The first point that needs to be understood is that there are two generally accepted categories of smoking, namely hot and cold.

As the name suggests, cold smoking is completed a relatively low temperatures (usually around 110 F). This is done by separating the smoke from the heat of the main combustion via directing it through to a separate chamber, where it can cure the fish without the combustion heat cooking the flesh. Cold smoking is usually done for between 6 and 10 hours. In the case of hot smoking, the salmon is effectively slow cooked in a smoke filled chamber (usually at about 170 F for 2-3 hours).

The choice of wood chip used to smoke your fish will have an effect on the eventual flavour. Traditionally alder, oak or fruit woods, such as apple wood are used to generate the smoke. Certain regions have their preferred wood chip, with some producing blends of different wood types to generate a specific flavour. The indigenous populations of the north western part of the United States originally used alder to produce the smoke for their salmon and trout.

The first stage of the smoking process is to cure the fish. Curing improves the flavour and texture of the fish. Typically a fillet would be cured in a salt and sugar solution, the exact composition of which would typically be 2:1 (salt:sugar). There are however many different curing brine recipes in existence and the desired outcome in terms of resulting sweetness of fish should dictate the ingredients chosen for the curing brine.

Cleaned Rainbow Trout

Generally the fillets are left to cure for 10-15 hours in the brine, before being extracted and rinsed in cold water to remove the brine. The fillets are then left to dry in a refrigerator for about 7 hours. A thin dried crust will form on the flesh, which is beneficial during the smoking process. The dry crust is known as a Pellicle.


The key to creating the perfect home smoked fish is to experiment and refine the recipe, timing and methods, until the desired outcome is achieved. Foods have been smoked by humans for thousands of years in order preserve the flesh, prior to the invention of refrigeration techniques. Despite the relative ease of preserving fish in this day and age, smoked fish is still very popular due to its unique, rich and interesting flavour. Many would consider a smoked fillet of salmon or trout to be a real delicacy and well worth the time and energy invested.

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