Q. I’d like to have smoked salmon at my next dinner party. Is it possible to smoke it myself? — Darlene, Neenah
A. Darlene, you are barking up my tree! When it comes to curing and smoking, I consider it my passion. It is my number one hobby, as Chef Gary Lyons and I compete in Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions around the state.
While tailgating at a Packer game in December, I often warm smoked salmon, which is a different treat for my guests! Most people are used to eating smoked salmon cold.
First, I brine the salmon for about a day in our basic brine, which consists of 1/3 cup salt and 1/3 cup sugar dissolved in 1 gallon of water. This brining process uses osmosis to balance the salt and sugar, which allows the sweet and salty flavors to penetrate the fish. (If the fish is very thick, it may need an extra day.)
Next, I prepare my covered kettle-style grill for smoking by building the fire on one side. Just before I put the fish on the grill, I’ll throw a small amount (a cup or two) of soaked wood chips on the hot coals, almost immediately creating smoke. Then I’ll place the fish on the opposite side of the grill using indirect heat. It is important to smoke the fish until it is just about done. If you look at the flakes and see a little bit of white fat starting to appear, you know you are getting close (the fat starts to push out as the protein of the fish coagulates).
Most people will take a knife tip and check in between the flakes to see if the fish is done. If you are serving the fish warm, remove it from the grill and serve it immediately with crackers or cocktail rye. If you’d like to serve it cold, put it in a safe environment to chill properly.
And Darlene – for firsthand demonstration of this technique, just get an extra Packer ticket for me and we’ll meet in the parking lot at Lambeau Field. Hope to see you there!
Chef Jeff’s Warm Smoked Salmon
2 Salmon fillets, boneless, skin-on
1 gallon water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup white granulated sugar, white granulated
2 cups Hard Wood Chips
Marinate the salmon fillets in the salt water for 18–24 hours prior to smoking.
On a hot charcoal grill, place the wood chips directly on the hot charcoal. The wood chips will immediately begin to smolder, and eventually burn.
Simultaneously grill and smoke the salmon fillets until done. The cooking time will depend upon the thickness of the fillets and the amount of heat generated from the charcoal. (I suggest a thick fillet (at least 3/4” or more) cooked just until done. Overcooking fish or seafood does not enhance the eating quality of the product.)
Serve immediately with crackers or other appropriate side dishes!
NOTE: Pickle juice can be substituted for the water for unique and interesting taste combination!