Learn how to make honey smoked salmon on ANY grill or smoker!
Whether you’re cooking on a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss, in an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or using a regular old Weber grill, we’ve got you covered with the best step-by-step technique for making delicious honey smoked salmon right at home.
Let’s get started!
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
Now, 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.
This not only flavors the salmon really well but draws out all the moisture and cures the salmon, leaving it perfectly ready for the smoker.
Don’t worry, your honey smoked salmon will still be VERY juicy and tender when you eat it it.
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.
Keep them on the wire rack for about 1-2 hours while you start to get your grill or smoker 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 way to the surface.
The pellicle 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 is on the racks.
Best Wood Choices for Honey Smoked Salmon
Salmon will absorb quite a bit of smokey flavor over the same period of time when compared to heavy meats like beef or pork, but quite so much as a delicate white fish like tilapia.
If you want to keep it simple and straightforward, choose a lighter smoking wood like oak, apple, or peach.
Middle of the road? Try hickory or cherry.
And if you want a full in your face mesquite flavor, well, use mesquite. But prepared for it to possibly overpower a lot of the honey smoked salmon flavor.
You can also experiment with cooking your honey smoked salmon on cedar planks for added wood-ey flavor.
Best Times and Temperatures for Honey Smoked Salmon
What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Salmon?
We are going to set up the smoker for very low and slow indirect cooking at 180°F.
This will give the salmon about 2 hours to cook and absorb plenty of smokey flavor while remaining SUPER tender and delicate.
Target Internal Temperature for Honey Smoked Salmon
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your honey smoked salmon, so as to make sure they are 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 150°F on the honey smoked salmon to know that it is safe to eat and finished cooking.
How Long Does it Take to Make Honey Smoked Salmon?
At 180°F, our honey smoked salmon will take about 2 hours to cook and come up to 150°F internally.
This gives it plenty of time to absorb a good amount of smoke and really develop some great flavors on the smoker.
We will plan to brush the warmed up honey on when the salmon has about 30-45 minutes left on the smoker.
More on that below.
Setting up your Grill or Smoker for Honey Smoked Salmon
Optional: 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 filets 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.
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 falling through. It keeps your grates really clean, and when you are done, you just throw it right in the dishwasher!
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about 1/4 bag of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about 1/4 way with charcoal and wait about 15 minutes for it to fully ignite.
You will not need too many lit briquets here because we are trying to keep the smoker temperature very low for about 2 hours at the most.
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the cooking chamber temperature reaches about 140°F. Then slowly close them down until they are just barely open and you are maintaining a temperature of 180° F.
Place 1 chunk of your chosen smoking wood on top of your lit charcoal once the smoker is up to temperature and put your salmon on once the smoker is actively producing smoke..
Propane or Electric Smoker
Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.
For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 180° F.
Check out our Complete Step-by-step Instructions for How to Use a Propane Smoker HERE if you need a refresher.
For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 180° F.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your salmon fillets on the rack and close the door.
Pellet grills like the ones from Traeger and Camp Chef are great for smoking tilapia.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill, turn it on and let it run through its start up process.
Then turn the temperature to 180°F.
Never used a pellet grill like a Traeger or a Camp Chef before?
Read our ultimate guide to pellet grills to learn why they are so easy to use and how to set one up for success every time.
Gas or Charcoal Grill
And if you need a full lesson on how to smoke on a gas grill the RIGHT way, check out our Ultimate Guide to Smoking on a Gas Grill HERE.
In the case of honey smoked salmon, we would opt for just using the smoker tube filled about half way with pellets since we will be cooking for longer than the 20-30 minutes a smoker box full of wood chips will last.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your salmon to be on the other side, preferably on a grill mat like a PhatMat Non Stick Grill Mat.
Because we are keeping the temperature relatively LOW at 180°F, you wont need much heat.
Probably just one lit burner if using a gas grill, and one handful of charcoal if using a charcoal kettle grill.
Once the temperature of your grill is around 180°F, place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the coals or lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your salmon on the opposite side of the heat.
Make sure to oil the grates on the indirect side well so that the fish does not stick.
Monitor your Grill Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
Now, if you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss, or even an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, you should be able to pretty accurately set and maintain your desired temperature of 180°F with the turn of a dial.
This is what makes them so convenient.
If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker, you can’t rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge that come installed on them.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from what the true actual temperature of your smoker at the grill grate level is.
This is unacceptable.
This is why you will always see competition cooks using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.
And even if you have a fancy pellet grill like a Traeger or even an electric smoker, it can’t hurt to double check how accurate your temperature settings are to the true temperatures you are getting.
We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series.
Brushing the Honey on your Smoked Salmon
Now, this step is technically optional, but we just love the way the glazed honey pairs with flavors of the smoked salmon.
Once the salmon has about 30 minutes left to go in the smoker, gently warm some honey up in the microwave and grab a silicone basting brush.
You can add a SMALL pinch of cayenne and mix it well into the honey if you want some heat in your honey smoked salmon glaze, otherwise leave it as is.
Brush a little bit of on each smoked salmon fillet and then close the grill or smoker back up for the rest of the cook.
Over the next 30 minutes, the honey should caramelize nicely and add a nice dark brown color to your honey smoked salmon by the time you take it off the grill.
What Other Food Can I Smoke on a Grill or Smoker?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration?
So glad you asked.
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
More Smoked Seafood
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Honey Smoked Tilapia
Other Smoker and Grilling Recipes
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Prime Rib on a Traeger Pellet Grill
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cajun Butter Injection
- Hot and Fast Smoked Beef Brisket
- 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
- Spiral Sliced Smoked Hot Dogs
- Smoked Ribeye Steaks: The Ultimate Guide
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Smoked Asparagus
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours! You’ve got to check it out!
Honey Smoked Salmon
- Gas Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Wood pellets, chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Cutting Board and Knife
- Paper Towels
- Baking Dish
- Plastic Wrap
- Wire Rack
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Basting brush
- Grill Mat (optional)
- 1 1-1.5 lb Large Salmon Fillet
- 3 Cups Dark brown sugar
- 1 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Fresh black pepper
- 1 Cup Honey warmed in microwave
- ⅛ Tsp Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Rinse, Dry, and Fillet Salmon
- Rinse the salmon under cold running water.
- 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
- 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 Brined Salmon
- After the salmon is finished brining, take the 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.
- Keep them on the wire rack for about 1-2 hours while you start to get your grill or smoker ready.
Set up your Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker, grill or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 180°F. If using a grill, only light a small amount of charcoal or light a single burner on one side for indirect cooking
- Brush the grill grates with oil to keep the salmon from sticking. Ideally use a grill mat.
- Add your wood chunks directly to the firebox of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker or pellet grill.
- Once smoke is being produced and the grill or smoker is at 180°F, put your salmon on.
Smoking the Salmon
- Cook the salmon for about 60-90 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 120°F using an instant read thermometer.
- Do not remove the salmon from the smoker yet. Warm up the honey in a microwave safe bowl, adding the cayenne if you wish.
- Brush the salmon fillets on the smoker with a little bit of the warmed up honey using a basting brush.
- Close the lid or door to the smoker or pellet grill and continue smoking util the internal temperature of the honey smoked salmon reaches 150°F using an instant read thermometer placed into the middle of the thickest part of the biggest fillet.
- Remove from the smoker and serve immediately.