Maple Glazed Smoked Salmon

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Coffee brined, smoked baby back ribs

Who doesn’t love maple glazed smoked salmon? Alright, maybe there are a few people around who don’t but, I haven’t met too many folks who wouldn’t tear into some home smoked salmon hot and fresh from the smoker.

Smoking salmon is more about the preparation than the actual smoking process and if you get the brine and the seasoning right, the rest is a piece of cake.

Fortunately for you, I have made enough mistakes with salmon to be able to show you what works and what doesn’t and I’ll even get into the “why” occasionally if you act interested.

It’s fancy, it’s delicious and it’s easy so grab a fresh salmon from the meat counter or wherever you buy fresh fish and let’s dive right into it.

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Maple Glazed Smoked Salmon

Important Information
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Brine Time: 8-10 hours
  • Dry Time: 2-4 hours (pellicle formed)
  • Cook Time: 6 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 100/150/175
  • Meat Finish Temp: 145 F
  • Recommended Wood: Alder, Oak or Apple
What You’ll Need
Brining the Salmon

Make the maple/brown sugar brine using:

Add a quart of cold water to a plastic or glass pitcher then add the salt and stir to dissolve.

Add sugar, rub and maple syrup and mix well.

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Lay the salmon on the cutting board and remove any pin bones using a pair of clean needle nose plyers.

Pin bones are the little white bones that stick up about 1/8 inch from the flesh of the fish. If you run your hands across the top of the fish, you can usually feel them even if you can see them. Press down a little and they will pop through.

Take a little time removing these and everyone will be a lot happier once it’s time to eat.

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I cut my fish in half and I highly recommend doing so to make it easier to handle the fish.

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Place the (2) halves in a gallon sized ziploc bag and pour in enough brine to cover completely.

Press out all of the air and seal it up. I recommend placing the bag of fish down in a foil pan or other container to contain any accidental leaks.

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Place the pan with the bagged fish into the fridge and let it brine overnight or 8-10 hours.

Drying the Fish

It is very important to dry the outside of the fish before smoking to. This allows the flesh to form a pellicle or shiny, slightly sticky surface which helps to seal in the white fatty protein called albumin that likes to ooze out while you are cooking salmon. The ultimate holy grail of salmon smoking is being able to smoke cook the fish without any of the white stuff oozing out..

Brining and drying the fish is one of the ways to minimize this so take your time with this part of the preparation.

Once the fish is finished brining, remove it from the brine and lay it on a Bradley rack or some other similar device to allow the fish to dry. Pat the outside of the fish dry with a paper towel or just lay a paper towel across the fish and let the moisture wick into the paper towel for a minute or two.

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Some folks leave the fish out on the cabinet to dry with a fan on it and perhaps this is fine but I like to keep the fish refrigerated while it dries.

It will take 2 to 4 hours for the pellicle to form on the flesh of the fish.

Seasoning the Salmon

Option 1:

Apply a little spicy mustard or Dijon to the salmon then massage about a tablespoon of my rub into the meat.

We will also add more rub later via the maple syrup glaze.

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This adds a lot of flavor and is one of my favorite ways to season the salmon before it goes into the smoker. It adds more flavor than option 2 but does not overpower the natural flavor of the salmon at all.

Option 2:

Smoke the salmon as it is for now.

Add the rub later via the maple syrup glaze.

Smoking the Salmon

My choice for fish is almost always the Bradley smoker as it can hold whatever temperature I throw at it with great accuracy and the wood pucks produce plenty of excellent clean smoke that goes really well with the salmon or whatever I am cooking.

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With the fish dried, the pellicle formed, and the salmon seasoned up with rub (or not if you chose option 2), preheat your smoker to 100 degrees. With some smokers this is very difficult and may even be impossible but the point is to start out cooking as low and close to 100 degrees as you possibly can.

By cooking at 100 degrees for the first 2 hours or so, this allows the outside of the fish to dry further, and gives a gentle enough heat so that the moisture rich albumin is maintained inside the fish.

Once the smoker is ready, place the Bradley rack with the fish into the smoker.

I recommend placing parchment paper under the fish to keep it from sticking. I often forget to do this and it is quite a feat to get the fish removed without tearing it up. Parchment paper torn carefully by hand to fit the shape of the fish with about 1 inch excess on each side makes for great presentation. The edges will brown just a little and it looks nice and rustic.

Here is a picture from my book (page 130) showing this in action:

salmon-on-parchment-paper

Smoke the salmon at 100 degrees or as low and close to that as you can get, for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, raise the temperature to 150 degrees to continue the cooking process and allow the temperature to continue to climb.

During this stage and the rest of the cooking process, you will want to glaze the salmon with the maple glaze once every hour or so.

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Maple Glaze

Mix well.

This makes a very nice maple flavored glaze which also adds my rub to the salmon. The maple syrup and the rub go very well together and are a wonderful way to layer on amazing flavor while the salmon cooks.

Finally, raise the temperature once more to 175 or so until the internal temperature of the fish reads 145 degrees with a tried and true accurate thermometer. These days, I use my handy thermapen for things like this or you can use a digital probe meat thermometer like the Maverick ET-732 for great results as well.

So, to recap.. the cooking schedule is:

  • 2 hours at 100 degrees
  • 2 hours at 150 degrees
  • 2 hours at 175 degrees or until it is finished cooking.

If you notice some of the albumin on the outside of the fish, simply wipe it off gently with a damp paper towel.

Serving the Salmon

The maple glazed smoked salmon can be eaten immediately once it is done cooking and goes great with a medley of mixed vegetables or some asparagus.

Smoked salmon is also very good cold.

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Comments

  1. George says

    I never comment on recipes. I have been smoking brisket, ribs, pork, etc. for 13 years. I have prepared many of Jeff’s recipes and they have always impressed my guests. But I had to comment on this one: absolutely, ridiculously, off-the-hook good. One of my guests told me “you ruined normal fish for me forever”. I am so inspired by the results i am investing in a weber for colder smoke temperature. Followed the directions above, dried in the fridge ~2 hours. Started out on BGE but (like another commenter) struggled maintaining temp this low so after 3.5 hours moved to the Traeger pellet grill on smoke setting. Took off at 145 after about 5.5 hours. If you only ever make one Jeff recipe (1) go get your head checked and (2) do this one. Go to Costco and pick up their big ole filets to use. If you freeze, thaw in milk (not sure about the science on this but i think they turn out better this way). Kudos to Jeff on this one, it is Hall of Fame.

  2. tgallagher says

    Is there any advantage to brining the fish in a vacuum seal container to cut down brine time or penetration.?

  3. Deb says

    Gotta try this recipe..Looks absolutely delicious! Bradley Smokers are awesome for the novice or the experienced..Bookmarked.

  4. Dave Wenke says

    I gave this a shot this weekend.  I brined the salmon for 24 hours, the only problem was after nearly 6 hours in the fridge the fish was still wet.  I think next time I'll turn it meat down on some paper towels.  Anyways, other than that, it turned out amazing.

    I'm not a huge fan of fish, this was simply amazing.

    Keep the recipes coming, every one so far has turned out great!

     

    • James says

      Hi Dave, I also just tried this on the weekend and had the same problem.  It seemed a bit moist still after the dry time but put it in the smoker anyway hoping the first 2 hours at 100 would finish it off. There was a bit of albumin coming out but not much. The fish was amazing hot and even better cold. I had hoped for some left overs to share with a couple friends but there wasn't any..lol

  5. James Courneya says

    Hi Jeff,

    I recently purchased your recipes, I have only used it in your smoked bacan mac and cheese recipe so far and love the recipe! Question about the salmon, when do you start the smoke and do you leave smoke going for the whole 6 hour process??? Thanks for any feed back !! James

  6. Bocaboy says

    I wanted to pass on some new-found knowledge regarding smoking fish that I found out about on a recent road trip to the UP of Michigan, Door County Wisconsin and the Minnesota 1000 Lakes area. It reinforces what Jeff has written in his article on smoked salmon.

    I’d always been under the impression that “low and slow” didn’t make a difference in fish, or even chicken. As a conniseur of smoked white fish, chubs and lake trout, I stopped at every store I could find. I asked them to show me their smokers and for their advice on how they achieved their outstanding results. Every one of them said that they started at a low temperature, sometimes as low as 110º, often at 140º, and held that temp for 3 hours. They then raised their ovens to 170º for one hour to finish their fish.

    To a one, they all used maple. Their smokers were simple wooden boxes with rails on the side to hold racks. They put a washtub on the bottom with a few maple logs, then controlled the temperature by leaving the door slightly ajar or closing it altogether. They used lots of visible smoke to infuse the fish with a deep, smokey flavor.

    In addition, they brined their fish overnight in a salt solution. They added maple if they were going for a sweeter flavor, otherwise it was just salt.

    When I got back and saw Jeff’s recipie for salmon, I decided to take my newfound knowledge and his suggestion about temperature and see if I couldn’t pull it off in my Big Green Egg. I decided to use Kingfish (cut into 1½ inch steaks) instead of salmon, and I omitted the maple syrup and brown sugar altogether. The brine was purely salt, to Jeff’s proportions. I was a bit fearful that it would be too salty, but after 15 hours in the refrigerator, the final product was seasoned perfectly! 

    While it was a bit difficult to get the temperature as low as 100º, I was able to get it at 110º and hold it for an hour, using a combination of apple and hickory as the wood. I then kicked it up to 140º for another hour and finally finished it at 170º to get the fish up to 140º internal temperature. 

    The final result was outstanding! It had a deep, smokey flavor that I had been striving for in the past, but was finally able to achieve. I think the secret is that all protien absorbs the most amount of smoke when it’s cool, say below 100º. By applying lots of smoke at very low temperature, it allows the fish to keep absorbing it for maximum flavor.

    I now have a whole new way of smoking fish, and can’t wait to try it again!

  7. Linda says

    Hi Jeff,

    I made your maple-glazed salmon over the weekend and think the fish is really dry.  What did I do wrong?

    I brined for approximately 10 hours and let dry in the refrigerator for about 6 hours.  I used a Traeger smoker and could attain a temperature lower than 125-130 degrees.  So I held that temperature for the first four hours.  For the last two hours, I smoked at 175 degrees.  I pulled the fish off at 145 degrees, which was pretty close to six hours of smoking.

    Where did I go wrong?

    Thanks!

    Linda

  8. Greg says

    I’m trying to make you Maple glazed smoked salmon.

    You have Jeff’s rub listed with the other brining ingredients  but its not clear from the instructions if this goes in the brine of if its used later after the salmon is dried.  

    Help!

    Greg

    • Greg says

      Let me clarify.  I know rub is put on the dry fish before smoking.  The question is;  does rub go in the brine too?

      Greg

       

    • Jason says

      I mixed the rub in with the brine it seemed appropriate and is consistent with all the other brines that i have used both on this website and with other recipes

  9. stuart hughes says

    Spot on for the temperature in my opinion, low and slow, try some bay wood, good stuff, split, no bark, tanic acid is in most bark, don’t use…

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