Beef makes for delicious and nutrient-packed jerky. But salmon jerky is an equally healthy snack option, and its rich, bold flavor makes it a great alternative to more traditional jerky. And if you have a smoker and some time to spare, then you can cook up your own deliciously sweet and smoky homemade jerky by following this recipe.
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Making Your Own Salmon Jerky
Tail sections of king salmon work best when making this jerky, but you can also use any other salmon, char, trout, or even whitefish. Whatever fish you use, though, make sure it’s fatty. And while this recipe utilizes maple syrup during the smoking process to sweeten up the salmon, if you’d prefer, you can also opt for pressing black pepper into the fish after curing it but before smoking or adding chili powder to give your jerky a little more kick.
This jerky will need to cure for 12 hours and smoke for another 5 hours, but only requires 20 minutes of hands-on prep work. Before you start, though, you’ll need to gather some ingredients and jerky-making supplies. These include:
- 4 pounds of salmon, cut into strips
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- ½ cup of maple or birch syrup
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- Lidded container
- Large bowl
- Baking pan
- Cooling rack
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Step One: Prepping Your Salmon
Start the jerky-making process by slicing your salmon into strips. Note that each slice needs to be around ½ inch thick and cut from the tail of the fish to its head. Taking crosscuts from the top to the bottom of the fish causes the jerky to fall apart later. Also keep in mind that if you slice your salmon thinner than ¼ inch, you risk your jerky drying out too much and becoming brittle.
You can leave the skin on the salmon to help the jerky stay together. It’s edible, and if you find you don’t like it, you can peel the skin off before eating the jerky.
Related: Slicing & Cutting Meat for Beef Jerky Done Right
Step Two: Curing Your Salmon
Mix your cup of kosher salt with the cup of brown sugar, then sprinkle a thin layer of the mixture on the bottom of a lidded container. Place the salmon strips in a single layer across the container’s bottom, then cover them with the remaining cure mixture. If you have more fish than will fit in one layer, you may add a second layer of fish strips on top of the first, but heavily coat the first layer with your cure before adding any more fish.
Note that the sugar used in this cure mixture is added to remove water from the salmon in the same way the salt does, and the sugar helps to mitigate the harshness of a pure salt cure. However, if you’re unable to add sugar for dietary reasons, you can also replace the sugar with an equal, additional amount of salt.
Once you have your salmon arranged and the cure added on top of it, cover your container and put it in the fridge. Leave it there to cure for 12 hours, but either turn the container upside down once while the salmon’s curing or mix the salmon pieces around in the container. That way, your fish will cure more evenly.
By curing the salmon, you’re trying to preserve it. As such, it’s better to err on the side of curing your fish for a longer time rather than a shorter one. So if something happens, and you have to leave the salmon in longer than 12 hours, don’t worry! Just move right on to the next step.
Step Three: Preparing Your Salmon for Smoking
Fill a large bowl with ice water, then place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. As you remove each piece of salmon from the cure, quickly dunk it into the ice water and rinse the excess cure from the fish. Pat each salmon strip dry with a paper towel before setting it on the rack. Place the rack and baking sheet in the fridge overnight or, if you can’t fit the baking sheet in your fridge, put it in front of a fan or place it in another cool, breezy, shaded area for at least an hour. This gets the surface of the salmon sticky so that the smoke will better adhere to it.
Step Four: Smoking Your Salmon
Bring your smoker up to an internal temperature of about 200 degrees F. When it comes to the wood you use, alder, maple, and fruit woods are all great choices to smoke this salmon with, but you can also use any other kind you prefer.
Place your salmon in the smoker and smoke it for at least three hours. You want to leave it in until it gets dried but is still chewy. To flavor your salmon jerky with maple or birch syrup, wait until the salmon has been in the smoker for one hour, then paint it on your salmon strips. Repeat this process every 30 minutes until the salmon finishes smoking.
Step Five: Cooling and Storing Your Salmon Jerky
Once your salmon is smoked, set it back on the cooling rack and wait until it reaches room temperature again to package it up. This jerky keeps for months, if you vacuum seal it and store it in the fridge, but will also keep in a cool room, at a temperature of 60 degrees F or lower, for some time.
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