I have two main hobbies in my life: BBQ and fishing. Sometimes I come home with some trout or salmon and my hobbies collide. After a few years of experimenting, I have found a routine for smoking fish that produces great results. This recipe is designed for trout or salmon. For simplicity, I will refer to both as “salmon” below.
When smoking salmon, it is essential to brine the fish first. I use the following brine:
4 C water
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C salt
I mix it up and put it in a big ziplock bag and add the filets. Of course, you can scale the brine quantities depending on how many filets you have. The above works well for a gallon-size ziplock with enough filets to cover my Traeger grill (10-14 trout filets, fewer salmon filets depending on the size).
Put the bag in the fridge and let it sit for 8 hrs. Less than that time and it won’t be strong enough. Too much longer than that and you run the risk of it taking on too much salt.
Some people claim that you should take the filets out of the fridge and let them sit for a couple of hours to form a pellicle before smoking. This is a sticky outer layer that better absorbs the smoke. I have tried it both ways and could not notice a big difference. I usually go straight to the smoker.
An important part of smoking fish is picking the right wood. You have to be careful because fish absorbs smoke rapidly and it is very easy to get too much smoke and the fish tastes burnt and nasty. So it is best to use a mild wood. My personal preference is alder. I have not tried it, but I hear that orange wood works well also. Do not use mesquite – too strong.
After the brine you are ready to smoke the fish. I put my Traeger on the lowest setting which on my unit is the “smoke” setting and the temps get up to about 180 degrees. I then smoke the fish for 1.5 – 2 hours. If the filets are thin, they will be done at this point. If they are not done after 2 hours, I turn the temp up to 225 degrees and then check them every 10-15 minutes. They will finish quickly at this temp and you don’t want to overcook them, so be careful!
I like to test the doneness by probing the filets with my finger or a fork. If the flesh is waxy looking and soft, it is not done. If the flesh is more opaque and is firm to the touch, it is done.