If this is the first time you are going to smoke a salmon, then you absolutely HAVE to know which salmon to buy to make sure it ends up being as delicious as you imagined it to be. You want to make sure that the oil content is just right, the salmon is fresh, etc. because all of those things will end up affecting the overall texture and the flavor of the fish.
The reason why I stress that it is important to know which salmon to buy is that the texture and the firmness of the fish vary from species to species.
In this article, I’ll go over the difference between each species and what kind of texture you can expect from each of them. This will help you decide which species of salmon to buy to get exactly what you wanted.
The 7 Best Salmon Species You Can Choose From For Smoking
When you are buying salmon, it can get confusing to choose which species to buy. And a lot of the species go by more than one name so you don’t know if you’re buying the same species with a different name, or whether it is a completely different species altogether.
So, here’s everything you need to know before you order salmon online or go to your local fish market.
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1. Chinook Salmon
Also known as King salmon is one of the largest salmon species out there. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes manage to get around 60 pounds or more of this salmon which is just mind-boggling when you think about it.
The flesh of this species is deep red in color and it is one of the most flavorful salmons out there. The texture of the flesh is delicate and is rich and buttery. That is because of the high oil content in it.
If you were to ask me, I would choose the Chinook/King salmon any day for smoking.
2. Pink Salmon
As you might’ve guessed, this species is named after the color of its flesh. The Pink salmon is also known as the humpy salmon or humpbacks because they also have humps.
Because of the low oil content in the flesh, you can expect to have a light taste and tender texture.
The pink salmon is one of the most abundantly available species of salmon out there. So if you are looking to have smoked salmon on a budget, this is one of the best choices for you – reasonable price and light taste and texture.
It is also a good choice if you are going to have smoked salmon for the first time.
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3. Atlantic Salmon
The Atlantic salmon is farmed in the ocean in cages or pens. And the farmers put these species on a specific diet to increase their oil content and also to alter the color of their flesh.
They are the usual orange color salmon that you see in most places. The flesh is moderately oily and the taste is mild.
The UK, Chile, and Canada are the top 3 countries in the world that produce a majority of the Atlantic salmon in the world.
4. Pacific Salmon
The Pacific salmon is a generic name that is given to any salmon that is not an Atlantic salmon. So you will have to ask the seller to specify which species it really is so you can know how you can prepare and whether you will like it.
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5. Chum Salmon
This salmon is also called by several other names like Silverbite salmon, Keta salmon, etc. which are just the two most common names that people refer to it by.
Sometimes you will see someone call it Dog salmon, which is also a valid name because of the big teeth that this fish grows.
The Chum salmon has the lowest oil content of all the species I mention in this article and it is also pale in color and coarse in texture.
But the problem with this species is that the quality varies a lot depending on who you buy it from. They could have different textures, colors, oil content, etc. so you really have to test things out for yourself before deciding which seller you can rely on to get the best quality Chum salmon.
6. Coho Salmon
This salmon is different than other species because even though it has lower oil content than other species, it still has a very good flavor. Usually, the more oil content a salmon has, you can expect it to have a better flavor. The Coho salmon doesn’t follow that rule.
The color of this salmon is dark reddish and orange and the flesh is medium but slightly firm in texture.
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7. Sockeye Salmon
Sockeye and King salmon are some of the top salmon species produced in this country. The sockeye is only second to the King salmon when it comes to the oil content in it. Which also means it has incredibly good flavor.
Most of the sockeye salmon is exported to Japan because they consider this species to be one of the best species of salmon.
Sockeye is very similar to King when it comes to color and texture. The only difference is that the sockeye’s flesh is slightly firmer compared to the King’s flesh. But both have very good flavor.
The Correlation Between Oil Content and Flavor
As I mentioned above, the more oil content a salmon has, the more flavor it will have. And it will also be more buttery and moist. So it really depends on what kind of salmon you prefer to have.
If you like to have a lightly flavored salmon, then you should go for a species that has a low oil content. Species like the Chum or the Pink salmon will be perfect for you.
But if you prefer a more flavorful salmon that is buttery and moist, then you should go for the Sockeye or the King salmon. Either of those will be the perfect choice for preparing smoked salmon.
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Freshness Cannot Be Ignored!
This does not just apply to salmon. It applies to all kinds of seafood out there.
All seafood has a very short shelf life and they go bad really quickly. So unless the fishermen are flash freezing the salmon or are keeping them on ice, chances are that you will be buying salmon that is not fresh, or even worse – about to go bad.
And how can you figure out whether the salmon has gone bad or is about to go bad?
Simple, the texture of its flesh will be mushy and there will be a strong fishy odor. You cannot consume fish that has either of those things.
Another thing you can look for is the head of the salmon. If it still retains it, you can check its eyes and see if there are any signs of cloudiness. If there are, then you shouldn’t buy it. Also, the skin of the salmon should be bright and even in color.
In most cases, the fish market or the store where you will be buying salmon from will have it packed and sealed. So the only way for you to test if the salmon is fresh or not is by pressing your finger into the flesh. You would want the flesh to spring back up to its original shape – that means the salmon is still fresh. If it doesn’t or it partially goes back to its original shape, then that means it is either spoiled or just partially spoiled.
You want to avoid those as well.
Another thing you can do is ask the butcher to open the sealed package so you can smell the salmon. If they refuse to do so then you can simply go shop at another store.
But in no case, you should feel like you are supposed to buy a partially spoiled salmon because the butcher or somebody else said that that is how it is supposed to be.