No fish is more grill or smoker-friendly than salmon.
Long before Europeans set foot in North America, Native Americans and Native Canadians on the Pacific coast practically subsisted on hot smoked salmon
The flesh is rich in protein, minerals, and fish oil loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats thought to be beneficial.
To preserve their catch in the days before refrigeration they would cut meaty filets from these huge fish, cure them by coating them with salt, and drape the filets over a pole above a smoldering fire. They even built smokehouses with walls of animal hides.
Another popular technique in the Pacific Northwest was to butterfly the fish, attach it to a stake, and jam the stake in the ground around a smoky campfire, gently cooking and smoking them at the same time. Called passing, here we see the method still practiced by Tillicum people on Blake Island in Puget Sound where visitors learn of the Native Americans of the region and get to eat the salmon. The chefs here season the meat, thread wooden sticks through the fish and a stake, jam the stake into the dirt around glowing hardwood embers, and roast the meat side for about 30 minutes, turn the stake around, and roast the skin side for about 10 minutes. It comes out perfect
2 pounds of fresh salmon fillets of similar thickness, scales removed, skin on, cut into strips about 3″ wide
1/2 cup hot water in a 1 cup measuring cup
1/4 pound salt, any type (but you don’t need a scale, I’ll explain below)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons of garlic powder (not garlic salt)
2 tablespoons finely ground black pepper
1/2 gallon cold water
1 clean brown paper bag or a few sheets of unused paper
About the sugar
If you are diabetic, you can skip the sugar, although truth be told, very little actually gets into the meat.
About the wood
Alder, apple, peach, or other fruitwood chips or pellets are my favorite woods. Avoid hickory or mesquite; they are too strong. As always too much smoke is worse than too little. On a charcoal grill or smoker or an electric smoker, 4 ounces of wood will probably be enough. On a gas grill, double it.
Do not leave the fish in the brine longer than 3 hours. If the filets are thin, brine for less time. And do not overcook.
Optional: glazing the salmon.
Sometimes I like to put a sweet glaze on the fish, especially if it is being served straight. To make a glaze, simply crumble about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar on each chunk. It will melt in the heat of your smoker. You can use more or less brown sugar on the glaze if you wish, or even try maple syrup. The picture at the top of the page is with brown sugar on the fish.
1) Run your fingers over the flesh of the fish and make sure all the pin bones are gone. If not, drape the fish over the edge of a bowl so the bones stick out, and yank them with tweezers or needle nose pliers. Don’t worry if there are a few scales left on the skin. You will be removing the skin. Sometimes the lining of the belly of the fish has a milky membrane on it. With a sharp filleting knife, remove it. It will get leathery when you cook. Cut the meat into strips about 3″ wide.
2) Choose your brining container carefully. It needs to be food grade, large enough to hold the meat and the brine with the meat submerged, and it cannot be made of aluminum, copper, or cast iron, all of which can react with the salt. Do not use garbage bags or a garbage can or a bucket from Home Depot. They are not food grade. Do not use a styrofoam cooler. It might give the meat an off flavor and you’ll never get the cooler clean when you’re done. Zipper bags work fine. For large cuts get Reynolds Brining Bags, Ziploc XL, and XXL bags.