- Buy a large side of wild-caught King salmon and trim to an even rectangle shape.
- Cure for 4 hours using kosher salt and granulated sugar.
- Rinse after curing, pat dry, and let salmon dry uncovered in refrigerator for 4 to 20 hours, until the surface is tacky.
- Place salmon on prepared foil sling on cooking grate. Smoke at 225-275°F for 50-70 minutes to an internal temperature of 120-125°F.
- Slice and serve immediately.
This is the most simple, delicious smoked salmon you’ll ever make in your Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. The secret is to use a large, full side of wild-caught King salmon and cure it using kosher salt and granulated sugar—that’s it! This recipe is adapted from an article titled “Real-Deal Hot-Smoked Salmon” in Cook’s Illustrated magazine, May/June 2021.
Here are some pictures I took when I cured and smoked this salmon on July 27-28, 2021.
Video: Simple Hot-Smoked Salmon
This video walks you through the process described in this article.
Choosing The King Salmon
Buy a large skin-on full side of wild-caught King salmon, at least 4 pounds. I found this 5.18 pound specimen at Costco.
Although I have not tried it, the Cook’s Illustrated article says that you can easily cut this recipe in half. Buy a 2-pound center-cut filet and use half the amount of the cure mixture. Curing time, drying time, and smoking time will be the same as for a full side of salmon.
Trimming The King Salmon
Assuming that you’re using a full side of salmon, remove the thin tail end, remove the thin edge of the belly, and square off the thick head end. Reserve these pieces for another use. Remove any pin bones. Leave the skin on.
The result is a neat rectangular piece of salmon of relatively even thickness. This piece weighed 3.83 pounds after trimming.
Curing & Drying The King Salmon
Mix the following ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl.
- 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (or 6 Tablespoons Morton Kosher Salt)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Place the salmon skin-side down on a wire cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet pan. Apply all of the curing mixture to the flesh side of the salmon in an even layer, pressing lightly to ensure good contact between cure and flesh.
Move the salmon to the refrigerator to cure uncovered for 4 hours.
Here’s how the salmon looked after 4 hours in the refrigerator.
At the end of 4 hours, lift the wire rack out of the sheet pan and rinse the salmon under cold running water. Pat the flesh side dry with paper towels. Give the sheet pan a quick rinse and dry, and return salmon on the wire rack to the pan.
Return the salmon to the refrigerator to dry uncovered for 4 to 20 hours, until the surface is tacky.
This salmon was dried for 19 hours.
Choosing The Smoke Wood
Alder is the go-to smoke wood for fish, but I don’t keep alder in my smoke wood inventory, so I used 2 medium-sized chunks of apple smoke wood. There’s no need to remove the bark or soak the wood in water before use.
Making A Foil Sling
Using 18″ wide heavy duty aluminum foil, tear off a piece measuring 14″ long. Fold the foil in half to make a two-ply sling measuring 7″ x 18″.
Bring the top cooking grate into the kitchen. Place the foil sling on the cooking grate and fold the corners over the edge of the grate to keep them out of the way. Spray the foil lightly with non-stick cooking spray and place the salmon skin-side down on the foil.
Firing The Cooker
Light one full Weber chimney starter of Kingsford Charcoal Briquets. When the coals are hot, spread them out evenly in the charcoal chamber.
Place the water pan in the middle cooking section. Insert the middle cooking section into the charcoal bowl. Fill the pan with cool water. This will help with temperature control.
Place the smoke wood chunks through the access door on top of the hot coals.
Place the lid on the cooker. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way throughout the cooking process. Start with all 3 bottom vents 50% open.
Let the smoke wood burn for 5 minutes, then place the salmon into the cooker. This allows the initial blast of smoke coming off the smoke wood to dissipate.
Smoking The King Salmon
Run the cooker at 225-275°F, adjusting the bottom vents as necessary to maintain this temperature range.
Cook the salmon to an internal temperature of 120-125°F measured with an instant-read thermometer. Check the internal temp in the thickest part of the salmon; thinner areas will measure 130°F or a bit higher.
White spots of albumin (coagulated proteins) will form at cracks in the surface of the salmon or wherever you insert an instant-read thermometer. Albumin is normal and completely safe to eat, but for aesthetics you can carefully lift it off using the tip of a sharp knife after smoking.
Here’s how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during the cooking process.
|Time||Lid Temp||Meat Temp||Vent 1 %||Vent 2 %||Vent 3 %|
Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.
Slicing The Smoked Salmon
About 10 minutes before the end of smoking, I was a bit concerned about the pale complexion of the salmon. But in the last 10 minutes, it picked up the beautiful color you see in the above photo.
When the internal temp reaches 120-125°F in the thickest part of the salmon, use two large spatulas to transfer the salmon on the foil sling to a cutting board, then carefully slide the salmon off the foil and onto the board.
There’s no need to let the salmon rest a long time. This salmon rested just long enough for me to get it into the kitchen and onto a cutting board, take a few photos, slice it into serving portions, and get it onto a plate with a slice of lemon and a sprig of dill for color.
For a nice clean slice, I used an electric carving knife to cut portions 1″ to 1.5″ wide.
Leftovers were frozen solid, then transferred to FoodSaver vacuum bags. This salmon holds up nicely to freezing, followed by thawing and a gentle reheating at 20% power in the microwave until just heated through. Enjoy leftover hot-smoked salmon flaked and stirred into creamy scrambled eggs for breakfast or flaked over crispy salad greens for lunch.
Everyone who ate this simple smoked salmon said it was the best salmon they had every had! The cure of kosher salt and granulated sugar don’t make the salmon salty or sweet; they work together to enhance the naturally delicious flavor of King salmon. The apple smoke wood was a great substitute for alder, providing a light smoke flavor that did not overpower the fish.
Yes, there are more complex ways to cure and smoke salmon, but this simple approach is a real winner and something that I’ll definitely do again in the future. It ranks as one of the best and easiest cooks I’ve done in 24 years of cooking with the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker!