Copper River Smoked Salmon Recipe

Copper River Smoked Salmon Recipe

smoked salmon


Copper River Smoked Salmon

Copper River salmon is one of the shortest salmon runs in the pacific northwest, and for that reason, one of the most coveted. We discovered this recipe for smoked salmon after purchasing a Kamado Joe kettle grill.

There are two approaches to creating this delicacy. You can purchase your salmon already filleted or whole at a discounted price. Purchasing whole might seem daunting, but armed with a sharp filet knife and a bit of gusto, you can reap the rewards of a whole fish. Below are the basics of breaking down the whole fish. I purchased mine already gutted because who wants to look at entrails while envisioning the end masterpiece?

If you purchased your copper river salmon already filleted, you can scroll to the instructions below, or you can read on if you are curious about how this whole fish gets broken down.

whole copper river salmon
whole copper river salmon

If you purchase a whole salmon, remove the head and tail. Place in a separate bowl. You can use the discarded parts for fish stock later.


filleting a whole salmon
filleting a whole salmon

I’m not a master filleter and don’t pretend to be. It’s one of those things you have to do often to get it right every time. So you can see from the photo above that I botched the poor guy. But no worries. The point is to insert your blade at the collar on one side of the backbone and smoothly work your way to the tail in a non-sawing motion, which is where I faltered. I am used to filleting trout and other more delicate fish whose bones don’t require as much brawn. It’s not that a salmon bone is difficult, it’s just that you have to fillet the thing with some confident force to get a consistent line. Do this the right way, and you’ll hear the knife cracking through each of the rib bones in your one fell swoop motion down each side. It’s not gross. It’s more like a muffled crab leg cracking sound. If I knew this from the beginning, I wouldn’t have been so timid in the process. So forewarned is forearmed. Pun intended.

Remove the belly and add to your stock bowl. You can also use the belly for making jerky. It is fattier and more intense in flavor.

Next, remove the skin. Grab the largest end and place your knife just between the skin and the meat. Press and hold firmly on the top as you slide the fillet knife all the way to the tail, keeping the blade pressed flat to the cutting board. If you prefer little to no fat, you can remove the darker parts at this time.


whole salmon belly tail and spine for stock
whole salmon belly tail and spine for stock

So what you see here is the the belly, spine, tail, and skin. You can add this to a pot of water with some herbs and veggies to make a stock for soups like this Pho recipe.


whole copper river salmon fillets
whole copper river salmon fillets

Now it’s time to remove the pin bones. Grab a pair of tweezers. Run your finger along the center. For whole salmon fillets, there will be 18-20 pin bones. Use the tweezers to pull out each pin bone from the salmon. I found the fastest method is to work from right to left (if you are right-handed) and feel the bones with the left hand, remove with the tweezers in right hand and grab/ collect the bones with the left, moving down the line until you have them all. If you try to pick one by one without this little hand assembly line, you’ll be stuck on this step for ever.

So now we’re ready to brine. See the Instructions below for the rest of the recipe.


Copper River Smoked Salmon Recipe

By 2016-07-10

Best copper river salmon smoked salmon recipe EVER!

  • Prep Time : 12h 00 min
  • Cook Time : 2h 00 min
  • Yield : 8



whole copper river salmon fillets
whole copper river salmon fillets


Combine brown sugar, sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper. Mix very well.

Add 1/3 of the mixture to a non-reactive dish such as glass or ceramic. Do not use metal.

Cut the salmon into four-inch fillets. Rinse and pat dry.

Place salmon on top of the mixture.

Add remaining brine mix to the top of the salmon, making sure it is completely covered and packed down well.

Place plastic wrap directly on and around the top of the salmon, making sure no air is available. Do not use aluminum foil!

Cover the entire dish with more plastic wrap or a tupperware lid.

Refrigerate for 8-12 hours.


salmon in brine
smoked salmon in brine

After the brining period, your copper river salmon will look like the photo above. The sugar and salt have cured it and drawn out the water. This is an old fashioned way of preserving. Technically you could eat it now, but I take no responsibility if you do because I don't know how fresh your frickin' salmon was to start with. Mine was caught the same day, so I may have had a little taste along the way. So this is my disclaimer that goes along with the raw oyster, runny eggs, rare steak disclaimer. I mean, who doesn't love all those things?

smoked salmon
smoked salmon after brining with pellicle formed.

Remove the brined salmon from it's bath of goodness. Rinse and pat dry. Place on a kitchen rack and let it sit out at room temp for 60 to 90 minutes. Be not afraid! You're salmon is already cured. This is a necessary stage in the preparation for smoking it. As it comes to room temperature, the brine will form a pellicle, which is that thin, caramel 'skin' on the outside.


While your salmon is busy forming it's pellicle of grandeur, begin heating the smoker or kettle grill to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Add apple wood chips if desired, or if not using pure lump wood charcoal. Don't use briquettes, they will burn out long before you are finished. Let's do this properly people!

If you are already a smoker or kettle grill aficionado, you know the process to build the fire and slowly raise the temp can take about an hour. So do this as soon as you start the salmon drying.

Once the grill is between 150 and 160 degrees, place the salmon on the grill above a deflector and smoke for 1.5 hrs. NO PEEKING. You want the temperature to stabilize between 160 and 175 depending on the thickness of your fillets. Opening the grill at any time will cause the temp to rise dramatically and we want a nice slow and low smoke point. Adjust the vents as needed.

1.5 hours later.....

Now you can gleen at this wonder. Open the lid and drizzle the wildflower honey (we use raw, local, unfiltered) over the top of the fillets and brush for a nice even coat.

Now close the lid and smoke for another 30 minutes.

Remove your masterpiece from the grill and chill in the frig or eat right away. We like it plain or with butter crackers. You can even make leftovers into a dip or use in salads.

smoked salmon
smoked salmon

ENJOY your copper river smoked salmon! You did it!!


***If you are making more than you will eat in three days, vacuum seal the smoked salmon or give it away. Because the process of smoking salmon is done at such low temperatures, moisture from air and/or refrigeration can cause harmful bacteria to grow. Think of it this way, you wouldn't keep raw fish in the fridge for more than a couple days, but I highly doubt you'll have leftovers. 🙂