This is how you smoke salmon on the Traeger Grill:
Start with an earthy and citrusy brine of beetroot and blood orange, and then glaze with pomegranate and maple syrup hourly when on the grill as your salmon smokes to perfection.
I’ve written before about How To Smoke Whole Trout on the Traeger using a simple brine solution of burnt sugar, salt, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
The special brine I teach you here works just as well for trout as it does for salmon, as the species are related.
This recipe also works equally well for either whole salmon or fillets.
Find Wild Salmon If You Can
Catch it yourself if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of access. I’ve participated exactly once in the Great Ontario Salmon Derby and it was an absolute rush fighting a 20 lbs fish out of the water — I sadly did not win any prize as the first place went to an 80 lbs monster if I remember correctly. Another time, we fished them out of the Credit River from seemingly impossibly shallow waters.
But salmon tastes its absolute best out of saltwater and we do not have that here. It is easy enough to purchase wild salmon, albeit very expensive, but I make it a point to splurge and eat salmon at least once a week for nutrition as well as taste.
Salmon, especially wild-caught salmon, is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It’s loaded with Omega 3s (EPA & DHA) and salmon is your best source for this essential nutrient that is sadly lacking in our modern diets of processed food.
So find some wild salmon, or catch them yourself. Oh and by the way — if you only have salmon to fish out of freshwater, definitely take the time to properly brine and smoke the fish, it greatly improves the flavour.
Cure or Brine, What is the Difference?
A cry is typically dry. A brine involves submerging the flesh in water completely. Technically speaking a brine is a “wet cure.” You can absolutely take the ingredients from this recipe and turn them into a dry cure to make a bright red beetroot cured salmon if you desire.
Both methods help to preserve and flavour your food, but a brine is really more about flavouring and seasoning the meat.
The best brine is overnight, but 8-10 hours will suffice.
How To Smoke Salmon on the Traeger Grill?
I’m shocked at how easy it was to get into proper smoking. Living in a downtown Toronto condo with multiple rules (mostly a long list of NO’s), I can still enjoy amazing smoked meats and other foods.
All you do is place your brined salmon on the preheated grill at the proper temperature and then baste it every hour, on the hour, for up to 4 hours total.
I set my timer for 60-minute intervals as a reminder to get up and baste.
How Long Should Salmon Be Smoked?
No longer than 4 hours really. After that, you’re getting into salmon jerky territory — which is also incredibly delicious (recipe coming soon) and lasts a lot longer.
You don’t want your temperatures going above 200/220 Fahrenheit. If they do, introduce a bowl of ice water onto the grill.
Drying the Surface (Forming a Pellicle)
This is a crucial step for an optimal flavour and beautiful appearance. Do not ignore it.
Once the salmon is done brining, remove it from the solution, give it a quick rinse, and then set it in a cool place for 1-4 hours to dry and form a pellicle.
The shiny skin that forms — the pellicle — allows the smoke to properly adhere to the salmon flesh.
My kitchen doesn’t allow a lot of room for racks and gadgets so I use a simple mesh splatter screen as a makeshift rack to angle my salmon and allow proper air circulation. I usually only go for 2 hours. Mostly because I’m impatient.
What Flavour Woodchips Should You Use?
I use hickory because it’s what I currently have and my tiny balcony doesn’t allow for multiple huge bags of wood pellets. Especially with my cedar planter full of tomatoes and other vegetables.
But for fish, Traeger especially recommends: Mesquite, Oak, Alder, and the Signature Blend.
I love that the woodchips are just 100% hardwood pellets, no additives, no fillers, nothing weird or shady. It’s just pure wood. It does kinda suck that you have to use Traeger brand specific pellets for their grill, but I find that a 20 lbs bag lasts for ages and that the price is very reasonable, so whatever.
Beetroot, Blood-Orange, & Pomegranate Syrup
Beets provide not only a shockingly dark red colour to the salmon, but also an earthy flavour.
Blood orange (juice and zest) provides a tart sweetness reminiscent of raspberries.
Pomegranate syrup is used for basting alongside the more common maple syrup, and it provides a sour-sweet flavour that is lovely and deep.
You can find pomegranate syrup (or molasses) at most Middle Eastern grocery stores. You can also easily make pomegranate syrup yourself following my recipe:
For basting your salmon, I recommend the version that is just pomegranate, no honey or other sweeteners. That one is my most-used in general.
Once you make pomegranate syrup, you will find SO many uses for it, try it with pork and wild game meats.
How Do You Eat Smoked Salmon?
One of my hands-down favourite combinations for smoked salmon is eggs and asparagus.
You can try my simple recipe here:
A few More Ideas:
- Spread some cream cheese on the salmon and fresh dill, roll up and enjoy.
- On dark rye bread with butter and mayo and a sprinkle of fresh lemon or lime juice.
- With an herbed goat cheese (the flavours of goat cheese and beet are a classic pairing).
- In a salad with a mixture of sweet and bitter greens, herbed goat cheese, and hazelnuts or walnuts.
- With scrambled eggs.
- Take on a picnic or for lunch with other appetizers and spreads like: Country Peasant Pork & Mushroom Pâté, or Marinated Fried Anchovies With Grilled Halloumi.
- Hot off the Traeger with a fork and nothing else (I do this a lot).
What Do You With the Skin After Smoking Salmon?
I peel it off, let it cool and completely dry, and then I flash fry it in bacon fat or lard. A much more delicious version of chips, and packed with collagen to boot.
How To Smoke Salmon on The Traeger Grill
A beyond-the-basics brine of shredded beet and zested & juiced blood orange. Finish off with a glaze of pomegranate and maple syrup for the best hot-smoked salmon. Works for whole fish or fillets equally.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 4 hours
- Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
- Yield: 1 salmon 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Hot Smoking
- Cuisine: North America
- Whole salmon. Gutted and gilled. Or salmon fillets, skin on
- Enough fresh water to fully cover and submerge your salmon
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per 1 cup of water
- 2 beets per salmon fillet, grated using a cheese-grater, or 2–4 beets (depending on size of fish) per whole salmon.
- 2 blood oranges, juiced and zested
- 2 tablespoons of coconut amino acids (or soy or tamari sauce) per whole salmon or fillet
- Pomegranate syrup or molasses (see recipe here) for basting
- Maple syrup for basting
- Toothpicks, 3-4 per salmon depending on size
(I use hickory woodchips most of the time, but for fish Traeger recommends mesquite, oak, alder, and their signature blend.)
To Determine the Amount of Water Needed:
You only need enough fresh water to fully submerge the salmon, no more. You can weigh the water too, but this is how I do it.
- Using a 1 cup measure, fully submerge the salmon in fresh water.
- The amount of cups you used is the amount you need for your brine.
- I like to discard the fishy salmon water and start with a fresh batch for making the actual brine.
- In a large enough saucepan on medium heat, add your kosher salt into a few cups of water, and allow it to fully melt.
- Add the salty water into the rest of your water as you measured in the above steps. Stir until fully incorporated.
- Add the soy sauce/tamari/coconut aminos (if using), grated beets and zested and juiced blood oranges.
- Allow the water to fully come to room temperature — IMPORTANT — do not use hot brine on your salmon, it will precook the fish.
- When the brine solution has cooled down, fully submerge your salmon and add a few teaspoons of whole black peppercorns.
- Place your salmon in the refrigerator to brine anywhere from 8 hours to overnight. Overnight is best.
- After the salmon is sufficiently brined, remove them from the solution and discard the liquid.
- Rinse your salmon under cold running water to remove the brine from the surface. Failing to do so will result in an overly-salty fish.
- Pat the fish dry.
- Using 2-3 toothpicks per salmon (if smoking whole fish), stick them in the fish cavity to keep it propped open while drying and smoking.
- Place the salmon on a rack to dry from 1-4 hours. This step is crucial in developing sticky the pellicle which helps smoke adhere to the flesh. I usually go for 2 hours at cool room temperature, but the refrigerator is probably best.
- Preheat your Traeger on the ‘Smoke’ setting for 5 minutes.
- Baste the salmon inside and out with an equal mixture of pomegranate and maple syrup using a pastry brush and place them, with their chest cavities propped open, directly on the grill.
- Set your timer for 1 hour and every hour baste the salmon with more pomegranate and maple syrup and check to see if the flesh is flaky.
- Depending on the size, the smoking will take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 4.
- Do NOT surpass 4 hours unless you are looking to make salmon jerky.
- Do NOT let the temperate get above 200/220 Fahrenheit, and if it does place a bowl of ice water inside the smoker.
You can also use only pomegranate molasses or only maple syrup for the basting.
Keywords: salmon, smoked salmon, Traeger grill, hot smoking, beet cured salmon,