Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by Carne Diem
Origin: North American, American Northwest
Method: SmokerJump to Recipe
This hot smoked sockeye salmon is brined and then finished with a maple bourbon glaze. These step by step direction for making smoked salmon make it a breeze to make smoked salmon at home on your smoker.
One of the things you learn pretty quickly when living in the Pacific Northwest, is how to make a proper salmon. While all sorts of salmon dishes are popular here, it is smoked salmon that is the most iconic and popular method of preparing this delectable fish. This Maple Bourbon Hot Smoked Salmon is a variation of a smoked salmon recipe that my wife's family has been making for decades. No summer get together is complete without "Uncle Gary's Smoked Salmon." In this version we baste the brined salmon in bourbon maple syrup while it is smoking, to add just the right amount to sweetness to the smoky, salty fish.
Table of contents
Making the Maple Bourbon Hot Smoked Salmon
What is the best salmon for smoked salmon?
One of the first keys in making a great smoked salmon is selecting high quality fish. You want to seek out wild caught salmon which will be a darker, reddish color, vs. the bland looking grayish-pink farm raised salmon. Why the color difference? Salmon, similar to flamingoes get their coloring from the food they eat. So always choose the vibrant colored salmon that ate a diverse vibrant diet in the wild versus the bland colored salmon that was fed a bland (and sometimes questionable) farm raised diet.
For smoked salmon you can use your favorite salmon species but we prefer sockeye when we are smoking. Chinook (King) are also a great choice. If you are looking for a salmon with a slightly less "salmon taste" give Coho a try. Pink and chum salmon are better suited for the canneries. When in season, from May-September, Copper River king or sockeye salmon are the crown jewel of all salmon, and worth grabbing whenever you can.
This recipe will make about 1.5-2 pounds of Maple Bourbon Hot Smoked Salmon. You want to use salmon fillets for this recipe, not salmon steaks.
Making hot smoked salmon is essentially a 3 step process, consisting of brining the fish, drying to allow the pellicle to form, and then smoking the salmon.
Brining the salmon
Remove the salmon from the packaging and give it a quick rinse under cold water.
We find it easiest to halve or quarter the salmon prior to brining, but you can certainly leave the entire fillet whole if that is your preference. We almost always cut the salmon into smaller portions prior to smoking so we go ahead and get a head start here.
For the brine you will need sugar, salt, soy sauce, water, sherry, hot sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, and fresh cracked black pepper. Combine the brine ingredients in a bowl and stir or whisk to combine. Once combined, pour the brine into a non-reactive 9x13 pan and add the salmon to the pan.
Brine the salmon for at least 8 hours or overnight, flipping the salmon over half way through the brining process.
How to dry and form the pellicle on smoked salmon
Remove the salmon from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cold water. Pat the salmon dry. Depending on your time frame for smoking the salmon, you have a couple options for drying the salmon and forming a pellicle. If you want to smoke the salmon the same day, place the salmon, skin down, on a wire rack over a pan. Use an oscillating fan to dry the salmon.
Typically with this method the pellicle will form in 2-3 hours. Rotate the salmon 180 degrees each hour. The fish is cured at this point so do not worry too much about the fish sitting at room temp for a few hours during this process.
If you plan on smoking the salmon the next day, you can also dry the salmon in the refrigerator. Again place the salmon on a wire rack over a pan. Place in a flat area of the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. A proper pellicle will have a tacky feel to it. This allows the smoke to better adhere to the fish during the smoking step.
Glaze and smoke the Maple Bourbon Hot Smoked Salmon
Alright, you nailed the brining and drying steps and your pellicle is textbook. Time to bring the baby across the finish line. If you have not already, cut the salmon fillet into individual sized pieces.
Brush the pieces with bourbon maple syrup. We have had good results with Cedar Ridge or Blis, but feel free to use your favorite or what you can find. Regular maple syrup is perfectly fine too for you weirdos that do not like bourbon.
Heat your smoker to 175-200 degrees. If you are using a pellet smoker the choice of wood is not as important but if using real wood use a mild fruit wood, maple, or alder.
We smoke our salmon on maple planks because our son has a salmon allergy so we try to avoid cross contaminating the smoker. It works well, but is in no way required. If placing the fish directly on the grate, make sure it is well oiled to avoid the fish sticking.
Smoke the salmon for about an hour, then brush will additional maple syrup and rotate 180 degrees. Cook for an additional hour then check the temp.
For more great seafood recipes for your grill of smoker check out these easy recipes:
- Grilled Feta and Orzo Stuffed Branzino
- Fried Lump Crab Cakes with Sriracha Mayonnaise
- Bacon Wrapped Halibut Cheeks
- Spicy, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp: Bottle Rocket Shrimp
- Pina Colada Shrimp Skewers
- Smoked Miso Black Cod: Misoyaki Butterfish
- Ooni Wood Plank Salmon
Serving the Maple Bourbon Hot Smoked Salmon
Once your salmon reaches 135 degrees you are good to go for a perfect hot smoked salmon with a moist center. This is the way we prefer it when we are serving it warm as a main dish.
You may also choose to continue smoking the salmon longer. This will result in a smokier, stronger tasting smoked salmon. When serving as an appetizer we will often smoke an additional 2-3 hours, basting with syrup each hour. This will result in a firmer, drier salmon that is perfect as a finger food appetizer or over crackers and cream cheese. The salmon will also keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
Have left overs? This Bourbon Maple Hot Smoked Salmon works perfectly in our Pike Place Chowder inspired Smoked Salmon Chowder. If you are falling in love with brining meats, then check out our Scratch Corned Beef: From Packer to the Table. Also save room for dessert like our Bourbon Maple Pecan Pie or Girl Scout Key Lime-onade Pie.
Frequently Asked Questions
The smoked salmon is best if cooked to 130-140 degrees.
The hot smoked salmon should be kept in the refrigerator and is best if eaten within 1 week.
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Bourbon Maple Hot Smoked Salmon
- 1.5-2 Pounds Salmon Fillet
- Bourbon Maple Syrup for basting
- ⅓ Cup White Sugar
- ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
- 1 Cup Soy Sauce
- 1 Cup Water
- 1 Cup Sherry
- ½ teaspoon Onion Powder
- ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
- ½ teaspoon Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
- ½ teaspoon Hot Sauce
Brining the Salmon
- Combine the sugar, salt, soy sauce, water, sherry, hot sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, and fresh cracked black pepper in a bowl and stir or whisk to combine. Once combined, pour the brine into a non-reactive 9x13 pan and add the salmon to the pan.
- Brine the salmon for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Drying the salmon
- Remove the salmon from the brine and thoroughly rinse the fish under cold water. Pat dry and place on a wire rack, skin side down.
- For quick drying place the salmon in front of an oscillating fan for 2-3 hours. Rotate the fish 180 degrees each hour.
- You can also dry the salmon by placing the salmon on a wire rack, uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. A sticky pellicle should form on the surface of the fish.
Smoking the salmon
- Baste the salmon with some of the Bourbon Maple Syrup.
- Heat your smoker to 175-200 degrees. Cut the salmon into serving sized pieces and place on the smoker.
- Smoke the salmon skin side down for about 2 hours, rotating the fish halfway through, and basting with additional maple syrup. This fish is done when it reaches 135-140 degrees.
- You can serve warm, or refrigerate the fish and serve cold. You may also elect to continue smoking the fish for an additional 2-3 hours to get a firmer, dryer smoked salmon or a salmon jerky like texture.