Khan says February 3, 2019

Hi Charlie, I had a quick question, I’ve seen a few videos on cold smoking salmon with a smoking gun (like the breville one), basically it’s the same process as you’ve stated but when it comes to infusing the “smoke” the gun does it while the fish is in a resealable plastic bag. And it’s only 15 minutes. I don’t have a cold smoker, just the gun and was wondering if that could work?

    Charlie says April 17, 2019

    Hiya Fatima,

    Thanks for the great question!! With the smoking gun you are only adding flavour so it unfortunately it wouldn’t cook your fish. I would try steaming the fish first to achieve a neutral flavour then use the smoking gun.

    Let me know how you go!


deb says March 10, 2019

since it seems like you tried to be very thorough, i thought i’d point out that i think you left out the cure in the recipe. you have salt and brown sugar in the marinade but nothing is listed for the cure.
just a heads up… great info tho!

firtuklo imutrzas says April 6, 2019

I am glad to be a visitant of this staring website! , thanks for this rare info ! .

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