Charlies Secret Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe

Smoked salmon is one of the great joys of life! What beats that delicious smoky flavor and texture? In my opinion, one of the best kinds 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. My whole family is obsessed with the homemade version! Someone is always asking me to make it.

I love cold smoked salmon, 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 so I will cover the basics for you here. At the end of this post, there is also a recipe using fresh salmon.

Fresh fish for cold smoking salmon
Fresh salmon might not be the best for cold smoking

Can You Eat Cold Smoked Salmon?

Yes, you can eat cold smoked salmon. Cold smoked salmon piece is perfectly safe to eat straight out of the smoker, or packet.

What is Cold Smoked Salmon?

Cold smoked salmon is salmon that has been cured in salt and then ‘cooked’ using cold smoke. Cold smoking is when you smoke food at a temperature of between 68 to 86°F. Smoking salmon at a low temperature gives it an incredible smoky flavor.

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 Temperatures: Don’t let your smoker reach temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This will end up cooking the salmon and you will come away with a different result than desired.
  2. Is Cold Smoked Salmon Raw? Yep, it is still raw fish. Cold smoked salmon is technically still raw, however, curing allows you to eat it. This is because the highly saturated cure causes the proteins in the salmon to denature.
  3. The Necessary Equipment: For cold smoking (salmon or any other fresh fish/meat) you need a smoker that can be set up for cold smoking. Cold smoking can be done with any grill or smoker.

Do I need to cook cold smoked salmon?

Although technically cold smoked salmon is not cooked, you don’t need to cook it before eating. It is 100% safe to eat. The curing process takes care of all the nasty germs and harmful bacteria. However, you should always get the freshest high-quality sushi-grade salmon for cold smoked salmon.

Don’t have time to get to the store? How about ordering seafood online, check out our guide to the best online seafood stores to ensure you are getting the best product and service.

Fresh Salmon or Frozen Salmon for Smoked Salmon?

It may come as a surprise to you but frozen salmon is 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 cell membrane 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 cure to remove. The result is a much better texture.
Picking out Fresh Salmon at The Market

What Type Salmon Should I Use For Cold Smoking Salmon?

Now you know you should be using frozen salmon, what breed of salmon should you use? Choosing what salmon is very important. There are plenty of different breeds 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 higher oil content.

What is The Best Type of Salmon For Smoking

The best breed of salmon for smoking is sockeye salmon or King salmon (Chinook salmon). 

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

Why Smoke Salmon

Smoked salmon has a tonne of nutrient benefit. Salmon is a great source of protein, omega-3, vitamin D, vitamin B, magnesium and selenium. Although smoked salmon does not help lower cholesterol it does help increase your intake of good cholesterol.

How To Cold Smoke Salmon

SCold smoked salmon in strips ready for serving
Print Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe

This is a basic recipe for cold smoked salmon or Lox. It is a great recipe to use a base to work on your own secret recipe to make the fish taste perfect for your preference. Please feel free to swap out the cure ingredients with your own herbs and spices.
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time12 hrs
Cure Time2 d
Total Time2 d 13 hrs
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: seafood
Servings: 10
Calories: 200kcal
Author: Charlie
Cost: 40

Equipment

  • Smoker with the ability to cold smoke
  • glass dish or baking dish
  • paper towels
  • wire rack and sheet pan

Ingredients

  • 2 – 3 pounds salmon fillet fresh and from the head end if possible
  • cold water

Cure

  • 2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 3 cups Kosher salt or sea salt or enough to cover you salmon
  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds

Garnishes (optional but recommended)

  • brined capers Drained
  • brioche toast points or crackers Toasted or grilled
  • fresh dill Chopped
  • lemon Sliced
  • red onion Thinly sliced

Instructions

  • Place the salmon fillet on a flat surface flesh side up. If the salmon is not at room temperature, let sit for an hour or so for it to come to room temperature. Run your fingers overtop of the skin side of the salmon fillet and feel for the ends of any pin bones. Pull out any pin bones with a pair of tweezers by pulling the ends of the pin bones. Once all the pin bones have been removed, run your fingers over one more time to double check all pin bones have been removed. Clean the salmon fillet and make sure there is no muck on them
  • In a mixing bowl mix together the Kosher salt (or sea salt), black pepper, brown sugar crushed fennel seeds and garlic.
  • Place the salmon in a glass baking dish flesh side up. Ensure you place the salmon inside the dish so it has plenty of room and no filets are touching. Spread out 1/3 of the cure. Place 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, coating each salmon fillet completely with no gaps or holes.
  • Cover the dish completely with plastic wrap and place the salmon in the coolest part of your refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours to cure. For best results place a weight on top of your salmon while in the cure. 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 to help draw out moisture. The key with the cure is the longer, the better.
  • Place the salmon In a large bowl filled with 3 inches of cold water soak the fillets for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes drain well with lots of fresh cold water to remove any salt and muck.
  • Pat the salmon dry on both sides with paper towels then place the salmon skin side down, uncovered on a wire rack on top of a sheet pan to air dry. Place in the refrigerator and let air dry for around 4 hours. The fillets should feel a little sticky at this point. This is when the pellicle forms. Don't worry the salmon fillets will not stick to the wire rack.
  • Prepare your smoker for cold smoking as per your manufacturer's instructions. For this recipe I use a Masterbuilt gas grill. Remember cold smoking temperatures are important so ensure your temperatures never exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place the salmon in your smoker flesh side up. Let the salmon go through the smoking process until it feels leathery, firm and has a nice bronze color. This should take a minimum of 12 hours right up to 20 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, black pepper, capers, red onion, crusty bread and a squeeze of lemon juice. If you are feeling fancy a garnish of teaspoon of lemon zest will also

Its as simple as that. Cold smoked salmon or ‘Lox’ I know your family and friends are going to absolutely love you for this one!

Do you have any some life changing cold or hot smoked salmon recipes I need to try? Id love to hear them!

Happy Smoking everyone,

Charlie

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39 thoughts on “Charlies Secret Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe”

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

  2. 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. Thank you.

    1. 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!

  3. 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?

    1. Hiya Fatima,

      Thank you 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!

      Charlie

      1. Hey Charlie, I think in the recipe box, you meant to label the Brine as the Cure? Confused me at first (ignore my initial comment ;-). Or one of the brine or the cure ingredients are missing from the recipe box. Thx

  4. 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!

  5. Charlie,
    I live in the Pacific NW along the Columbia river, and have hot smoked my fair share of salmon using a dry brine, 2 lbs dark brown sugar, 1 cup canning salt, 12 – 15 cloves of garlic, pressed. Letting this sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then rinse and allow to air dry till the sticky.
    My question is, would this dry brine be good for a cold smoke. or would you recommend using the wet brine first then the dry? If so why?

    1. Hiya Dave!
      I haven’t used a dry brine with that amount of sugar before. So, I have asked my mate Lance over at H.Foreman & Sons (these guys are kings at hot smoked) what his thoughts were on whether this dry brine would be ok for a cold smoke or not. Ill get back to you as soon as I hear

  6. Charlie, I was a little skeptical at first thinking it might be to dry and too salty after all the steps but my first run came out stellar. The flesh firms up just perfect, it’s still decadent and almost buttery smooth but not falling apart, with a wonderful concentration of flavor. And almost translucent but with a beautiful salmon hue. No other approach I have tried has given me that “Russ & Daughters” (or high-end quality smoked salmon) result. I also added a little fresh Fennel Seed, coriander seed and cumin seed, in the brine and a touch of them freshly ground in the cure as I use them in many of my dry rubs. The wood was mostly apple and cherry, but there was some white oak, hickory and mesquite mixed in because I have it around and was using up all the small stuff as I went. Its been a month since I did the last batch and I’m getting ready to do another right now. In a mid life crisis I taught myself to weld and I built a couple big smokers (Franklin-clones) as well as my son and I fish and spear fish but the only thing I can get one of my daughters to eat in the way of smoked and seafood is cold smoked salmon. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and approach.

    1. Hiya Ryan!

      I am sooo stoked that it came up to Russ & Daughters standards!!! Love the spice blend as well, I am going to add fennel and cumin in my next one as well. Gooooosh the only stopping me for eating seafood for every meal is my wallet, haha!

      If your keen I would love to feature some of your homemade smokers, send them over to charlie@simplymeatsmoking.com (only if you want too!)

      Charlie

      1. I would be glad to, I’ll get some pictures together and sent them to that address. Just so you know, they are called “UglyPits”, and there is a reason for that. So you might want to have a beer or three before looking at the pictures. They are offset stick-burners designed to cook brisket with only the cleanest smoke with an insulated firebox to maintain a consistent temperature. No frills and sturdy.

    1. Hiya Adam,

      Good question!!! I do both for smoked salmon. You will find that brining is a form of curing (sitting it in a saltwater solution) then the cure is a mixture of ingredients to add flavour, usually with smoke salmon that mixture is brown sugar and salt. If your doing a Nordic salmon or also called gravlax you also include looots of dill!

      My mom has an awesome cure she does for Christmas which has beetroot and gin!! Shw wont let me share her recipe, here a pretty close one! https://www.olivemagazine.com/recipes/fish-and-seafood/beetroot-and-gin-cured-salmon/

      Let me know your thoughts on that one! 🙂

      Have an awesome Sunday!!

  7. I just got back from Europe and fell in love with cold smoked salmon again as they eat it everywhere. I am giving this a try but I have to admit a brine and then a sugar/salt cure seems like a ton.
    Either way I was just doing the cure stage before so this should be cool.

    1. I know!! Especially the Nordic, I love their open face smoked salmon sandwiches!! Let me know how you go cold smoking the salmon and what ratios you used, love hearing other ideas 🙂

      Charlie

  8. Great cold smoked salmon recipe there charlie. I am going to need to try this for my daughters birthday next week she loves salmon!

  9. Hi Charlie,
    Your recipe is mouth watering. I froze the salmon my husband caught, thawed the pieces and put them in the brine for about 8 hours. Then I prepared the cure and covered the salmon and stuck it in the fridge overnight. I was going to let it cure for 48 hours but this morning when I opened the fridge all the cure is now liquid. Is that suppose to happen? Should I remove it and repeat the process with more cure before cold smoking?
    Christine

    1. Yes, that is supposed to happen! The liquid shows the cure is working – the salt pulls moisture out of the salmon.

  10. Thank you for the detailed recipe, and reasonings for many steps!

    A minor typo: “make sure your not leaking” should be “make sure you’re not leaking”.

    1. No worries Stan!! We are glad it was helpful!! but more importantly was it delicious?? Did you make it for TG? Ohh thank you I fix that typo up now!

      Cheers,

      Charlie 🙂

  11. Hey Charlie,just getting ready to cold smoke some salmon,so brine ,then cure,does it matter if you use brown sugar or white sugar for the cure,also I want to add nova scotia maple syrup and some maybe single malt scotch or good rum for flavor,when would be the time to do this, tks much Steve.

    1. Hiya Steve,
      I would definitely go for the brown sugar! Adding the maple syrup and scotch sound incredible (I want to hear how it was!!) I would add these two to the cure as this is when your adding the flavours. Let me know how you go! Ive got a group going for everyone to share their deeeeelious cooks love if you want to add in a pic of your salmon!

      !https://www.facebook.com/groups/simplymeatsmoking/

      Cheers,

      Charlie

  12. Hi Charlie,
    If using frozen salmon can you freeze again after brining, curing and smoking?
    Would you follow the same rules if smoking a piece of haddock for example?

    1. Hey Sandy! Yep you definitely can refreeze it once you have smoked the salmon! Nice work freezing it first I find that salmon takes the brine better if it’s frozen first! That is because it becomes more porous which in turn lets the salmon absorb both the brine and the smoke flavor better.
      Just make sure it’s not freezer burned! Let me know how you go with it!

  13. Hello! Thank you for the the recipe and tips!
    At what point do you know if it is smoked enough? I see a minimum of 10 hours, but do you take the temperature?
    Also for the cure, no quick tender, just salt and sugar, right?

    1. 5 stars
      Hi William!! No worries at all 🙂 I don’t take the temp I also just make sure it goes for at least the 10 hours! Yepp just the salt and sugar mate! Let me know how you go!!

  14. 5 stars
    Hi Charlie awesome recipe, after smoking do I leave skin on , I’m thinking cryvac the Salmon , skin on or off.
    Regards Emanuel

  15. Hey Charlie,

    Just curious, why did you remove the brining section? Isn’t that the step you said you noever omitted?

    1. Hey Dano! Thank you for asking mate, Ive been doing some testing with all this extra time at home and found some better results without the brining, were you thinking of giving it a go?

  16. Charlie,

    I brined my first two batches. Then on the 3rd batch I didn’t have time so i skipped the brine. I didnt notice much difference in the end product so i ditched brining, and have been curing only ever since.

    Another one for you, what controls the shiny appearance of the final product? I cant seem to get a consistent shine going. Some of my fish appear dull. I think its in the pellicle process?

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