How to Smoke Salmon on the Big Green Egg
It isn't too often that I get weak in the knees over a recipe, but smoked salmon on a Big Green Egg is one that really does it for me.
I will warn you up front, this is not one of those "cook an entire feast in 10 minute" recipes. In fact, it will take the better part of the day, but it is worth every minute of the wait.
I brined the salmon overnight and then smoked it the next day. It was ready in time for a late lunch! It was tempting to take the salmon off early as the filet looked divine! I am very glad we waited, as the final product was nothing short of amazing.
Just in case you think I am being a bit dramatic, I didn't get the salmon inside the house before my son grabbed a fork and started eating straight from the filet. He was darned-near full before dinner even began - that turkey!
Dry Cure Ingredients
- 1/2 cup Kosher Salt, (don't try to use other types of salt)
- 2 cloves Chopped Garlic
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 1 tsp Freshly Grated Ginger
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 2 leaves Crumbled Bay Leaves
Dry Cure / Brine Instructions
- Mix the ingredients in a bowl.
- Spread liberally on both sides of the filet.
- Cover with Saran Wrap and place filet in a glass container in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
- After 8 - 10 hours, remove the filet and wash off the mixture extremely well with tap water. Note: When you think you are done, wash it again otherwise you may find the filet to be a bit salty.
- Place the filet back in the refrigerator uncovered for another two to three hours. This will give the filet the time it needs to dry off.
- After two to three hours, the salmon should be tacky to the touch. It is ready to be put on the grill.
Brining the Salmon
I thought it was worth calling out the change in the texture of the salmon after brining for about 8 hours. Before the brine, the filet was soft and supple. Afterwards, the filet became stiff.
Also, the brine pulls a lot of the moisture out of the salmon. Look at the amount of liquid in the glass container. After a few hours of air drying, the filet will be ready for the BGE.
Importance of Drying the Filet
After the salmon is finished with the brine and it is washed thoroughly, the filet must dry. After a few hours in the refrigerator, the salmon forms a pellicle. This is the tacky surface of the fish that is created by the proteins in the meat.
For the purposes of smoking, it is the pellicle that captures the smoke. If you put the salmon on the smoker without this important step, it will not develop that delectable flavoring.
Soaking the Wood Chips
I chose applewood for my smoking chips. It gives off a mild flavor, as opposed to some of the stronger flavors like hickory or mesquite. Definitely experiment and see which intensity you prefer.
Regardless of the type of wood, you should soak the chips in water for at least one hour. That helps to regulate the speed at which they smoke once they are placed within the grill. You should keep a few handfuls in reserve in case the smoking takes longer than expected.
Preparing the Grill
Preparing the grill is an art form. I prefer to light the grill, bring it up to a high temperature in order to ensure that the fire is evenly spread throughout the coals and then bring the temperature down to about 180 degrees.
For my grill on a 50 degree day, that meant my bottom and top vents were only open about 1/4". Every grill is different, so adjust yours accordingly.
Once the temperature has dropped back down, I added apple wood chips around the perimeter of the inside of the BGE. There wasn't as much heat around the perimeter and I found the chips to smoke more slowly than if I had dumped them in the middle of the coals.
Lastly, I added the plate setter inverted with the grill on top. I added a disposable aluminum pan directly on the plate setter with ice to catch the drippings.
When is it Ready?
The salmon filet is ready to serve when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
That said, I find that I can simply look at the filet and see if it is ready. Expect that it will turn a deep orange/red and the texture will be firm.
The longer you smoke it, the more flavoring it will take on, so don't rush the process.
It typically takes about 4 to 5 hours if I use the plate setter. If you are in a rush, remove the plate setter, but the salmon will not have as rich of a flavor.
The first time I smoked a salmon, I made a few mistakes. Don't get me wrong, the salmon was still mighty tasty, but there were a few areas I wanted to improve.
First, I used Sea Salt instead of Kosher Salt. I am not sure that made a huge difference in the process, but the end result was a bit saltier than I would have cared for. I limited the brining process to 8 hours and made sure I had washed the brine off a lot more thoroughly the second time.
Second, I placed the salmon in a disposable pan on the BGE. While this worked perfectly for stopping any drippings from lighting up the charcoal, it stopped me from getting both sides of the salmon equally smoked. I should have used the tiered rack that first time. With the salmon on the higher rack and a drip pan beneath it, I would have had both sides smoked and still stopped the drippings. I have used the tiered rack since, and it has worked wonderfully!
On the flip side, I was VERY happy using the plate setter. I placed this flat-side down which created indirect heating. The smoke ran up the sides and over the filet. The only drawback to this is if you need to add more wood chips. Either the plate setter needs to be removed or the chips must be carefully placed in the openings.
I smoked my first salmon at 160 -180 degrees for about five hours. I had not even brought the filet inside before my family was eating it. Mercy, was that good!