Jump to content

"Traditional" Smoked Salmon and Trout

Recommended Posts

Steve, we have hot smoked mackerel a fair bit, I'm lucky that is have a nice spot to catch them from whilst visiting Scotland so I tend to fill the freezer when I can.  I give them a quick dunk in a basic brine and then often cook them whole and horizontal in a snowbee type hot smoker (metal box with grill you put sawdust in and place on heat source).  I'm not sure if temps and time as its a bit of a 'suck it and see' process but they get smoked/cooked quickly over fairly high heat from a gas barbie, then served still hot.  There's no exact science to how I do it, but the wife and kids love it.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

You are looking to dry them as well as smoke them. 

If the heads are already off then fillet them.
After you have brined them (as above) let them dry for 3-4 hours uncovered in the fridge.
At this point if you want to pepper them, sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper over the flesh side of the fillets.
Cold smoke at ~20-25 C for 4-6 hours.
Hot smoke them at 80 C for 2-3 hours until the skin has become wrinkly and a golden colour
Allow to cool and vac pack. 

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...
On 7/31/2017 at 3:13 PM, Wade said:

Smoked Salmon and Trout is one of the products that I produce in reasonable quantity in the Smokery. It has a fairly short shelf life (~10 days in the fridge) ans do must be produced on a regular basis. Smoked salmon can be frozen for longer storage but does eventually start to lose some of its texture whilst frozen.
I regularly get texts from local fishermen at the end of a weekend asking if I will smoke their catch for them. The smoking process takes about 2 days in total and turns the results of their day of sport into something very special to eat.

Making "traditional" smoked salmon and trout is quite straightforward and can be easily done in a home smoker. Bullet smokers are ideal for cold smoking multiple fish however individual fish can be smoked quite easily in most kettle BBQs.

What is "traditional" smoked salmon?

It is when the salmon is preserved in times of plenty for eating later when food is scarce using of a combination salt, smoke and drying as the cure. Historically the resulting salmon would have been expected to last for weeks or months and would have ended up being very salty and much drier than today's smoked salmon. It would probably have need to have been soaked to remove some of the salt before it was eaten.
Today though the smoked salmon we are used to buying is much less salty, but it does only have a chilled shelf life of about 10 days. 

What do we mean when we say we are "curing" salmon or trout?

We are altering the fish flesh in order to slow the growth of spoilage bacteria so that it is safe to eat over a longer period of time.This is achieved by using a combination of three different ways to control bacteria spoilage.

  1. Addition of salt. By increasing the salt concentration the bacteria cells are dehydrated through osmosis and the bacteria are killed or their growth is inhibited.
  2. Removal of available water. Bacteria need available water in order to grow and multiply. During the curing process we will be removing water that is between 15-18% of the original weight of the fish. This gives the smoked salmon its traditional translucent appearance and oily texture.
  3. Addition of smoke. Wood smoke contain a number of substances that inhibit bacterial growth and it can act as an effective anti bacterial in sufficient quantity. Sufficient smoke to do this alone would be unpalatable and so in today's traditional smoked salmon it is predominantly there for flavour.

Do we need Nitrite when curing Salmon?

No we don't. Nitrite and Nitrate are primarily used to control the growth of bacteria spores (e.g. Clostridium botulinum). as the smoked salmon we are producing has a chilled shelf life of about 10 days these are not a problem here.

Step 1 - Preparing the salmon

When I get caught salmon delivered to my door from local fishermen it is whole, ungutted and is in bags.


Salmon bought from the local fishmonger comes looking much less daunting. It is important that you use the freshest possible fish when making smoked salmon so before you buy, ensure that the eyes still look clear and bright and that the gills are still a deep crimson colour


Salmon Whole.jpg

First the head needs to be removed. When doing this it is important to keep the bony gill collar in place on the body of the fish as this will help support it while it is smoking.


The fish then needs to be "split". This is similar to filleting - however the rib cage and pin bones are left attached to the fillets during the curing and smoking process.

Using a sharp knife cut along the backbone from the head end down the length of the fish - cutting through the rib bones at the top and then filleting as you move towards the tail. Repeat on the other side so that you end up with the two split sides and a backbone with the tail attached.


If the salmon is large then you can optionally cut away a couple of disks of the skin to allow easier drying. Smaller fish, like trout, do not need to have disks cut.

Wash the salmon sides under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen towel

Step 2 - Curing the salmon

The cure I use regularly consists of 50% salt and 50% sugar by weight. These ratios can be adjusted but the salt should always be at least 50%

  • Salt. This can be any non iodised salt. Fine cooking salt works well and I often use this. I also use course sea salt, which you can see in the photos below.
  • Sugar. I use standard granulated white sugar. Different sugars can be used but these will affect the colour and flavour of the resulting smoked salmon.

Mix the salt and sugar together well in a bowl and sprinkle on both the skin and flesh sides of each fish split. You should have more of the cure mid at the thicker head end of the fish and gradually reduce it towards the tail. With the fine salt you will see an even layer of white salt ans sugar on the fish but with the coarse salt (below) it is more difficult to see.


Place the salted splits on top of a wire cooling rack in a tray. The action of the salt will pull water out of the fish and it will drop into the tay below as brine. The cooling racks help keep the bottom fish out of the brine and prevent it from becoming too salty.


Salmon can be stacked up to 2 sides high for curing and smaller fish can be stacked up to 3 sides high

Cover in clingfilm and place in the fridge. For large salmon fillets allow 18 hours but smaller trout will only need 12 hours.


If you do not have room in the fridge for one of the large trays then you can use a standard roasting tray with a wire cooling rack placed over the top.


During the curing process the brine will fall to the bottom of the tray. The amount shown below was from 2 whole salmon (4 sides)


Once cured for the required time the fish should be washed well under cold running water and then patted dry with kitchen paper. You will notice that the fish will have turned a deeper orange colour and has become much firmer in texture.

Step 3 - Preparing for smoking

If using a smaller kettle smoker, or if using a cardboard box, the fish can be laid skin side up on a wire cooling rack inside the smoker. If using a bullet smoker or larger custom cold smoker then it is best to hang the sides vertically. To do this it is best to string them ans support them with a skewer.

You will need some non fiberous string (I use butcher string) some metal skewers and a large sack needle. If you do not have a sack needle then you can use the point of a small sharp knife to make the hole for the skin.


Using the needle thread a length of string through the fish side just underneath the bony collar. 


Tie the two ends of the string together to make a loop.


Push the skewer through the flesh of the fish underneath the bony collar but above the string loops. 


This will give the salmon sides plenty of support while they are smoked.

Leave the prepared salmon sides in the fridge, uncovered, for an hour to allow a pellicle (slightly sticky surface) to form.

Step 4 - Smoking

The salmon should then be placed in the smoker and left to smoke at between 20-24 C (the temperature of a nice warm summer day) for 24 hours.

I mostly use hickory when smoking salmon as it gives a nice sweet flavour, but Oak and most fruit woods are good for smoking fish too.


Whilst smoking it is essential that you maintain a good air flow through the smoking chamber. This ensures that the salmon continues to lose moisture as it is smoking.

Once it has finished smoking the salmon should be a nice shiny orange colour and will be quite stiff. 


Step 5 - Slicing the salmon

Remove the skewer and string and with a sharp knife remove any fins. When removing find cut around any small bones attached to the fins.

Cut away the bony collar removing as little meat as possible.

Using a sharp round ended knife slip the tip under the rib cage bones and gently cut along the ribs removing them completely.

The salmon in the photos below has has fresh fennel added to the cure for flavour.


Using a pair of pliers remove the pin bones along the centre of the salmon. The pin bones are usually easier to remove once the salmon has been cured.


Starting slicing at the tail of the salmon using  ~3mm thick slices


When the whole length of the salmon has been sliced, fold the slices back to their original position and remove them from the skin using a sharp knife.



Just completed following your method above Wade. I’ve always shied away from smoking in ‘warmer’ Weather but I’ve just averaged 22C in my cold smoker and the result is amazing. Obviously the water loss is significant. I didn’t do a weigh in as it was just an off the cuff cure and smoke but based on your method. Final result? Stiff as a board. I’ve always thought this is how it should be but never attained it before. Very pleased ! Now in the fridge awaiting its first tasting. 

Many thanks ??


  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

That is great Steve. What you can now do is tweak the process to suit your preferences. If you find the tail a little dry then add less salt there. You can also tweak the time in the smoker to get it just the way you like it. 

How did it slice and taste?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Wade. Well. I only got around to slicing it today. But. Completely different to my normal efforts. Evidently I’ve achieved a much higher weight loss than usual judging by the more oily finish. Also it was a hell of a lot stiffer but not dry. The finished product was very moist and the flavour far more intensified than what I normally get, but in a good way - I like to taste my smoked salmon. Having doubled my normal smoke time to 24 hrs I was surprised to find that it wasn’t overpowering, even having used a mix of oak and hickory. So overall it’s a thumbs up from me, in fact it is my best ever!  

The only downside would be presentation. I can usually slice pretty neatly but this one decided it wanted to break up from about half way down each slice. As you may be able to see in the pic. I will definitely be doing more in this way though  


Edited by Steve Harford
  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, Steve Harford said:

The only downside would be presentation. I can usually slice pretty neatly but this one decided it wanted to break up from about half way down each slice. As you may be able to see in the pic. I will definitely be doing more in this way though  


Yes, I can see where the fish is crumbling. I have seen this before when I have smoked catch from local fisherman and also some supermarket counter pre-filleted salmon - and it was down to the freshness of the fish. It may or may not be the case with yours as I do not know where you got the salmon from. 

With the locally caught fish it was caused by the fish having remained un-gutted for too long after it had been caught - sometimes up to a couple of days!. I now refuse to smoke local fish unless I get assurance that it was gutted and chilled within a few hours of being landed

With the supermarket counter fish it often depends on the size of the supermarket store as to how fresh the fish you are buying actually is. Smaller stores tend to have a slow turnover for some fish and it can remain for a couple of days on the counter - and it could already have taken several days to reach the store. This is not usually a problem when you are just cooking the fish but it can degrade the meat texture when it is cured and smoked. 
Some general rules to consider when buying supermarket fish to cure/smoke

  • Unless there is a general promotion do not but any fish that has been reduced as it will most likely have been hanging around for a while and they are trying to shift it quickly.
  • I will usually only buy whole fish and then fillet/split it myself as you can then tell how fresh the fish is by looking at the brightness of its eyes and the colour of its gills. If the eyes are starting to cloud or the gills have lost their bright pink or red/crimson colour then it is past its best. If the gills are dull or grey then do not buy it.
  • If you do buy pre filleted fish then try bending it backwards a little. If the fish begins to split and the flesh layers start to pull apart then it is another good indication that the fish is not fresh.
  • When you get it home get it in the fridge as quickly as possible and cure it the same day it was bought. If you cannot cure it within 12-24 hours then place it in a sealed bag (or vac pack it) and pop it in the freezer until you can.

I have tried most of my local supermarket chains and the one I have found that consistently has the freshest whole salmon is ASDA. They sell them individually packed in clear bags on their fresh fish counter and so far I have never seen one that has not had clear bright eyes  and bright gills.

Another thing that does help to keep the slices thin and clean is to use a very sharp knife that is designed for salmon or ham carving. You can see the one I use in the original thread photos but here is a less expensive option (Salmon Carving Knife). Also take a look in your local T. K. Max (other discount stores are available) as they often have these types of knives at a reasonable price.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 years later...

You can use clingfilm, however that isn't air tight and you will find that the frozen food still develops freezer-burn as it loses water through water sublimation. A better solution would be to use zip lock freezer bags with as much of the air removed as possible.

I understand what you mean about having "another gadget" if space is tight. Side suck vacuum sealers are inexpensive though and have a lot of uses around the kitchen. They can significantly increase the shelf life of some foods too as they remove the air/oxygen from around the food, inhibiting bacterial growth.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Wade

I've been cold smoking salmon for a few years and only cure for around 9 hours is there a reason why I should increase this time?, depending on the size/thickness of the fish I will cover with more or less salt, I then wash off and leave to dry to get the pellicle before smoking.

Is it an issue of food safety that you cure for 18 hours? And don't you find it a little salty (probably subjective!)

I have to admit that I have never weighed the sides before and after so have no idea whether they have lost the 15% required!

Many thanks

Peter S

Link to post
Share on other sites


2 hours ago, Ped said:

Hi Wade

I've been cold smoking salmon for a few years and only cure for around 9 hours is there a reason why I should increase this time?, depending on the size/thickness of the fish I will cover with more or less salt, I then wash off and leave to dry to get the pellicle before smoking.

Is it an issue of food safety that you cure for 18 hours? And don't you find it a little salty (probably subjective!)

I have to admit that I have never weighed the sides before and after so have no idea whether they have lost the 15% required!

Many thanks

Peter S

Hi Peter

As with most things in life there is no single right way of producing smoked salmon - though there are certainly wrong ways. From what you say, your way sounds fine and if it produces an end result that you like then stick with it :thumb1:

For beginners though, the method I described above takes out guesswork of "how much salt?" and "for how long?". I started off using the method similar to yours, where the salmon is covered in salt for the entire curing time, but I always found that this method usually resulted in an end product that was too salty for my pallet - I have a fairly low salt tolerance. This is because, when you completely cover the fish in salt, the brine has nowhere to go and so remains in contact with the fish for the duration of the cure. This limits the time you can cure as the longer you cure the saltier the salmon gets!

Contrary to your expectations, the method I use results in a far less salty end product. This is because only a minimal amount of salt is applied to the surfaces of the fish and the brine produced by the salt is then allowed to drain away through the racks, completely away from the fish. You can cure this way for 12, 18 or 24 hours and you would not end up with an over salty end product. The curing time does depend on the size/thickness of the fillet. I use ~18 hours for trout and 24 hours for larger salmon.

To pellicle or not to pellicle? Now that is a question. I too allow mine to dry before putting it in the smoker however when I have been in a hurry, and have not had the time to wait, I have not noticed any difference in the end result. As soon as the salmon goes into the smoker the surface will naturally start to dry and form a pellacle there anyway.

The purpose of producing the traditional smoked salmon is to end up with glossy, golden, translucent slices of fish. This is achieved by reducing its moisture content, and therefore proportionally increasing percentage of the natural fish oils. I have been given a number of samples of home produced smoked salmon to taste over the years and often the slices are opaque and pink. This is usually the result of an insufficient amount of water being removed. To achieve the desired texture you need to remove ~15%-18% of the weight of the fish in water. Until you have gained experience it can be a challenge for beginners to know when this has been achieved without weighing. Once you have the eye for it you can sell by simply squeezing.

From a food safety perspective, part of the preservation process with the salmon involves removing a sufficient amount of the water to inhibit bacterial growth. This is less important with smoked salmon than with other foods, as it will be kept refrigerated and eaten within about 10 days. These days the smoking of salmon is more about producing a pleasing taste and texture - rather than preserving it for long term storage.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I Thanks for getting back to me Wade,

I think that we possibly do cure the same way for Salmon, I cover (lightly) with salt (thicker salt at head than tail) but I set the container on an incline so that the brine drains away from the fillets.

I'll give your brine method a go next time I get some cod and give it a smoke, I've always been reluctant to give it a try just in case I spoil a good bit of fish as it ain't cheep! Have you tried it on Bass?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Peter

Yes it seems that we do. The main difference I think are the cake cooling racks. These help keep the salmon completely out of the brine. As you know, there can be A LOT of brine produced.

As cod is not an oily fish it will not cure in the same way as salmon. For white fish (like Haddock and Cod) try the brine method. It works well. I have not posted it up as a separate thread but it is detailed earlier in this thread.


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/12/2020 at 7:02 AM, Alan Kilroy said:

Is it essential to have a Vacuum sealer machine?

Can you just remove air from bag or as I do atm, use clingfilm to freeze in (smoked Salmon)?

Just don't want to have another contraption knockin' about the kitchen if possible.

Hi Ped

Lidls have one this week for 20 quid. would do the job and its not very big  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/14/2020 at 12:51 PM, Ped said:

 I set the container on an incline so that the brine drains away from the fillets.

You will have already seen just how much brine is released from the salmon but for the benefit of others I have included some photos of the brine produced by the Salmon I did yesterday which shows it well.

Curing the salmon on wire racks allows the brine to drip through away from the fish


Almost half a litre of brine was produced by 3 salmon fillets


800 ml of brine produced by 3 whole salmon


If the fish is left in contact with the brine throughout the curing process then it will become increasingly salty - especially towards the thinner tail end.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...