Learn how to make smoked salmon on a Traeger Pellet Grill!
We take you step-by-step through preparing, brining, and seasoning your salmon, setting up your Traeger pellet grill for the cook, and smoking it to perfection.
Preparing the 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.
Then 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.
Wet Brine the Salmon Overnight
No matter what type of fish fillets you are smoking, you are usually better off brining them first.
Brining 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 wet brine it for at least 4 hours, but preferably 8 hours overnight in a mixture of brown sugar and salt.
You will need:
- A Baking Dish
- Plastic wrap
- Dark Brown Sugar
- Kosher Salt
Dissolve the brown sugar and salt in a pot of boiling water. Chill the brine in the refrigerator until it is coo. Pour half of the brine in the bottom of a baking dish.
Submerge the fillets in the brine, skin side up, then pour more brine on top to cover.
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
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 back in the refrigerator to air dry.
Keep them on the wire rack for about 1-2 hours while you start to get the Traeger 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 on the Traeger, 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.
Choosing Wood Pellets
Fish absorbs smoke very quickly and a little goes a long way.
The best wood pellets for smoking salmon on a Traeger 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 Traeger hopper outside.
Traeger pellets have a definite shelf life, but will last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container away from moisture.
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 Traeger pellet grill can come with some challenges, such as the fish sticking or falling apart when you move it around, etc. If you are using skin-on salmon, you can just oil the skin and put it directly on the grates of the Traeger.
If your salmon does not have the skin, 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 woodsy flavor.
Make sure to soak the cedar planks in water for at least an hour before putting them on your Traeger so that they don't char and burn.
This also helps release steam and flavor the salmon while it is smoking.
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.
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!
Set Up Your Traeger
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a Traeger pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how a pellet grill works.
***Completely New to Using a Traeger Pellet Grill? No Worries!****
Or hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works first if you are interested in learning more. We'll be here when you get back!
First, you add hardwood pellets into the side hopper.
The Traeger 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.
There is a specific start up process for the Traeger brand pellet grills you can read all about in depth here if you aren't sure how to fire it up the first time.
Otherwise, turn the grill ON and turn the dial to "Smoke".
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!
Smoking the Salmon
Now that our salmon is brined and ready to cook, let's talk about how we are going to smoke our salmon fillets on the Traeger pellet grill.
What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Salmon on a Traeger?
Technically 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 Traeger for very low and slow indirect cooking at only 180°F.
This will give the salmon about 2-3 hours to cook and absorb plenty of smoky flavor while remaining SUPER tender and delicate.
The lower temperature when smoking salmon on the Traeger 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!
Seasoning for Smoked Salmon
You will smoke your salmon for about an hour and THEN add the seasoning.
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.
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 Traeger.
If you don't have the time or inclination to make your own seasoning blend, one of our latest favorite rubs for Traeger 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!
Target Internal Temperature for Traeger Smoked Salmon
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your Traeger 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 145°F on the Traeger smoked salmon to know that it is safe to eat and finished cooking.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Salmon at 180°F on a Traeger?
At 180°F, our Traeger smoked salmon will take about 2-3 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 BBQ sauce, glaze, 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 Traeger.
We like using Blues Hog Champions Blend sauce paired with the BBQ rub that was added earlier in the cook.
We like to crank up the heat to 250°F once the salmon reaches an internal temperature of 110-115°F and THEN add the sauce for the remainder of the cook.
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 Traeger.
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!
Your Traeger smoked salmon should be served immediately after removing from the smoker. You can rest it on a wire rack for a few minutes.
You can squeeze on some fresh lemon on the fillets or top with a little sprinkle of parsley for added color.
Try serving alongside our smoked broccoli, asparagus, carrots, or cauliflower if you are eating healthy, or you can indulge in our famous sweet and smoky sweet potatoes or our new smoked mac and cheese 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!
Traeger Smoked Salmon with Sweet BBQ Rub
- Traeger Pellet Grill
- Wood Pellets preferably a fruitwood like apple or cherry; or oak
- Fillet or Boning Knife
- Cutting Board
- Paper Towels
- Baking Dish
- Plastic Wrap or Lid to Baking Dish
- Large Baking Sheet with Wire Rack
- Instant Read and/or Leave in Probe Thermometer
- Grill Mat optional
- 1 2 lb Large Salmon Fillet
- 6 Cups Water
- ¾ Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
Sweet BBQ Rub
- 1 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Dried Basil
- ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- Zest of ½ Lemon optional for brightness
- ½ cup Blues Hog Champion Blend or your favorite BBQ sauce
Rinse, Dry, and Fillet the Salmon
- Rinse the salmon under cold running water.1 2 lb Large Salmon Fillet
- 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.
Brine the Salmon
- Dissolve the brine ingredients in boiling water. Chill the brine in the refrigerator.¾ Cup Dark Brown Sugar, ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
- Pour the brine in the bottom of the baking dish.
- Submerge the fillets in the brine, skin side up, and then cover with more brine.
- Cover the whole dish tightly with plastic wrap.
- Place the baking dish in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours or 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 the seasoned salmon fillets on the wire rack in the refrigerator for about 1-2 hours to allow the pellicle to form on the outside.
Start the Traeger Pellet Grill
- Remove the fire pot from the bottom of the Traeger and clean out any ashes left over from the last cook. Replace it and make sure it is secured in place with the clips on either side.
- Load the hopper of the Traeger with your chosen wood pellets.
- Turn on the Traeger and move the dial to the "Smoke" setting.
- Leave the lid open for 5-7 minutes until you start seeing white billowing smoke coming out of the grill. This means the initial pellets are igniting.
- Close the lid and turn the temperature dial to 180°F. Allow 10-15 minutes for the grill to stabilize at this temperature.
- Clean the grill grates with a good grill brush and close the lid again.
Smoking the Salmon on the Traeger Pellet Grill
- Oil the salmon skin.
- Place the salmon fillets on the Traeger with the skin side DOWN if they are skin-on. No need to flip during the cook.
- Smoke the salmon for about 1 hour to infuse smoke into the pellicle.
- Mix the Sweet BBQ Rub Ingredients together well in a bowl. Keep the lemon handy for squeezing juice on at the end if you wish.1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika, 1 tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, 1 tablespoon Dried Basil, ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt, 1 teaspoon Course Ground Black Pepper, Zest of ½ Lemon
- Sprinkle and rub the BBQ mixture over all sides of the dried salmon fillets and continue the smoking process.
Sauce the Salmon and Finish Cooking
- Once the salmon has reached an internal temperature of 110-115°F, brush on the BBQ sauce.
- Turn up the Traeger to 250°F.
- Continue smoking the salmon, rotating occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F internally.
- Carefully remove the smoked salmon from the Traeger and rest on a wire rack for a few minutes.
- Serve with fresh lemon if desired.