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.
Dry 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 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 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.
Best Rubs and Seasoning for Smoking Salmon on a Traeger
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.
Mix the spices and sprinkle them 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 Traeger.
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 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!
The Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Salmon on a Traeger Pellet Grill
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.
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 traeger 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 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!
How a Traeger Pellet Grill Works
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!****
We also recently compared our two favorite Traeger models head to head if you’re in the market for a new Traeger or to upgrade your old one.
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!
Add your Hardwood Pellets
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.
How to Start up the Traeger
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, here is the basic process for how to start a Traeger before throwing on your food:
- Plug in the grill.
- Flip the power switch to ON and turn the dial to “Smoke”.
- You will hear the fan kick on and the auger start to move and begin to kick pellets into the fire pot. Your fire rod will begin to heat up as well.
- Leave the lid open for about 5-7 minutes until you start to see white billowing smoke come out of the grill. This happens when the pellets are first igniting.
- Once a smoke is being produced, close the lid and change the temperature dial to your desired temperature setting.
- Allow about 10-15 minutes to preheat the grill.
- While you are waiting, make sure you’ve got the drip pan in place and the grease bucket hanging to catch any grease that comes out during the cook. Use a grease bucket liner to minimize cleanup later.
- Put your grates on if they aren’t already in place.
- Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates if there is any leftover stuck on food from the last cook.
- When the pellet grill comes up to temperature go ahead and put on 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!
Here’s a great example on how to smoke salmon on a Traeger Pellet Grill, check out this video from White Bull’s BBQ:
How to Smoke Salmon on a Traeger Pellet Grill
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?
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 hours to cook and absorb plenty of smokey 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!
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 140-145°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 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 Traeger.
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!
Best Ways to Serve Traeger Smoked Salmon
Your Traeger 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 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 smokey 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!
What Else Can I Smoke on my Traeger?
So glad you asked!
Check out some of our other favorite recipes below that can all be easily modified for a Traeger if not done so already.
You’ve come to right place!
- Honey Smoked Salmon
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Easy 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
- Traeger Baby Back Ribs
- Traeger Smoked Pulled Pork
- Traeger 3-2-1 Pork Ribs
- Traeger Smoked Pork Loin
- Traeger Smoked Pork Spare 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
- Traeger Smoked Prime Rib
- Traeger Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream
- Traeger Smoked Beef Brisket
- Traeger Smoked Chuck Roast
- Traeger Smoked Pot Roast
- Traeger Smoked Beef Short 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
- Smoked Rump Roast
- Traeger Smoked Whole Chicken
- Traeger Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Traeger Smoked Chicken Breasts
- Traeger Smoked Chicken Legs
- 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
Sides and Desserts
- 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
- Smoked Mac and Cheese
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
- 3 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
Sweet BBQ Rub
- 1 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Dried Basil
- ½ Tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 Tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 Tsp Course Ground Black Pepper
- Zest of 1/2 Lemon optional for brightness
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.
Dry Brine the Salmon
- Mix the brine mixture ingredients together well and place some in the bottom of the baking dish.3 Cups Dark Brown Sugar, 1 Cup Kosher Salt, 1 Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
- 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 at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
Rinse, Dry, and Season 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.
- 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 Tbsp Smoked Paprika, 1 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar, 1 Tbsp Dried Basil, ½ Tsp Garlic Powder, 1 Tsp Kosher Salt, 1 Tsp Course Ground Black Pepper, Zest of 1/2 Lemon
- Sprinkle and rub the BBQ mixture over all sides of the dried salmon fillets.
- 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
- Place the salmon fillets on the Traeger with the skin side DOWN if they are skin-on. No need to flip during the cook. You can even leave them on the wire rack if you wish.
- Continue smoking the salmon, rotating occasionally, for about 2 hours until the internal temperature reaches 140-145°F internally.
- Carefully remove the smoked salmon from the Traeger and serve immediately. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on if you wish.