Cool Smoked Salmon with Citrus

4.8 from 9 reviews

In my opinion, salmon is never as good as it can be unless it’s smoked. It’s also never as good as it can be unless you brine it before you smoke it to help lock in the tasty fats. In this recipe, I will show you how to brine the salmon, dry it until it forms a perfect “seal” or pellicle on the outside, season it with barbecue rub and sweet and tangy citrus juices then smoke it to absolute perfection.


Units Scale
  • 23 lb side of salmon ((, filet (pin bones removed)))
  • 1 gallon of cold water
  • 1 cup coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (((light brown will work)))
  • 3 each of oranges ((, lemons, limes))
  • Jeff’s original rub recipe (((also called Jeff’s Naked Rib Rub) (purchase recipes here)))
  • Parchment paper


Step 1: Make Brine Solution

  1. Fill a 1-gallon container with cold water
  2. Add 1 cup of coarse kosher salt (Morton’s works for me)
  3. Stir until the water returns to near clear.
  4. Add brown sugar and stir until well dissolved.
  5. Squeeze ½ lemon, ½ lime and ½ orange into solution and stir to combine.

Step 2: Brine Salmon

  1. Place salmon into large plastic, glass or other non-reactive container.
  2. Pour brine over fish to cover and place in refrigerator for about 4 hours.
  3. After 4 hours has expired, remove bowl from fridge.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

  1. Remove fish from brine and rinse well under cold water. This is to remove any excess salt.
  2. Lay fish on several layers of paper towels then lay paper towels on top of the salmon to soak up excess water. You may want to do this several times to expedite the drying process.
  3. Leave the fish on the cabinet or cutting board to dry for 3-4 hours. This time can be lessened by directing a fan at the fish to speed up the drying process.
  4. When the pellicle has properly formed, the fish will be shiny and it will feel tacky to the touch.

Step 4: Season the Salmon

  1. Squeeze the juices of ½ orange, ½ lime and ½ lemon all over the fish to create a wetness on the fish for the rub to adhere to.
  2. Sprinkle my original rub, also called Jeff’s naked rib rub, lightly onto the top surface of the salmon.
  3. Leave the seasoned salmon on the cabinet or cutting board for a few minutes while you go get the smoker ready.

Step 5: Smoking the Fish

  1. Setup your smoker for cooking at very low temperatures if possible. 160°F is optimal in my opinion.
  2. Salmon, as with most fish, is delicate and works best with lighter tasting woods such as alder and apple. Most fruit woods will work just fine.
  3. Once the smoker is ready, place the fish, skin side down, on a piece of parchment paper and lay it on the smoker grate. The parchment paper ensures it does not stick to the grates and makes it really easy to maneuver inside the smoker in case you need to rotate it. It also makes it easy to remove once it’s finished cooking.
  4. If you wish, tear the parchment paper to the shape of the fish for good presentation.
  5. Let the fish smoke cook until it reaches about 130°F in the thickest part. Some folks recommend, as have I in the past, to cook fish to 140 °F however, the fish will be drier than it should be and pulling it at a lower temperature makes a huge difference.

Step 6: Resting

  1. Place the fish on the cabinet with a little foil tented over the top and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Step 7: Serve it Up

  1. The salmon can be sliced up and served in portions or it can be flaked apart and mixed with cream cheese and herbs for a tasty dip. I even like to eat some atop some scrambled eggs for a great breakfast treat.
  2. For an extra special treat, add pieces of the smoked salmon atop a bagel or piece of toast with a poached or fried egg, avocado wedges, slice of tomato seasoned with coarse black pepper and sea salt.

Learn How to Smoke Meat

FREE Time & Temp Chart when you subscribe

Smoking Meat Newsletter

No, thanks

Learn How to Smoke Meat

FREE Time & Temp Chart when you subscribe

Smoking Meat Newsletter