Salmon prepared by the hot smoking method is simple to make and tastes great! The salmon is brined, seasoned, air dried, and smoked. The whole process can take as little as 4 hours if you smoke it at 200˚F. If you'd like a smokier flavor, cook it at a lower temperature for a longer time.
To start, prep the salmon. If it's whole, scale it, fillet the sides off and remove the pin bones. Leave the skin on…it helps hold the fish together.
When hot smoking, I usually leave the sides whole, or halve them, giving me a tail end and a head end. Larger pieces take a little longer to brine and longer to smoke.
If you cut the fillets into one or two inch wide pieces, they will brine quicker, smoke quicker, and take in more smoke flavor due to the increased surface area. I just like fewer pieces to fiddle with.
Now to the basic brine. Mix up 1-and-1/2 cups salt and 1-and-3/4 cups brown sugar into one gallon of cold water. This should give you about an 80% concentration…an egg or a potato should float in it. If it doesn't, add more salt until it does. One gallon of brine is enough for four pounds of salmon.
You can add spices, herbs, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic - just about anything you want to the brine to give the salmon added flavor.
Puncture the skin in the thicker areas to allow the brine to get in. Put the salmon into the brine and leave it in for one hour per inch of thickness. This is a good starting point.
Adjust brining time accordingly if you want a saltier or less salty salmon next time. To be safe, put the brining salmon in the fridge. It'll keep the cat from getting into it! (and bacteria from growing)
Before hot smoking, the salmon needs to air-dry until the pellicle forms. The pellicle is a dried coating made up of dissolved proteins that are created during the brining process.
Remove the salmon from the brine and quickly rinse in cold water. Put the salmon on a rack, skin side down, and apply some spice or herb if you like...something to add flavor and visual appeal. Dried parsley, dill, black pepper are all nice touches.
Set the rack holding the salmon in a cool, safe place. A fan will speed the drying. When the surface of the salmon is dried to the point of being barely sticky, it's ready for the smoker.
For best results, put the brined salmon into a cold smoker, then turn on the heat and let it come up gradually to 180˚- 200˚ F. When hot smoking in my pit smoker, I pre-light charcoal in a chimney.
I put the salmon into the cold smoke chamber, then add the burning charcoal and a couple chunks of soaked alder to the firebox. The temperature will gradually rise as the smoke flows over the salmon.
The time it will take to hot smoke salmon depends on the thickness of the fish and the temperature of the smoker. You can figure on one hour per inch of thickness, starting when the smoker temperature reaches 180˚ F. Smoke the salmon until it reaches 160 degrees, or until it flakes.