Do you wish you could cook a meal outdoors, but hardly have the time? Are you out of the mood to cook outside when it’s chilly?
In this story, I will show you how to pull together a quick, mouthwatering meal of sockeye salmon with a couple of sides. This recipe is perfect for when you only have a couple of hours to prepare dinner, but you still want to put something special on the table.
I’m cooking the salmon on my Yoder pellet smoker, but you can adapt this recipe for your type of smoker.
The nice thing about salmon is how flexible the cook time is. You can cook it hot and fast in about 20 minutes or give the meat more time to absorb the smoke with lower heat and a longer cook time. Either way, the key in cooking the salmon is to watch it closely and remove it from the cooker before it overcooks. I prefer smoking it at 225 degrees F, which takes about 45 minutes depending on the size of the fillets.
My wife is on a special diet that requires her to eat wild-caught fish. Atlantic salmon is usually farm-raised, but my Sam’s Club carries sockeye, an Alaskan wild-caught salmon. Its deep reddish color looks beautiful on the grill, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon is supposed to be the healthiest available.
I’m minimalist about cooking, so my process for smoking the salmon is simple too. All we’re doing here is seasoning the fish, smoking it until it reaches a certain temperature, and then brushing it with butter and serving it immediately.
Not much to this—but it surely is delicious!
First, season the meat side of the salmon with a light coating of your favorite seafood seasoning. I used Oakridge Chile Lime Seasoning but you could go with about anything that’s good on fish, or even a homemade rub, such as this one:
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
I usually transfer the fish to a cutting board to season them and let them sit on the board while I fire the smoker.
Fire your smoker to 225 degrees F. For this cook, I am using a Yoder YS640s Pellet Grill fired with BBQer’s Delight Apple Pellets. Any smoker or grill will work if you can set it up for indirect heat. If your smoker grate isn’t wide enough to hold an entire fillet, there’s no harm in cutting it in half to cook it. And if you are having trouble getting your smoker up to temp, you can also cook this as low as 180 degrees; it will just take longer.
Smoke the salmon until it reaches 130–135 degrees F in the thickest part of the fillet. I use an instant-read Thermapen MK4 for checking the temperature of the meat. Carefully, probe the thickest part of the fillet, trying to position the tip of the probe in the center of the meat. The thinner part of the fillet will finish about 10–15 degrees higher than the thickest part, but if you’re careful not to overcook the center, the outside will be fine.
Keep a close eye on it once the temperature tops 100 degrees, because it’s easy to let it get away from you and ruin the meat!
Brush the meat side with melted butter and serve. This step is optional, but I like the flavor of salted butter on the finished product. It only takes 1–2 tablespoons of butter per fillet. A ramekin works great for melting the butter in the microwave.
If you did a good job, the fish should be tender, a bit oily when peeled off the skin, and so very delicious!
To round out this meal, our favorites are homemade tartar sauce for dipping the salmon, plus coleslaw and French fries. My wife has two versions of coleslaw, and I’m sharing both here.
You can mix the tartar sauce ahead of time or while the fish is cooking. It takes about 5 minutes to throw this together. I think it would be best made the day before, so the flavors have time to meld and you have one less thing to worry about when you’re cooking dinner.
- 1-1/4 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup pickle relish
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and cracked black peppercorns to taste
- Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley and 2 teaspoons finely-chopped onion to boost flavor and presentation
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and set it in the fridge until ready to serve. This should be enough for several fillets of salmon, but it really depends on how much your guests love tartar sauce.
I’m not fond of sour or vinegary foods, so I love a sweet and creamy slaw like this one.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons mustard
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 5 tablespoons milk
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Shred as much cabbage as you plan to serve immediately, and then mix in enough dressing to make it the consistency you like. We like to use a mix of green and purple cabbage for a nice presentation. If there’s extra dressing, keep it in the fridge for later.
My wife found this one on savoryexperiments.com when she was looking for a no-mayo coleslaw recipe. If you like a tangy slaw, I think you’ll enjoy this one.
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons sugar
Whisk all the ingredients until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Mix in 14 ounces of shredded cabbage. Let the slaw sit in the fridge for at least one hour. Drain the excess liquid before serving it.
We have a small oil fryer that is perfect for making fries for anywhere from several people to a dozen or more, but if you don’t have one or don’t have many people to feed, a pan on the stove works well. Fry them according to the directions on the bag, and then drain and sprinkle them with your favorite barbecue rub, such as Butcher BBQ Grilling Addiction, or just plain salt.
You might not be able to afford a meal of salmon every day, but I hope you’re inspired to make this recipe soon. I think you’ll find that it’s not rocket science to produce a fine fillet of smoked salmon that gets compliments and is a joy to eat.