When you crave smoked flavor profiles with your salmon, you’ve got a range of cooking methods at your fingertips. You’ve even got choices when it comes to choosing the best salmon for smoking, a consideration that will help you get the most out of your salmon smoking sesh.
We’ve got some tips and ideas to guide you toward the best salmon for smoking, no matter how you decide to prepare your fish.
Cold-smoked salmon is almost always going to be made with sockeye, if it’s made with wild-caught fish. That’s because sockeye is the leanest variety of salmon, a quality that allows it to be preserved better than fattier options. It also has the most salmon-forward flavor, something that is complemented by the salty-smoky results of the cold-smoking process. In contrast, the cold-smoking flavor profile would overwhelm the delicacy of a milder fillet like coho. And it’s not for nothing that sockeye happens to look especially gorgeous when smoked.
That’s why we are all-in with sockeye for our cold-smoked salmon, which we offer sliced into silky, ready-to-eat ribbons.
If you’re an intrepid home cook, you might be curious about how to make your own batch of cold-smoked salmon at home. We’ve got some disappointing news for you: The cold-smoking process is a highly specialized one that, if done by an inexperienced home cook, can render a fillet unsafe to eat. So, unless you have access to an expert in your backyard, leave the cold-smoking to us.
Flaky in texture and more akin to a baked fillet, hot-smoked salmon couldn’t be more different than its cold-smoked cousin. However, the best salmon to smoke using this method of preservation is still going to be sockeye. It just has the ideal balance of leanness, robust flavor, and color to be your go-to variety of fish when exposed to smoke for extended periods of time.
Making hot-smoked salmon is an endeavor for serious salmon aficionados. It’s not difficult to make hot-smoked salmon, but you’ll need to invest in a smoker and have a weekend to commit to the process. Once you’ve got your fillets smoked up though, you’ll have a week or so to use them in a variety of dishes where you’re looking for pops of flavor: chowders, frittatas, pastas, scallion pancakes, even simply flaked over an avocado toast for an extra hit of healthy fats.
Cedar Plank Salmon
For the flavor of smoke without the smoker — and in a fraction of the time — cedar planks are the way to go. The smokiness that cedar planks impart on fillets of salmon is mild enough that you can use either sockeye or coho, depending on what other flavors you’re using; for instance, coho matches up well with cleaner, delicate flavors that you might find in a lemon-herb preparation, while our recipe for Easy Cedar Plank Salmon uses North African spices that pair up better with sockeye.
Grilling Salmon Over Wood Chips
You could also go the wood chip route for salmon that’s been kissed with smoke. Apple, cherry or maple wood chips are mild enough options to use, imparting unique flavors without overwhelming the taste of the fish itself. As with cedar planked salmon, you can use either sockeye or coho when you’re grilling over wood chips. You’ll get the best results when you match up the variety of salmon with the intensity of flavors you’re using in a marinade or rub — sockeye for robust recipes, and coho for mellower meals.
Another quick way to smoke salmon, and the best way to smoke salmon indoors, is to use tea leaves. Tea-smoked salmon is similar in approach to using wood chips, but requires much less heat and obviously allows you to explore a very different range of flavors. And we’re not just talking green or black: Dried spices are often smoked along with tea leaves when using this method, imparting even more complexity to the smoke.
Your tea choice will determine which salmon is your best option. Sockeye is the best salmon for smoking with black tea, since its gaminess can hold up to the caramelized aromas of the leaves; the lacquer that black tea leaves behind also looks particularly nice against the red fillet of sockeye. When smoking with green tea, either variety will work, but mild coho is a really lovely canvas for the more vegetal qualities of this smoke.