How to Smoke Salmon Without a Smoker for Fancy Appetizers and Smoky Snacks

Smoked salmon is a delicious topping on a breakfast bagel or summer salad. Its smoky flavor goes perfectly with cream cheese, veggies and crispy bread. Smoked salmon tastes best when you smoke it yourself, since homemade lox is almost always fresher than what you'll find at the store, and you get to choose how to marinate it. If you don't have a smoker, not to worry, you can still make delectable smoky salmon from home. Here's how to smoke salmon without a smoker for a tasty smoked fish treat.

Choosing Your Salmon

Fish market
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When buying salmon, it's best to get wild caught salmon when possible, for a multitude of reasons. For one, wild salmon is far better for your health than its farmed counterpart. While salmon contains more healthy omega-3 fats, fewer calories, and half the amount of fat that farmed salmon does. Plus, farmed salmon has higher quantities of pollutants, contaminants, and other toxins than wild salmon.

Farmed salmon is also extremely harmful to the environment, causing damage to marine ecosystems through pollution and parasites. The salmon farms are doing their best to keep up with the demand of the fish-loving consumer, but this means that a huge quantity of wild fish are being caught to feed the fish in salmon farms, wreaking havoc on natural ecosystems and depleting the food sources of fishermen in developing countries.

Because of these environmental and health reasons, it's always better to choose wild caught salmon rather than farm raised! Along with this, look for a salmon fillet that appears moist rather than dry and one without any brown spots.

How Do You Smoke Fish Without a Smoker?

Close-up of rolls of smoked salmon on a gray background
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To smoke salmon without a smoker, you need to create your own makeshift stovetop smoker. Fortunately, this is simple and can be done with household items that you likely already have. For your DIY smoker, you'll need:

  • wood chips: alder, cherry or apple are best; don't use overly strong flavors like hickory or mesquite
  • large vessel like a roasting pan, wok, or dutch oven
  • something that fits inside the cooking vessel like a cooling rack, cake rack, or metal steamer basket
  • aluminum foil
  • cooling rack

Whether you prefer hot smoked salmon or cold smoked salmon, this method is a foolproof way to get all the tasty flavor you get from using a real smoker, without having to actually buy one.

How to Assemble Your DIY Smoker

To make your stovetop smoker, place the cooking vessel on the stovetop. Start by lining the cooking vessel with aluminum foil. Then, put about 1/4 cup of wood chips in the middle of the foil. Don't use more wood chips, since this can cause your salmon to taste overly smoky. Place another piece of foil on top of the chips to protect them from drippings.

Place the cake rack, cooling rack or metal steamer basket above the wood chips, with its sides resting on the cooking vessel so that the salmon will be suspended above the chips. When the salmon is ready, you'll place the salmon on the rack, bring the foil up over the salmon to form a tent, cover the pan with a lid, and smoke the salmon.

Preparing Your Salmon

Smoked salmon slices with spices and herbs. Organic fish. Black background. Top view
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Before smoking the salmon, you'll need to marinate it and dry it out. The ingredients of your marinade depend on the recipe, but some common flavorings are sea salt, brown sugar, black pepper, coconut aminos, and liquid smoke. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Remove all pin bones from the salmon, and cut the fillet into even pieces if you desire. Try to cut it into pieces that have similar thickness throughout, so that the fish cooks evenly. Add fish to the bowl and leave it to brine for 8 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Take the salmon out and pat it dry with a paper towel. Now, you'll need it to dry for another 8 to 12 hours. Place the marinated fillets on a cooling rack over a baking sheet, skin side down. Either place the rack in the fridge uncovered for 8 to 12 hours, or place it in a room under a fan for 2 to 4 hours. Once the fish is adequately dry, it's time to smoke it in your DIY smoker.

How to Smoke the Salmon

Toasts with salmon and lemon
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To smoke the salmon, place it in your makeshift smoker and close the lid. The cook time depends on the heat level of your stove and the thickness of your fillets, but there are ways to ensure that your salmon is perfectly smoked.

For a 1-inch fillet, turn the heat on your stove to medium-high for 4 minutes, and then medium for 12 minutes. For a 2-inch fillet, turn it to medium-high for 4 minutes, and then medium for 20 minutes. When the time is coming to an end, check the internal temperature of the salmon for doneness. When it's 140 degrees F, it's ready. Make sure to check your salmon as it cooks to avoid overcooking it, since this will cause it to be too dry.

When the smoked salmon is ready, transfer it to a plate to cool. It's best when chilled in the refrigerator before eating. Eat your delicious smoked fish on a bagel with cream cheese, in DIY sushi, on toasted bread for an appetizer, or in a salad.

Here's a smoked salmon recipe to try it out!

READ MORE: How to Tell When Salmon is Done

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