How to Smoke Salmon Fillets

The most simple method for great results

Most people who have a smoker at some stage wonder how to smoke salmon. The mellow to rich taste of salmon and the chunky flakes of the meat lend this excellent fish to the BBQ smoker process well.

If you don’t have a barbecue smoker, a barbecue grill with a lid is the next best thing - using a modified version of indirect grilling.

It can also be grilled, broiled, poached and cooked in various other ways if you are inclined to try them.

Salmon grills quickly and it is easy to see when it is cooked – when the flesh becomes flaky during cooking it is done. There is also a subtle change in color that gives it away.


  • 1 fillet per person - 4 to 6 fillets say
  • 1 cup of dark or navy rum, bourbon or a peaty scotch whiskey like Laphroag
  • Suitable BBQ wood

How to Prepare Your Salmon for Smoking

A whole salmon may be ready prepared by a fishmonger or at the supermarket. If you need to do it yourself, be warned, it's messy for sure!

  • Remove the head, tail and fins, and guts.
  • The scales need to be removed by scraping the dull edge of the knife along the body in an against the grain fashion.
  • Wash it inside and out and get all traces of guts and scales out of there.
  • Next split the salmon length ways along one side of the spine. The spine can be removed altogether by cutting along the other side of it.
  • If need be cut the now filleted salmon into smaller portion sizes.

This is so messy and time consuming that I would suggest just buying salmon fillets instead. Get fresh if you can, but I can't say frozen isn't equally good.

Fillets are effectively ready prepared and can optionally be brined, or smoked as they are. The only preparation I do is to run the blunt side of a knife over them to squeeze any remaining bones out. Be gentle though, the flesh is delicate.

how to smoke salmon

Next marinate it. I suppose this is optional, but it does make a big difference to the flavor. Rinse the fillets under a tap, put them in a suitable dish and pour over a cup or so of rum, bourbon or scotch. Let it stand for 20 to 30 minutes, but no longer.

In the meantime, put your wood chips in to soak, and light your charcoal.

Whether you have brined or not prepare your charcoal and select your BBQ smoking wood or woodchips. Cherry is my favorite, but apple is great also. Pear, peach and pecan are good as well, if you can get hold of them.

In the Northwest United States, alder is considered best. Oak or hickory are fine, but use them sparingly as they have a stronger taste more suited to meat than fish. Skip mesquite altogether, it’s just too much for fish.

how to smoke salmon

After marination, rinse the fillets briefly and pat them dry with a paper towels. On to smoking.

How to Smoke Salmon

how to smoke salmon

The cooking method is obviously smoking, and this can be set up as in the picture above, which is pretty much the same set up as indirect grilling.

There is a pan of water below the salmon, and the coals are to one side of the food. You could add a couple of slices of lemon to the water.

A smoker box with your choice of wood chips can be placed on top of the charcoal.

Once the wood is decided on and a couple of handfuls of the chips are soaking, return your attention to the charcoal.

When it stops smoking, and is covered in a film of ash adjust the vents and try to get the temperature down to between 150F and 200F. Maintain the temperature within this ball park for the duration.

Put the soaked wood chips in your smoke box, put the fillets on the rack and shut the lid.

How to Tell When Your BBQ Smoked Salmon is Ready

When 20 minutes has elapsed test whether the fish has become flaky – raw fish has a slight translucence to it, which should now be replaced by opaqueness. if not try it again in 5 top 10 minutes.

Serve it straight away or let it cool for later.

If you enjoyed learning how to smoke salmon, try trout or any other filleted fish using the same method sometime as well.

What to Serve With Smoked Salmon

how to smoke salmon

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