Smoked Salmon Jalapeño Poppers

More than any other recipe on our website, our Demon Toes (bacon-wrapped, crab-stuffed, grilled jalapeño poppers) have a very enthusiastic fan base. You can frequently find them at Detroit Lions home games at tailgate parties around Ford Field. These new poppers are so good, I have a feeling you’ll be seeing them in Detroit next fall.

Maple syrup and soy marinated salmon rests atop a mixture of cream cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano inside hollowed-out jalapeño halves. Each (massive) morsel is then wrapped in bacon and smoked to perfection. These are definitely “fork and knife” poppers.

By Russ Faulk, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet
Serves 8
Image of Smoked Salmon Jalapeño Poppers

  • 1 pound fresh salmon fillet, skin removed
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (we recommend using a bourbon barrel maple syrup such as Blis)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated using a microplane
  • 8 large jalapeños
  • 16 slices uncooked bacon
  • 16 wooden picks
  • Oak wood chunks for smoke

Slice the salmon into 16 strips, sized slightly smaller than the jalapeños. Whisk together the maple syrup and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Fold in the salmon slices. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1 hour before assembling the poppers.

Prepare the smoker for 275°F smoking with oak wood (see detailed instructions for the Kalamazoo Smoker Cabinet following the recipe). Smoking duration will be 90 minutes.

Combine the cream cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano. I find it best to work these together with my hands.

Slice the jalapeños in half lengthwise. Remove and discard the ribs and seeds.

Pack the cream cheese mixture into each jalapeño half, filling almost completely, but staying a little bit below the cut edge of the jalapeno half.

Place a strip of marinated salmon on top of the cheese, then check to see how long the slice of bacon needs to be to wrap the assembled popper. It should wrap all of the way around with about a 3/4 inch overlap on the top. Typically, each slice of bacon can be cut in half to wrap 2 poppers. However, sometimes the bacon slices are too short, requiring about 2/3 of a slice to make it all of the way around with enough overlap for the pick to secure it all together. This is why the recipe calls for 16 slices of bacon and not 8. Note: extra pieces of bacon can be smoked alongside the poppers for snacking or other uses.

Wrap each popper with bacon one at a time. Secure with a wooden pick passing through the bacon overlap and the center of the salmon, down into the jalapeño.

Transfer all 16 poppers to the smoker. As you place each popper on the rack, push the wooden pick down through the popper so the pick extends down through the rack. This helps keep each popper stable as it cooks.

Smoke at 275°F for about 90 minutes. Remove the poppers when an instant-read meat thermometer registers 170°F internal temperature in the center of the poppers.

Note: Although a dedicated smoker is ideal, this recipe is also good for cooking in a Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill using our wood pellet smoking inserts.

Setup for the Kalamazoo Smoker Cabinet

If smoking only the poppers, load the smoker with 2 to 3 pounds of hardwood lump charcoal. Clip the pit temperature probe to the center of the bottom food grate and set the BBQ Guru pit computer to 275°F pit temp (you will not be using the food temp probe). Fully-open the chimney, ball valve, and fan shutter. Light the charcoal (see owner’s manual) and preheat the smoker for 1 hour to ensure even heat throughout the heavy stainless steel food chamber. Once the BBQ Guru computer indicates the pit has reached 275°F, about 45 minutes, reduce the fan shutter opening to 50%. Add 2 large oak wood chunks to the ash pan below the charcoal fire. The embers from the fire will fall on the wood to create flavorful smoke.

Place the assembled poppers directly onto the center food grate in a single layer. Close the door tightly and smoke for 90 minutes, replacing the spent oak wood chunks approximately every 20 to 30 minutes.