Appetizers and Drinks, Grilling
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Grill Smoked Salmon

Hot smoked salmon is my favorite appetizer for a crowd.  When I want to show off for a dinner party, this is what I make.  A whole side of smoked salmon is very impressive, particularly when your guests are used to the small, sealed pouches of smoked salmon you can get at the store.
*Yes, I like to show off with my cooking.  You couldn’t tell?

This recipe works around some common issues with grilling fish.  It’s hard to overcook, because the whole point of grill smoking is to cook the fish until it is well done.  It doesn’t stick to the grill.  You cook it with the skin down the whole time, on a homemade foil tray; easy on, easy off.
Finally, it’s excellent if you make it ahead of time.  Normally I’m not a fan of “leftover” fish – I want it hot off the grill.  This recipe tastes just as good, if not better, if it’s been in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Recipe: Grill Smoked Salmon

Cook time: 60 minutes



  • 2 lbs salmon (I used a side of frozen wild salmon that I thawed in the refrigerator)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)


  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 cup Kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
Brined salmon, on its tray, with my soaked oak barrel stave

1. Brine the salmon: Combine the brine ingredients in a container large enough to hold your piece of salmon, and stir until dissolved. Add the salmon, and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Put your wood chunk in a bowl of water and soak until ready to grill.

2. Prepare the grill: Prepare your grill for cooking on indirect medium to medium-low heat. For my Weber kettle, I light a chimney starter* half full of charcoal (about 50 coals), wait for it to be covered with ash, then pour it in a tight pile on one corner of the grill. Then I drain my wood chunk and put it on top of the charcoal.
*I highly recommend the Weber Chimney Starter, because it is larger than most chimney starters. It holds 5 quarts of charcoal, which exactly the right size for cooking this recipe.

3. Prepare the salmon: While the charcoal is heating , remove your salmon from the brine, and pat dry. Make an aluminum foil tray for the salmon, just larger than the piece of salmon itself, and put the salmon on top. Sprinkle the salmon evenly with the paprika.
*I put the foil and salmon on a sheet tray to make it easy to move around; you just slide it off the tray onto the grill.

Fire on the left, salmon on the right

4. Cook the Salmon: Once the wood chunk starts smoking, put the salmon (on its foil tray) on the grill, as far away from the coals as possible. Put the lid on your grill, with the vent over the salmon, and close the top vent slightly (you want it 2/3rds open). Cook with the lid closed for 1 to 1.5 hours or until the salmon is well cooked. I would estimate one hour per inch of salmon at its thickest part. If you’re cooking for more than an hour, add eight coals after one hour to keep the heat going. When it’s done, the salmon will flake easily when you press on it.

5. Serve: Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 48 hours before serving.  For an appetizer, I serve the fish whole; I use a large spatula to lift the fish off the foil and transfer it to a serving platter.  For individual servings, cut the salmon crosswise into 1 to 2″ fillets, and use a spatula to lift them off of the foil and skin.

*The first way to serve this is as a main course.  Hot off the grill, I cut the salmon into 1 to 2″ thick fillets, with a squeeze of lemon and some dijon or brown mustard on the side.

*The second is as a smoked salmon appetizer.  Serve cold with crackers, diced red onion, capers, and sour cream or horseradish sauce.  For this approach, it can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before serving; it tastes just as good cold as it does hot.

*I wouldn’t use this for a piece of salmon that weighs less than a pound and a half; the long cooking time would dry out a thinner cut of salmon.  You want a big, thick fillet for this.

*This is hot smoked salmon, not cold smoked like you will see in those pouches at the grocery store.  Think barbecue (250*F to 300*F), not cold smoked (180*F to 200*F) when you are cooking it.  Unlike cold smoked, which cures the salmon, this recipe will only keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
*That’s never been an issue for me, because I like the leftovers so much; I’ll use it in a salmon sandwich with some mayo or sour cream, and maybe a thin-sliced red onion.

*I love these Steven Raichlen oak wine barrel staves for smoking.  The oak has a subtle difference from hickory that I like.  I don’t know hot to describe it, other than the taste a little less…bacony.  I also love the smell of wine you get when you first put them on the fire, even though I don’t think it affects the taste of the food.
*I don’t get to go on winery tours as often as I like (read: I’d live at a winery, if I could).  You get a whiff of that grape and slightly sour smell that you only get in wineries.  Ahh…heaven.

I found a closeout sale on these at my local Bed, Bath and Beyond a while back, after the end of grilling season.  I went a little crazy; now I have smoking wood stacked in my basement for the next few years.  But, that’s something to keep in mind – grilling has a distinct season, at least here in Northeastern Ohio, and you can get some great deals if you wait until just after that season to do your shopping.

*As I said yesterday, please use wild Alaskan salmon in this recipe.  Thank you!

Questions? Comments? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Click here for my essay on Sustainable Seafood
Grilled Trout, Herb and Citrus stuffed

Adapted from:
Barbecued Hot Smoked Salmon The Cook’s Illustrated Guide To Grilling And Barbecue

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  1. Anonymous says

    I’m not an experienced briner so I can’t advise on the right amounts, but I found that 1 C of salt was too much. The fish after 4 h of brining was good, but next time I’m certainly using less. One of the kids wouldn’t eat it, too salty for him. Looking at various online recipes for brining fish I see they recommend anywhere from 1/3 C to 1 1/2 C of salt for 4 quarts. Good blog, BTW.

  2. @Anonymous:

    I think you’re right – I meant to say 1 cup of KOSHER salt, not table salt. Since I use Diamond Crystal kosher, that would translate to 1/2 cup table salt. I’ve corrected the recipe. Sorry about that, and thank you for letting me know!

  3. I didn’t brine mine at all. I put some soy sauce and peper on the fish, and smoked it on the grill. My son is still raving about the fish.

  4. John K says

    What kind of paprika did you use? Sweet, hot, smoked etc…?

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