Smoky Maple Salmon

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Up until a few years ago, my experience with cooking fish or seafood was limited to a can of tuna, fish sticks, and the treat of walleye or crappie that my husband would bring home from the occasional fishing trip. Tilapia entered my kitchen over the years, and then some shrimp (raw, not just the peel-and-eat variety) and cod.  Salmon made itself at home primarily after our boys headed for college.  They weren’t fond of fish and salmon was especially “fishy” to them.  It was “expensive” to me.  We weren’t fully aware of how good it was for us.

Then I found this recipe. Easy. Nutritious. Delicious. My oldest son started enjoying fish and seafood while he was in college and now is comfortable cooking shrimp and scallops on his own (Editor/Son’s Note: I’m more capable in the kitchen than my mom gives me credit).

Last summer while home from college, my youngest very bravely asked if he could try the salmon I had prepared for my husband and I, and managed to eliminate the planned leftovers from the plate.  Bandwagon jumper.


Make a rub, sprinkle it over the salmon fillets, bake, drizzle with maple syrup, bake, and eat.  It can be made on the grill instead of in the oven.  The temperature of the grill or oven can vary from 300-425 degrees which is a bonus when you are making side dishes at the same time. The recipe below looks long but that is only because I have added a few tips.


Low in calories, very high in protein, vitamins B3 and B12, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a good source of nutrients like selenium and magnesium, salmon is often categorized as “brain food”. Recently, I have been paying more attention to the type of salmon I buy. Living so far removed from any fresh salmon source, there are many options at the grocery stores:

Atlantic, Alaskan King, Sockeye, Pink, etc.
Wild vs. Farmed

There are arguments about additives and nutrient loss in farm raised salmon. Wild salmon can be double the price. The general conclusions of the sources I have read say:

Salmon is great for you.
Wild is better than farmed.
Eating salmon you can afford is better than not eating it at all.

Personal Preference: I typically purchase salmon from Costco or the meat counter at our grocery stores. I tend to be a little disappointed with the salmon found in the frozen foods section. The fillets at Costco are big but I cut them into smaller portions, tightly wrap each piece in plastic wrap and place in a ziploc bag, and freeze. If wrapped properly, salmon fillets will keep for months in the freezer.  To defrost, place wrapped fillets on a plate on the kitchen countertop and allow to thaw 3-4 hours (thicker fillets will take a little longer).


I think the reason this recipe was so successful at our house was that it added a lot of smoky, slightly spicy and sweet flavors to the salmon.  Since then, we have expanded our methods of preparing salmon to simply enhance the flavor rather than adding to it (like a simple olive oil, garlic and lemon combination).  We have experimented with Asian, blackened, and bourbon-glazed recipes.  We like them all and we like the variety.

But we keep coming back to this one!

Smoky Maple Salmon

2 teaspoons paprika 
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground ancho chile or chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon kosher or table salt
4 (6 ounce) salmon fillets (skin on or removed)
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Combine first seven ingredients (if you don’t have ancho or chipotle powder, you can substitute another teaspoon of chili powder). Pat salmon fillets dry with paper towels and sprinkle one side of the fillets liberally with spice mix (you don’t have to use it all but don’t be afraid of it being too spicy … it isn’t hot). 

Grill Preparation:  Preheat grill to 350-400 degrees. If the skin has already been removed from the salmon fillets, place fillets on small pieces of aluminum foil that has been coated with cooking spray for easy removal from grill. If it hasn’t, spray grill racks with cooking spray and place fillets, skin side down, on grill racks.

Grill 5 minutes for thinner fillets and 7 minutes for thicker fillets (check earlier if grill is over 400 degrees and allow a few more minutes if grill is closer to 300 degrees). Drizzle each fillet with a little maple syrup and continue grilling one more minute. 

TIP:  To test if your salmon is “done”, insert a fork into the thickest part of the fillet and gently twist the fork. If it flakes easily, it is considered done. Many people prefer their salmon rare or medium rare. The biggest mistake is overcooking.  Removing the salmon from the heat a little early is better than leaving it on too long.

Oven Preparation: Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or whatever temperature you need for side dishes).  Place fillets on baking sheet and place in oven.  Check fillets after 7 minutes for thinner fillets and 10 minutes for thicker fillets (check earlier if oven temp is higher than 400 degrees and wait a few more minutes if it is under 350 degrees). Drizzle with maple syrup and bake for an additional one to two minutes.  Test if salmon is ready as described above.

Whether you are a salmon-cooking newbie or just looking to expand your salmon recipe collection, I’m convinced your family and guests will be glad you found your way to this post.

I know I am.

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3 thoughts on “Smoky Maple Salmon

  1. This looks great. I like the rub and drizzle approach. I get wild caught salmon from Costco also. Their prices are very good. Thanks for sharing.

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