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Learn how to make smoked salmon on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill!
We take you step-by-step through preparing, brining, and seasoning your salmon, setting up your Pit Boss pellet grill for the cook, and smoking it to perfection.
Preparing your Salmon for Smoking
Rinse, Dry and Fillet the Salmon
The first thing you want to do when you get the salmon out of the packaging is to give it a good rinse under cold running water.
The place it on your cutting board and pat it very dry with paper towels.
Once it is dry, run your fingers along the salmon checking for any bones that were not removed previously.
If you feel any, remove them with some tweezers and discard.
Lastly, slice your salmon into about 2 inch portion sized fillets.
Dry Brine the Salmon Overnight
No matter what type of fish fillets you are smoking, you are usually better off brining them first.
Brining fish not only adds flavor, but helps the salmon retain moisture during low and slow smoking, helps it absorb smokey flavor, and cuts down on albumin, that unappetizing white stuff that leaks out of fish sometimes when it’s cooked.
Now, we think the BEST way to prepare salmon for smoking is to dry brine it for at least 4 hours, but preferably 8 hours overnight in a mixture of brown sugar, salt, and pepper.
You will need:
- A Baking Dish
- Plastic wrap
- 3 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Fresh Black Pepper
Mix the brine mixture ingredients together well and place some in the bottom of the baking dish.
Place the fillets on top of the mixture, then spread more of the brine mixture over the fillets, trying to cover every exposed surface of the fish.
Continue to layer your fillets like this, depending on how much fish you have, packing the brine mixture around them, and then cover the whole dish tightly with plastic wrap.
Place the baking dish in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours overnight.
Rinse and Dry the Salmon Before Smoking
When you take out the salmon the next day, you will see A LOT of moisture has come out of the fish.
This is normal.
Take the salmon fillets out of the tray and rinse them off really well under cold running water, pat dry with paper towels, and place them on a wire rack to air dry.
Add whatever rub you want to use on the salmon at this point.
Keep them on the wire rack for about 1-2 hours while you start to get your Pit Boss ready.
Over the course of an hour or so the dry brined salmon will form what is known as a pellicle on the exterior.
This is just a fancy term for a sticky layer that forms as some of the salt and sugar that infused last night makes its back way to the surface.
Just like we did on our smoked tuna steaks, we want a good pellicle because it is the ideal surface to absorb smokey flavor and form a delicious crust on the salmon as it smokes, so give it time to form.
If you are in a rush, the pellicle will form even faster if you bring the salmon outside or set up a box fan to circulate air gently on the salmon while it dries up on the racks.
Best Rubs and Seasoning for Making Smoked Salmon on a Pit Boss
Salmon, having a solid flavor of its own holds up well to stronger seasonings and flavors compared to more delicate fillets like tilapia and halibut.
You can go big and spicy with a creole or cajun blackening blend of paprika, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt, and pepper that’s your thing. You can also substitute smoked paprika for more color and depth of flavor.
Go easy on the amount of salt in your rub since we already brined the salmon for smoking. You can always add more after tasting but you can’t put that genie back in the bottle if you overdo it.
Salmon also tastes great with a sweet glaze like we did on our Honey Smoked Salmon and our Maple Balsamic Smoked Mackerel.
Mix the spices and sprinkle on the salmon fillets after rinsing and drying from the brine but before you air dry them to form the pellicle.
You can add the spices after the pellicle forms but they won’t be as well incorporated into it.
Also, its ok to put a little oil on the skin side, or side that will touching the grill grates so they don’t stick while smoking on the Pit Boss. But don’t use a lot of oil or the pellicle won’t form properly.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own seasoning blend, one of our latest favorite rubs for smoked salmon is Rufus Teague Fish Rub.
It’s got a great sweet and salty profile with some garlic, lemon, pepper, and a touch of heat that works great on all kinds of smoked fish.
Homemade Cajun Smoked Salmon Rub
If you like big flavors and want a good cajun blackening rub on your Pit Boss smoked salmon fillets before throwing them on the Pit Boss, then we’ve got you covered with this simple rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- 2 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- 1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
- 1 Tbsp Dried Thyme
- 1 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1 Tsp Salt
- 1 Tsp Pepper
- 1/2 Tsp Celery Salt
Mix thoroughly, (using a re-usable plastic shaker works best), and then sprinkle directly on your salmon.
You can replace the paprika with smoked paprika and you get a sweeter flavor profile without adding sugar.
The Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Salmon on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill
Fish absorbs smoke very quickly and a little goes a long way.
The best woods for smoking salmon include the fruitwoods like apple, cherry, and peach, but also the milder smoking woods like pecan, oak and alder.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor and should only be used if mixed in with some of the other types mentioned above.
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Pit Boss hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
Smoking Salmon with Cedar Planks, Grill Baskets, or Phat Mats
As with other types of fish, we have found sometimes smoking salmon directly on the grates of a Pit Boss pellet grill can come with some challenges, such as the fish sticking or falling apart when you move it around, etc.
So here are a few options to consider when smoking salmon or any other delicate fish or vegetables.
Option 1: Cedar Planks
You can experiment with smoking your salmon on cedar planks for some added woods-ey flavor.
Make sure to soak the cedar planks in water for at least an hour before putting them on your grill or smoker so that they don’t char and burn.
This also helps release steam and flavor the salmon fillets while they are smoking.
Check out this Complete Guide on How to Grill with Cedar Planks HERE.
Option 2: Use a Grill Basket or Grill Mat
Because salmon is more delicate than other cuts of meat, you may be more successful if you place the fillets in a grill basket rather than directly on the grill grates.
We are particular fans of the ORDORA Portable Grill Basket because it comes with its own handle, making it much easier to manage and move lots of delicate food around with one quick motion.
Another option is to use a grill mat, which are becoming increasingly popular in many BBQ circles, especially for delicate fillets, vegetables, and small seafood like shrimp and scallops.
Our personal favorite is the PhatMat Non Stick Grill Mat.
Just throw it down on your grill to keep your fish (or any other food) from sticking or falling through. It keeps your grates really clean, and when you are done, you just throw it right in the dishwasher!
For a great example on how to smoke salmon on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill, check out this great video from Ash Kickin’ BBQ:
How to Smoke Salmon on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill
We have previously covered how to season a Pit Boss, how to start a Pit Boss, as well as how to troubleshoot the smoke level of your pellet grill.
So if you need a more in-depth review on how to use your Pit Boss for the first time, check those articles out first!
But below is a brief overview of how a Pit Boss pellet grill works and how to start it up properly to prepare to smoke your food.
How a Pit Boss Pellet Grill Works
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a Pit Boss pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how a pellet grill works.
***Completely New to Using a Pellet Grill? No Worries!****
Hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works if you are interested in learning more in depth. We’ll be here when you get back!***
Add your Hardwood Pellets
First, you add hardwood pellets into the side hopper.
The Pit Boss pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot where they are burned up, providing both heat and smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically controls the flow of pellets depending on your temperature setting so that you maintain an even temperature throughout the entire cook.
How to Start up the Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Fill your hopper with pellets as described above.
- Make sure the fire pot is cleaned out from the last cook and not full of ashes. You can remove it from the bottom and dump or vacuum it out and then put back and clip into place.
- Plug in and start up the pellet grill, keeping the lid open. Set the temperature dial to “Smoke” and press the “Power” button.
- If there are no pellets in the auger or firepot yet, only in the hopper, you need to now hold the “Prime” button until you hear pellets begin to drop into the firepot.
- The “Prime” feature on a Pit Boss pellet grill speeds up the auger so that pellets fill it quickly and get to your fire pot before the pellet grill “times out” from a lack of pellets coming into the fire pot.
- Once pellets are in the firepot, stop holding the “Prime” button and wait about 5-7 minutes with the lid open for a torchy burner lighting sound. This means the fire rod has come up to temperature and has ignited the pellets. At this point, a more significant amount of smoke will begin coming out of the pellet grill. This means the pellets are ignited and the pellet grill is working. Now you can close the lid.
- Close the lid and change the temperature setting to 350°F. Pit Boss recommends always preheating to this temperature FIRST, even if you are eventually going to cook at different temperature.
- This will take about 10-15 minutes to preheat the grill.
- Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates.
- Now adjust the temperature to where you need it to cook your food.
Why Bristle Free Grill Brushes?
Check out our Ultimate Guide to How to Keep your Family Safe by using ONLY Bristle Free Grill Brushes, along with a selection of some of our favorites!
Best Times and Temperatures for Pit Boss Smoked Salmon
What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Salmon
Technically today we are “Hot Smoking” our salmon, as Cold Smoking is an entirely different process that can take 6-8 hours and is more akin to preserving the salmon like beef jerky rather than cooking it.
That said, we are still going to set up the Pit Boss for very low and slow indirect cooking at only 180°F.
This will give the salmon about 2 hours to cook and absorb plenty of smokey flavor while remaining SUPER tender and delicate.
The lower temperature when smoking salmon on the Pit Boss also helps prevent any albumin, that milky white substance that sometimes comes out of cooked fish, from leaking out.
This keeps the smoked salmon not only more visually appetizing, but also keeps more moisture in the meat where we want it.
Target Internal Temperature for Pit Boss Smoked Salmon
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your Pit Boss smoked salmon, so as to make sure it is not over or under cooked.
We are particular fans of this one from ThermoPro because of its durability and affordable price.
We are targeting a final internal temperature of 140-145°F on the Pit Boss smoked salmon to know that it is safe to eat and finished cooking.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Salmon at 180°F?
At 180°F, our Pit Boss smoked salmon will take about 2 hours to cook and come up to 145°F internally.
This gives it plenty of time to absorb a good amount of smoke and really develop some great flavors on the smoker.
If you are planning to brush on any glazes or honey or maple syrup, warm it up first and wait to brush on when the salmon has about 30-45 minutes left on the smoker.
Like we said, you’ll want to monitor the internal temperature of the salmon fillets as they progress through the cook.
If you have large enough smoked salmon fillets, you can also use a good leave in probe thermometer like the Thermopro as well as a second instant read thermometer to spot check as you get close to pulling the fish off the Pit Boss.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don’t need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It’s got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It’s like a GPS for your meat!
Best Ways to Serve Pit Boss Smoked Salmon
Your Pit Boss smoked salmon should be served immediately after removing from the smoker.
No need to rest or wait to eat!
You can squeeze on some fresh lemon on them or top with a little sprinkle of parsley for added color.
Try serving alongside our smoked broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower if you are eating healthy, or you can indulge in our famous sweet and smokey sweet potatoes to accompany the salmon as well.
You can also refrigerate and then incorporate it into a smoked salmon dip for a party for all to enjoy!
What Else Can I Smoke on my Pit Boss?
So glad you asked!
Check out some of our other favorite recipes below that can all be easily modified for a Pit Boss if not done so already.
You’ve come to right place!
- Pit Boss Pulled Pork
- Pit Boss Smoked Baby Back Ribs
- Pit Boss Smoked Pork Loin
- Pit Boss 3-2-1 Ribs
- Pellet Grill Smoked Pork Chops
- Pellet Grilled Bratwurst
- Gas Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Fresh Holiday Ham
- Spiral Sliced Smoked Hot Dogs
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Roasted Pig in Your Backyard
- Pit Boss Beef Brisket
- Pit Boss Smoked Beef Tenderloin
- Pit Boss Smoked Prime Rib
- Pit Boss Smoked Chuck Roast
- Pit Boss Smoked Beef Ribs
- Perfect Smoked London Broil
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Smoked Corned Beef
- Smoked Ribeye Steaks
- Smoked Filet Mignon
- Hot and Fast Pellet Grill Beef Brisket
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Smoked Eye of Round Roast Beef
- Easy Smoked Flank Steak
- Smoked Tomahawk Steaks
- Smoked Bottom Round Roast
- Smoked Sirloin Tip Roast
- Honey Smoked Salmon
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Honey Smoked Tilapia
- Perfect Smoked Halibut
- Smoked Mahi Mahi Fillets
- Smoked Swordfish Steaks
- Smoked Crab Legs with Cajun Clarified Butter
- Smoked Mackerel with Maple Balsamic Glaze
- Smoked Catfish with Cajun BBQ Rub
- Smoked Red Snapper with Blackening Rub
- Smoked Trout
- Smoked Tuna Steaks
- Pit Boss Smoked Whole Chicken
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Breasts
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Legs
- Pit Boss Smoked Chicken Wings
- Smoked Chicken Leg Quarters
- Beer Can Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Pellet Grill Smoked Turkey Breast
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Easy Smoked Turkey Legs
- Spatchcock Smoked Turkey on a Pellet Grill
- Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill or smoker but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours!
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
Other Odds and Ends
- Masterbuilt Smoked Cheese
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked Asparagus
- Easy Smoked Broccoli
- Smoked Cauliflower
- Sticky Smoked Sweet Potatoes
- How to Steam Tamales
- Smoked Pineapple in a Maple Bourbon Sauce
- Smoked Carrots with a Honey Balsamic Glaze