Do You Leave the Skin on Salmon When Smoking?

When it comes to smoking salmon, a common question that arises is whether to leave the skin on or remove it. The answer to this question depends on personal preference and the desired outcome of the smoked salmon. Let’s explore the different factors to consider when deciding whether to leave the skin on or take it off before smoking.

Why Keep the Skin On?

Leaving the skin on while smoking salmon can offer several benefits:

  • Flavor: The skin acts as a protective layer during the smoking process, helping retain moisture and enhancing the flavor of the fish.
  • Texture: The skin can develop a crispy texture when smoked, adding a delightful contrast to the tender flesh of the salmon.
  • Ease of Handling: Keeping the skin intact makes it easier to handle and flip the salmon during smoking.

If you decide to smoke salmon with its skin on, follow these steps:

  1. Cleaning: Make sure to clean the fish thoroughly, removing any scales or debris from its surface.
  2. Presentation Side Up: Place the salmon on your smoker grates with its presentation side facing up, which is usually the side without scales.
  3. Skin Protection: To prevent sticking, you can lightly oil or season the skin before placing it in your smoker. This will ensure easy removal after cooking.

When Should You Remove The Skin?

In some cases, removing the skin before smoking may be preferred:

  • Milder Flavor: If you prefer a milder flavor profile for your smoked salmon, removing the skin can help reduce the fishy taste.
  • Marinades and Rubs: If you plan to marinate or apply rubs to your salmon, removing the skin allows for better absorption of flavors into the flesh.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Some people prefer serving their smoked salmon without the skin for a more visually appealing presentation.

If you choose to smoke salmon without its skin, follow these steps:

  1. Skin Removal: Use a sharp fillet knife to carefully remove the skin from the salmon fillet. Start at one end and slide the knife between the flesh and the skin, using a gentle sawing motion.
  2. Cleaning: Once the skin is removed, make sure to clean off any remaining scales or debris from the fillet.
  3. Presentation Side Up: Place the skinned side of your salmon on your smoker grates with its presentation side facing up.


The decision of whether to leave the skin on or remove it when smoking salmon ultimately comes down to personal preference. Both methods can result in delicious smoked salmon with unique characteristics.

Whether you choose to embrace the crispy texture and enhanced flavor that comes with leaving the skin on or opt for a milder taste and a visually appealing presentation without it, experimenting with different techniques will help you find your perfect smoked salmon recipe. Enjoy!

Photo of author

Michael Allen