Alaskan Smoked Salmon Recipe - A Bulletproof Method!Being a lifelong Alaskan, I have tasted dozens upon dozens of different Alaskan smoked salmon recipes. Of course, everyone thinks their recipe is superior to everyone else's special blend. I have had some that is fantastic, some that is mediocre, and, probably like you, have had some that was so salty you needed a quart of water just to help wash it down!My neighbor, David, said he was going to be making a fresh batch of Alaskan smoked salmon and asked if I would be interested in sampling some of his smoked fish. Being that I've never turned down this opportunity before, I gladly accepted his offer...and no, the cold ones he threw in the deal had nothing to do with it. I promptly forgot about it until my wife told me that he had dropped off a package and that my 6 year old son had eaten the entire thing! Well, it turns out the boy knows good smoked fish because David has won the 'best neighbor ever' by hooking us up with quite a bit of his smoked salmon and I will say that of all the stuff I've tried, what he is putting out is running with the elite, if not the best I've had. The best news? He's sharing his Alaskan smoked salmon recipe with everyone! David begins the process with two frozen full fillets of Alaskan Sockeye salmon, thawed in the refrigerator for 24 hrs. After the thawing process the salmon is cut into 3⁄4” to 1” thick strips perpendicular to the length of the fillet, as pictured below. Place your freshly cut salmon 'strips' in a plastic tub large enough to allow a single layer of strips to be placed skin side down with approximately 1⁄4” between strips. Hey, if you want it to work, ya gotta be exact, right?! A dry brine is used for this recipe and it couldn't be easier. Simply add 4 cups of brown sugar to 1 cup de-ionized salt. Apply the dry brine approximately 1⁄4” thick on top of strips allowing space between strips to fill, so the edges of your salmon strips are coated as well. Cover the top of your container with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12 to 14 hrs. After your salmon has been able to 'soak in' the brine, gently wipe off any remaining dry brine and place on paper towel lined plate. At this point, you will want to collect all of the liquids (just the liquids) from the brine tub and place in a jar. Use this liquid with a basting brush to apply a light even glaze on the salmon strips. In the summertime, you can allow the salmon to be placed in the sun for a short while to help the glaze dry a bit but in the colder months, David utilizes a fan on medium speed to help this process along. After an hour under the fan, apply a second brush coat of brine liquid onto the strips. Repeat this process at the second hour with the third coating of brine. After the 3rd coating of brine, allow the salmon to remain under the fan for the last 30 minutes of additional drying while you prepare your smoker. Fill chip pan with mixed chunks of apple and mesquite as well as alder chips and heat your smoker to 250°F, allowing for a good smoke to build up. After you have established a good smoke, turn the heat down on your smoker to the lowest setting and open the smoker door allowing it to cool down. Remove the smoker grills and prep with non-stick spray. Place your salmon strips on the grills and touch up your larger strips that may appear drier with a brush coat of brine, as necessary. Place your salmon on the grating inside the smoker, close the door, and monitor to ensure that your unit reheats to around 150°F and establishes another steady smoke. Cook for 1 hour under the steady smoke, and reapply another coating of brine. At this time you will continue to cook the salmon for another 30 minutes with light smoke, again at around 150°F. After this time, you will remove the smaller/thinner strips and reapply the final brush coat to all the remaining strips. To finish the smoking process, remove the chips pan, close the smoker, and allow the remaining strips to cook for the last 30 minutes at the same 150°F temperature. Remove all of the salmon strips from the smoker and allow them to cool to the ambient temp within your home. At this point, your Alaskan smoked salmon is DONE! You can now either hoard it all to yourself, share it around, or vacuum pack and freeze it for later. A few notes on the process from David. DRYING THE FISH IS CRITICAL! When using a fan for drying the fish, its best to stick to the 2 hour minimum with basting in between. You NEVER want to rinse the brined strips once you remove them from the tub, just use a moist towel to blot off any salt crystals or gently brush the strips to remove the remaining dry brine. Regarding the smoking time, doing the fish for more than 1 1/2 hours means you may run the risk of making the fish have a biter taste. That being said, it is important that the smoke is constant for the entire time. Large wood chunks last longer than the smaller chips, but the chips provide a larger volume of smoke. A combination of the two seems to find a nice middle-ground to work with to gain a heavy volume of smoke early in the cooking process. Always follow the above as a guide and not something written in stone, as everyone's taste is a bit different. A 1 hour cook produces a very moist strip, while a 3 hour cook produces a very dry strip (both times based upon a 2 hour fan drying period). It can also be tricky to maintain that perfect 150°F temperature for the allotted time, but if you can stay as close to that as you can without going over 200°F, you will likely make great smoked salmon. Another way to adjust the taste is to determine the saltiness of your salmon by adjusting the brine time. The shorter the brine time, the less salty the finished product will taste. For me, 14 hrs is right at the edge of being too salty with this brine mixture. Also, the glazing makes a huge difference. It helps seal in a little moisture, adds additional flavor, and results in a finished texture to the strips that is visually appealing (they look finished, not dried out). This is also where you can get creative and try either a molasses or honey for a more candied flavor, or spice it up with blackening seasonings, garlic etc. Be cautious with your creativity though, as you can get carried away and totally lose the salmon taste altogether with too many seasonings/sweets. Give this Alaskan smoked salmon recipe a shot and let us know how it goes! We'd also love to hear your feedback on this and I will continue to bribe David into smoking up a batch for 'scientific purposes'. ENJOY!
For everyone saying it’s too salty, the salt removes excess moisture from the fish! The moisture will make your fish spoil if you can’t freeze it relatively soon….That was the main goal for salting/smoking fish. Preservation. I grew up in a village, and until my grandma died, she still stored her salted/smoked fish in 5 gallon buckets under her porch in the summer. Sometimes the power goes out for extended periods of time there. Guess what happens to your freezer? Yeah. No longer frozen. If you don’t like salt, don’t eat brined fish. I’m thankful I have a starting point to try to smoke fish. My grandparents aren’t alive to teach me anymore.
Awesome recipe! Added a little teriyaki (low sodium) and pinch of garlic powder. Lived in Alaska 15 yrs. missed good smoked salmon. Not anymore.
Just finishing up my first batch. Living on the west coast of Vancouver island and this is perfect for spring salmon…best candy salmon I’ve made to date. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe
Got some fresh Reds from Dilly up here in the Arctic and gsve this recipe a try as I have smoked a LOT of salmon but never have been able to get that crazy good product……..UNTIL NOW!
*Dry brine was awesome! 12 Hours for me
MAKE SURE TO GET All THE EXCESS BRINE OFF THE FISH!!!! I didn’t on my test batch and it was too salty.
*Fan Dried for 3 hours, glazed with a pure maple syrup, brow sugar and water mixture.
*Smoked 2 Hours @ 150 degrees glazing every 30 min for thinner pieces (tails and bellies) and 2 1/2 hours total for the thicker pieces.
*Pulled them off and one last cost of glaze before letting them “sun dry” for about an hour……..
I’m using a Smoke Tube and Electric Cabelas Smoker with a sealed door and I used Pit Boss Competition Blend pellets.
Produced an AMAZING product! My new “Go To” recipe! Thanks AlaskaLife!!!!!!
Hi J Mac! I don’t have any recommendations for your big chief but hopefully someone else chimes in who has some info for ya!
I’ve used this recipe a number of times…it’s the best I’ve seen. I’m in Minnesota, and every summer our local Costco gets in wild caught sockeye salmon from Alaska. This is my brief window to live the dream! I go for the 12 hour brine with 3/4 cup kosher salt and I use apple wood, which is plentiful here, for the smoke. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe, I’ve experimented a lot over the years and this is now my go to!
I have a pretty killer wet brine I’ve been using for a few years but have been interested in trying something different although, An hour and a half seems pretty low on the smoke time.. although I primarily use a big chief for fish because other electric smokers seem to render too much of a “baked” fish any recommendation on time for a big chief?
Every other recipe I’ve seen calls for rinsing off the brown sugar/salt before drying if using a dry brine. Why do you stress not rinsing it off? It could be why some are saying it’s too salty.
I have some Copper River red salmon that I caught a week ago. I’ll try your recipe.
Thanks for sharing.
I changed the recipe to rinse the brine off the salmon with water before drying and the baste with brown sugar and water mixture during drying under fan. Came out perfect, not too salty.
Great recipe! I modified it a bit with a dry brine recipe I found in Alaska F&G. It called for ground cloves and crushed bay leaves. Other than being too salty, the texture and consistency turned out exactly how I like smoke salmon. I would agree that it was too salty, though. I very rarely use salt in any of my food, so a little salt is too much for me. I’ve had people who use salt say it was just right. Just personal preference. Thanks for the post.
Looks like a pretty simple recipe, can’t wait to try it.
The last few years I have been using a wet brine that is pretty close to this one but a little less salt. Dry time is important and my cook times were longer – 2 hours at 100, 2 hours at 175 and 2 hours at 240? Cant quite recall the last 2 hour temp…..brining was usually 14 to 24 hours. My bride begs me to not change recipes but I would like to try another method – your method is close to what friends have done so I am going to try it.
I like the idea of the one post that recommends using a fresh glaze, I have always used a fresh pure maple syrup and brown sugar mix glaze. Also I have added garlic to my brine, other than garlic I have not added any other spices or herbs.
I smoke with a Bradley which has made my process so easy.
Funny thing about smoked salmon is that there are so many different methods for brines, brine times, smoking temps and smoke times – they are all over the spectrum and like you say everyone claims theirs is the best…..I’ve had nothing but raves about mine but I still want to experiment to see how these other recipes turn out.
Time to do a new batch – keep on smoke’n
Thanks!! I just got an old top load electric smoker. I grew up in AK and missed smoked food, but couldn’t remember how to make it and we had a wood stove version. You explained it crystal clear and it tastes great!! All my friends are over here begging like dogs lol
God bless n have a good one!
I’ve eaten the salmon from this recipe and it was very, very good. I don’t mind some saltiness but wouldn’t have labeled it excessively salty. You could, however, modify like you said and likely come up with amazing results as well. Beer? I’m in :)
Followed recipe (dry brine, 4 cups Brown Sugar to 1 cup kosher salt) I added touch of garlic powder and ginger powder. Will try three flavors while drying and smoking: 1) pure organic maple syrup glaze. 2) apricot jam melted and glazed. 3) melted brown sugar and water glaze. Can’t wait to share results. Cutting brining time to 5 hours, every time I have brined with the 12 hour process is too salty, I’m going for a sweeter taste this time.
Awesome! Let us know how it turns out!
don’t you mean non-iodized salt?
You both are very kind to share this recipe. It is very similar to what my mother did in the sixties, seventies and eighties. I’m glad you have given more people the opportunity to enjoy smoked salmon. ?
Great starting recipe that needs to be modified or you’ll up up with extremely salty salmon. Follow the recipe up to the drying racks. Remove the Salmon from the marinade tray and place on drying racks. DISCARD THE BRINE. Make a brown sugar syrup, by adding water to brown sugar and boil. Baste the salmon with the brown sugar syrup instead of the brine. Same for the smoker. If you follow the recipe, regardless of the marinade time, you’re adding salt every time you baste and you end up with salty salmon. With that said, some people may like salty smoked salmon as an excuse to drink vast quantities of beer.
This is a great recipe, and super-easy — very helpful for a guy who gets salmon once every few years and so loses his confidence… so, thanks! We love it.
I’m from the PAC NW and for the last 18 yrs, have lived in the Carolinas. I severely miss alder smoke and yes, it’s that important to smoked salmon. I have tried it on “Store Bought” silvers from out here vs silvers I brought back from buoy 10 trips every August. Fresh Frozen vs Carolina Store Fresh…FF wins. Alder vs Mesquite/Apple…Alder wins. I started ordering Alder chips//chunks from Amazon. We’re very spoiled in the PAC NW. Nice recipe. I always wet brined until now. Thanks for the info!
Same temp, same wood.
I used this recipe a couple of weeks back. This my first smoker and first time smoking salmon. I followed it to the letter except for the chips and the brine liquid. Used mesquite, cherry and apple wood. I added little of pure maple syrup to the brine liquid. The fish was perfect. Thanks guys!!
I can’t guarantee it won’t increase the saltiness (though I’m not seeing why it would immediately), I would think you’d be OK in this case. Give it a shot! —Kyle
Definitely make it to taste, Molly!