Cold Smoking Salmon at Home

If it’s your first time preparing cold smoked salmon, know that you’ll need a bit of precision, knowledge and patience. But don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you might think. In the end, it’s well worth it to enjoy the health benefits and fantastic taste of this delicacy.

If you wondered how they make it when you buy it all prepared in the store, here is our step-by-step guide for cold smoking salmon at home.

Here are the steps for cold smoking salmon:

  • Prepare the cure for the salmon.
  • Rinse off the excess salt. 
  • Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • Prepare your smoker. 
  • Smoke the salmon for 12–16 hours.
  • Chill the salmon for several days in the fridge before you eat it.

What You Need For Cold Smoking Salmon

  • One or more salmon fillets with skin on and with pin bones removed.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt.
  • Sugar: brown or white.
  • Dry spices of your choice.
  • Beachwood, Oak, Maple, or Alderwood, depending on your preferred taste
  • Cold smoke generator.

What’s Better: Fresh or Frozen Salmon? 

Fresh salmon and previously frozen salmon are very different when it comes to cold smoking. If you buy previously frozen salmon, it actually benefits you. 

With the freezing of salmon, the liquid in the cells expands and ruptures the cell membranes. With freezing, you’ll also kill off any parasites that might be inside the fish. A week in the freezer kills the parasites, which would otherwise survive the cold smoking. 

To stay safe, buy the already frozen salmon or deep freeze fresh salmon for a week to avoid potential problems with parasites, as the majority of wild salmon are infected with roundworms or cod worms. 

Which Salmon To Choose for Cold Smoking

There are many different types of salmon available in shops. You can choose from king salmon, sockeye or Atlantic salmon, which are commonly available in shops. 

It’s best to pick salmon that’s thick and has good fat marbling. Our recommendation is king salmon, as its thick fillet and flavor will make it the best for cold smoking.

6 Step Guide on How to Prepare Cold Smoked Salmon

Here is our guide on cold smoking salmon at home. You’ll need some additional equipment to do so and also patience, time and precision with the temperature of the smoke. 

Step 1: Prepare the Cure

The first step that you’ll have to do is to prepare the cure mix, which will remove the moisture from the fish to kill off bacteria. It’s also used to preserve fish and prevent spoilage. 

Before doing so, run your fingers along the fillet and use tweezers to remove any remaining pin bones.

Make a curing mix by combining 50/50 salt and sugar. You can add in your chosen flavors with spices—it’s best to use whole dry spices, which you crush in a mortar and pestle before adding them to the mix. How much you want to add is completely down to you and your tastes, but don’t go overboard as you can ruin the sweet and salty taste of the cold smoked salmon.

Place the salmon in a bowl or shallow dish and cover it with the dry mix. Make sure you cover all the fish from top to bottom as well as the sides. Cover it with plastic wrap or a reusable beeswax wrap, and place it in the fridge. 

Depending on how firm you want your salmon to be, keep it in the fridge anywhere between 1 to 24 hours. Usually, it’s best to leave it inside for about 4–6 hours, but if you want it to be firmer in texture, you can extend it to 24 hours. 

The time also depends on how thick the fish fillet is and if the salmon was previously frozen. If it was previously frozen, then the curing time is much shorter than with fresh salmon, so several hours should do it. 

Step 2: Rinse the Excess Salt

After you finish curing the salmon, it’s time to rinse off the excess salt. Otherwise, the salmon might be too salty to eat. 

Take the salmon out of the mix and place it in a clean container or bowl. Rinse it well under fresh water and pat the fillet dry. 

If you’re up for it, taste a small piece to see if it’s still too salty. If you feel it’s still too salty for your taste, rinse it again for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Step 3: Put in the Fridge for 24 Hours

After you finish cleaning and drying it, place it in a clean container and put it back in the fridge for another 24 hours for the skin of the fish to dry. 

This is mainly done so the remaining salt inside the fish can evenly redistribute and for the forming of the pellicle. The pellicle is a thin layer of proteins that were liquified during the time of brining. You’ll notice a glossy looking, clear coating on the top of the fish. 

Step 4: Smoker for Cold Smoked Salmon

If you’re making cold smoked salmon at home, you’ll need the right equipment. Unfortunately, the standard meat smoker that smokes at around 225 degrees Fahrenheit or a wood-burning pit smoker is not good for making cold smoking salmon, as they reach too high temperatures for cold smoke. 

It’s best if you buy a cold smoke generator and use it on your charcoal grill or another smoker suitable for cold smoking and that doesn’t reach extremely high temperatures. 

The cold smoked salmon should stay below or at a maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve the desired smoky taste. 

cold smoking salmon infographic

Which Wood Is Best for Cold Smoked Salmon?

Your choice of wood chips will slightly affect the flavor of the salmon. The type of wood that’s usually used for cold smoking salmon can vary, but it’s always hardwood, like alder, oak, maple or hickory.

Keep in mind that you will get little to no smoke if the wood is without any moisture. So purchase wood chips that have measurable moisture, so they’ll produce enough smoke. Alternatively, pre-soak the chips for 30 minutes before using.

A pile of wood chips

Step 5: Smoking the Salmon 

When you’ve finished the curing of salmon, set up your smoking equipment for cold smoking according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Ideally, you will be using a smoke extractor. If your smoker is slightly too warm or it’s a hot day, place a bowl of ice in the smoking chamber with the salmon. 

Place the salmon on a rack. Make sure there’s enough space between the fillets, so the smoke and air can circulate. Put the rack with salmon skin side down into the smoker.

Cold smoke the salmon for a minimum of 12 hours, or up to 16 hours. If your fillets are extra-thick, you may need up to 24 hours. Make sure that the temperature stays between 68 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit—and avoid going over the maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The salmon is done when you see that the exterior of the fillet is bronzed, and the salmon feels leathery and firm to the touch. If you’d like a more intense smoky flavor, you can smoke for an additional hour or two, but this depends on your preferred taste. 

Step 6: Chill the Salmon

Once you finish smoking the salmon, you can wrap it in butcher paper or, ideally, a vacuum food sealer. 

Place it in the fridge for two to three days. This process will allow for the smoke taste to mellow a bit. 

After several days, your cold smoked salmon is ready to serve and eat. Slice it very thin—it’s easier if you start slicing at the top end of the fillet and towards the tail end. 

If you make more salmon than you can eat, just vacuum seal it. This will keep your cold-smoked salmon good for up to three or four weeks in the fridge. If you freeze the salmon, it will last for three to five months. 

Is Cold Smoked Salmon Raw?

Hot smoked salmon is usually smoked at temperatures between 120 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit and is cooked all the way through. Salmon that has been cold smoked, on the other hand, is cured for 24 hours before it’s smoked at 68 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it technically uncooked or raw. The best way to think of it is something like sushi. 

It’s perfectly safe to eat if prepared according to the given instructions. However, it’s considered safe to eat for healthy and non-immunocompromised people. It’s also advised not to eat it if you’re pregnant, as it’s regarded as a high-risk food due to L. monocytogenes contamination. 

Is It Healthy To Eat Cold Smoked Salmon? 

Although there can be some risks, as mentioned above, you have nothing to worry about if you’ve prepared it according to our step-by-step guide. 

Cold-smoked salmon has plenty of health benefits. It’s extremely low in calories, while it also provides a large number of needed proteins, vitamins and minerals, and essential fats. 

It’s also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are both very important for brain function and reduced risk of heart disease. 

One serving also provides over half of your needed selenium intake, which protects you from several illnesses.

However, there is also a downside to eating too much cold-smoked salmon. Because of the preparation in the salty brine mix, it contains a high amount of sodium. A serving of cold-smoked salmon contains over your half required daily intake of sodium. So be careful as too much sodium can lead to heart disease and stroke. Monitor your smoked salmon intake, and don’t eat too much of it.

How Do You Know If Cold Smoked Salmon Has Gone Bad?

As mentioned above, if stored properly in a vacuum package in the fridge, it should last for up to three to four weeks. But if something goes wrong with the packing or if you forgot how much time has passed, just check for these signs:

  • You’ll notice a slime or noticeable discoloration.
  • A dull surface area of the fish.
  • A bad and different smell that doesn’t smell like smoked fish.
  • Different taste—you’ll probably taste a pinch on your tongue or it’ll taste slightly sour.

If you notice any of the above signs, then it’s time to throw away the salmon, as it’s not safe (or enjoyable) to eat. 

7 Tasty Ways To Enjoy Your Cold Smoked Salmon

Salmon canapes

There are endless ways to enjoy your cold smoked salmon, but here are our favorites: 

  • Put it in your best-loved salads, such as potato salad or green salad with cold smoked salmon. This will add some smoky and salty flavor to it.
  • Mix it in with your pasta dishes.
  • Make toast with scrambled eggs and cold smoked salmon on top.
  • Put it on top of a bagel with some cream cheese.
  • If you’re expecting guests, serve it as an appetizer with some lemon wedges, vegetables and bread.
  • Make smoked salmon on cucumber with cream cheese as mini appetizers.
  • Make your own sushi with the salmon.

Final Words

Cold smoked salmon is considered a delicacy that’s cured and prepared with cold smoke. If you buy it in your local deli or store, it’s expensive—so why not make it at home using your own flavors for a unique touch?

The preparation needs some time and patience, but following this guide on cold smoking salmon at home, you’ll make your own delicious dish.

Be sure you follow all of the steps above to avoid any possible contamination with bacteria or worms. If done properly, it’s safe and very delicious.

It has many health benefits, but of course, because it’s high in sodium, you should monitor your intake and try to avoid eating too much of it at once.

You can make many delicious dishes with it and use it as an appetizer that your family or your guests will enjoy. 

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