Honey smoked salmon is a sweet and smoky treat that is a must-try for any seafood lover. The delicious honey glaze is spiked with fresh ground black pepper and a hint of cayenne for a kick. This is great to enjoy by itself or serve on a bagel topped with cream cheese.
How to choose your salmon
Wild-caught salmon is the best choice. It has the best flavor and it is free of artificial colors. Fresh salmon is recommended, of course, but you can grab frozen salmon filets out of the freezer selection as well. Sockeye salmon, Atlantic salmon, Chum salmon, or whatever your local store carries, will work well. Although Chinook salmon is often preferred.
You can purchase an entire side of salmon or pre-cut filets. This is a personal preference. I find an individual salmon filet is more maneuverable and fits in my smoker more easily.
Best wood for smoking salmon
Alder wood is the traditional choice, as it has a delicate delicious smoke flavor. It is what I used in my previous homemade smoked salmon recipe, however, when that is not available I like using fruit woods such as apple or cherry. Personally, I avoid overly strong-smelling woods like hickory wood or mesquite.
What ingredients you will need
- Salmon - Fresh or thawed.
- Kosher salt
- Brown sugar
- Black pepper - Fresh ground pepper is recommended.
- Cayenne pepper - This can be omitted if you are sensitive to heat.
- Smoker - I like using an electric smoker for this recipe because it is easier to maintain lower temperatures. With some skill, a charcoal smoker or charcoal grill can also be used. However, it will be more difficult to maintain the proper temperature.
- Plastic wrap - This is needed to cure the fish.
- Meat thermometer - This is needed to check for doneness.
- Baking pans - You will need two of them while curing the salmon.
How to cure the salmon
No one likes bones, or pins, in their smoked salmon, so begin by removing those from your filets. Then we will cure the salmon with a dry cure mixture of kosher salt and brown sugar. It is basically a really thick dry rub.
To do this, mix together the sugar and salt in a small bowl and then lay out a long sheet of plastic wrap. Sprinkle half of the mixture onto the plastic. Set the salmon on it and sprinkle the other half of the mixture on top of the surface of the fish. The meat should now be fully covered.
Wrap the salmon tightly with the plastic wrap and set it on a baking sheet or sheet pan. Set a second baking sheet on top of the salmon and weigh it down. Finally, place it in the refrigerator for 12 hours to cure.
After 12 hours remove the salmon from the cure and rinse well under cold water. Then pat dry with paper towels. Return the salmon to the fridge for 3 more hours, uncovered, to dry the exterior of the meat, which will help form a delicious crust.
How to smoke it
You are now ready to hot smoke your salmon fillet. However, first, we need to add the honey glaze. This is simply done by painting the meat with a thin layer of honey and then dusting it with fresh grinds of black pepper and a little bit of cayenne pepper to taste. Alternatively, you can mix the honey, black pepper, and cayenne together in a dish and then paint the honey mixture on the fish. However, that takes more work.
Place salmon inside a 165 degree smoker, skin side down. It can be placed directly on the rack or some people prefer to use cedar planks. Wood chips should be added at this time for smoke.
Smoke until it the internal temperature of the salmon reaches 150 degrees when tested with a meat thermometer. This should take three or four hours. Then remove from the smoker and set on cooling racks. When cool enough to handle place in the refrigerator until cold.
More Smoked Fish Recipes
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Honey Smoked Salmon
- Plastic wrap
- Baking sheets
- 1 side of salmon with pins removed
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- ½ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Mix together the cure for the salmon and lay out a long sheet of plastic wrap.
- Add half of the cure mixture on top of the plastic wrap and set the salmon on it. Sprinkle the remaining cure on top of the salmon, ensuring the surface of the meat is fully covered. Then wrap the fish tightly with the plastic wrap.
- Set the wrapped salmon on a baking sheet and place a second baking sheet on top of the salmon to press it. Weigh it down with canned goods or other heavy objects and set in the refrigerator for 12 hours to cure.
- After 12 hours unwrap the salmon, rinse off the cure under cold water and discard it along with the plastic wrap. Pat the salmon filet dry with paper towel and set it back on the baking sheet. Return it to the fridge for 3 more hours to dry the exterior.
- Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and paint the meat with a thin layer of honey. Then dust the honey glaze with black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. For best results, let the salmon come to room temperature (but this isn't 100% required).
- Preheat your smoker to 165 degrees.
- Set the filets in the smoker and add the wood chips. Smoke until the salmon reaches 150 degrees, which should take 3-4 hours.