The best wood for smoking salmon is often a personal preference. Some people swear by alder, while others will tell you that the only wood to use is apple. Having said that, there are definitely some woods out there that should be avoided like the plague. If you really want to be sure about what wood is right for your salmon, follow this guide.
Recommended woods for smoking salmon
These gentle flavor qualities make Alder wood perfect for cold-smoking salmon.
The cold smoking process will last at least for a day, so using mild-flavored wood is usually a wise decision. This will reduce the chance of overpowering the salmon with smoke.
If you are a fan of mixing different types of wood, feel free to experiment with Alder.
You can also smoke trout with the same success.
Alder smoke is considered too weak for red meats but too powerful for poultry. Salmon is right in the middle and can be successfully smoked with this type of wood.
It is important to note that Alder tends to burn quickly. In some cases, this is a good quality when trying to produce smoke fast and for short periods of time. When used for cold smoking, you should use a lower temperature to release the smoke slowly and evenly.
- Great for all types of fish
- It comes in a sealed and reusable bag
- Works great on charcoal and gas grills or in a smoker box
- A fine choice for beginners
- It burns fast on higher temperatures
- Some people consider the taste too mild
It is relatively easy to light and maintain as hardwood and is almost impossible to make a mistake while smoking with it.
After the smoking process, there is no bitterness or thick layers of smoke on the fish.
It is actually one of the most commonly used woods as fuel for smoking food suitable for beef, poultry, pork, vegetables, or fish.
- It could be used for all types of meats and vegs
- Great for electric, gas, or charcoal grills and smokers
- Easy to use with almost no chance for mistakes
- Do not use BBQ sauces because they will mask the smoke flavor
If alder or maple smoke is too light for you, then the applewood is for you. It still has this fresh and sweet flavor but at a moderate amount of strength. Applewood is excellent for salmon since it enhances the flavor of the fish, but it also allows the salmon taste to shine through.
Apple is also considered one of the best woods for smoking turkey. It also pairs well with beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and cheeses.
These particular wood chunks are 100% natural raw timber and could be used on gas, electric, or charcoal grills and smokers.
- 100% natural wood chips
- Creates delicious crust on the fish
- Suitable for most types of grills and smokers
- Easy to light
- They burn pretty fast
Cherry wood qualities make it the perfect solution when smoking fish, poultry, and pork.
When smoking with this wood, you’ll get a rich and thick red crust resulting from the beautiful caramelization that happens when this wood is exposed to heat.
Oklahoma Joe wood chips are all-natural with no additives or preservatives, and they are 100 percent cherry wood.
The wood chips are also 100% suitable for electric, charcoal, or gas grill and smokers.
- Adds rich flavor and beautiful crust
- The wood chops are medium-sized and don’t burn too fast
- All-natural with no added preservatives
- Suitable for a variety of smokers
- Since the chips are a bit thicker, they might be inappropriate for smoke guns.
Related: Oklahoma Joe Offset Smoker Review
When smoking salmon for longer periods, pecan can overwhelm it and give an unpleasant flavor which is why you should always be cautious when using it.
When used properly, pecan gives the fish a mild and rich flavor that will make it irresistible.
Great choice when smoking fish, lamb, poultry, pork, and beef.
- Provides rich and sweet flavor when used properly
- The wood chunks will smoke for long periods of time
- The chunks burn hot and clear
- It can easily overwhelm the flavor of the fish
- Not 100% wood chunks – there might be a lot of chips in the bags
It produces a strong, rich, and unmistakable flavor, great for salmon, trout, and mackerel. Oak also pairs excellently with lamb, beef, poultry, pork, and game.
Oak is a slow-burning wood that is quite dense and needs lots of heat before it starts to generate smoke. These qualities make it the perfect choice when cold smoking.
Oak-smoked salmon might be too much for some people’s taste. To balance the distinct oak flavor, use fruitier apple, peach, pear, or cherry notes and mix it with fruitwood.
Cameron oak chips are 100% natural, with no artificial flavor or additives. They work excellent on gas, electric, and charcoal smokers and grill or with smoker boxes.
- When used properly produce a distinct flavor
- Cloud be mixed with lighter wood chips
- 100% natural, no additives
- Work on a variety of smokers
- It takes a lot of heat to get started
- Oak can be too overpowering for some people’s taste
Just like alder, oak produces clean and light smoke. We would definitely recommend using Beech Wood chips for smoking salmon; it gives it a zesty, light flavor that blends well with the salmon’s natural flavor.
Beech gives salmon great color and good taste. These are the most neutral flavored of all woods used for smoking. It’s an excellent choice when you want a smoke flavor hint but doesn’t overpower the food.
Beechwood is a hardwood that produces a light, nutty-flavored smoke. It is also good for smoking poultry, cheese, and small game birds.
Weber Beech chips come in a 3-pound bag. It’s clean-burning and economical, producing less ash than other woods. The lack of additives means there is nothing to ruin the flavor of the food, making it a good choice when you want the smoke to complement fish’s natural flavors.
Since beech produces light smoke, we recommend you to always go with the low and slow approach.
- Light taste, which will complement the taste of salmon
- Great option when smoking seafood, poultry, or game birds
- It could be used on most types of grills and smokers
- No additives
- Expensive compared to other types of wood
- Some consider the taste as too light
Plus, these wood chips are crafted from real Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Brand whiskey barrels for unmatched quality and taste with each bite of food.
The Jack Daniels Wood Smoking Chips are perfect for creating mouth-watering wood smoke to use on your favorite foods.
The chips emit a combo of whiskey and oak wood smoke, making them excellent for ribs, wings, whole chicken, beef sirloin, fish, brisket, or pork loin.
They also work great with any grill – charcoal/gas/electric–and even personal smokers!
So if you want to add some unique flavor to your smoked salmon, these Jack Daniels Chips are your best bet.
- Suitable for fish, beef, poultry, and more
- From a real Old No. 7 whiskey barrels
- Burns great and long-lasting
- An exquisite flavor that works well with salmon
- Perfect to use with Jack Daniels rubs
- Some people complain about little to no whiskey flavor after smoking
Woods that are not recommended for smoking salmon
In the smoker, cedar does not burn well. It’s probably best to avoid it.
Hickory emits a strong flavor, which is great for red meats. When smoking salmon, it can be overwhelming. Some people argue that smoking fish with hickory is possible. Yet, you should be extremely cautious because the strong flavor can be too much, and the salmon could become bitter and unfit for eating.
This is another wood with a strong flavor. We suggest using it on red meats only. When it comes to smoking salmon, the flavor can be too strong, and you won’t get a mild smokey taste that is so desired when smoking fish. Although if you want this exact taste on your salmon, try mixing mesquite with other milder woods.
Like Cedar, these woods are no go for smoking any food. Conifers contain too much sap and resin. They will ruin the taste of your food and can make the eaters ill.
Another bad choice for smoking. Very greenwood could make the food unfit for eating.
Tips for smoking salmon
There’s nothing better than slabs of smoked salmon to enjoy with crackers and a glass of wine. Here are a few tips for smoking salmon in your own backyard.
Smoking salmon is a long process. It usually takes around 8 to 12 hours. A consistent and stable temperature is the most important thing to maintaining a good smoking environment. Make sure you trust your smoker completely before you start. Going with a pellet smoker ensures a consistent, stable temperature.
Choose fresh salmon
Although it is completely fine to smoke frozen salmon, if possible, using a fresh one is a lot better. Always start with a good quality salmon!
A word about filleting
When fileting, make sure you know what you are doing. You want clean cuts and a good filet to get started.
If buying pre-fileted salmon, try to find one with the pin bones still in it. Having the pin bones still in will help hold the fish together during the process of smoking.
With or without scales
You can safely leave the scales on. They will make the filets easier to grill and smoke without any effect on the flavor.
Preparation before smoking salmon
They are two main ways of preparing salmon for smoking.
The first way is to dry brine it. Dry brining is beneficial to get the salt penetrated deep into the flesh of the fish. It is a simple process, where you smother the salmon in salt and let it sit there for a few hours. After that, you need to rinse the fish with water before adding it to the smoker.
The second way is to brine it in a wet brine (brining solution). For this method, you need to submerge the salmon into a solution of salt, sugar, and water.
A simple recipe for wet brine (enough for two fillets):
- 2 cups coarse salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 6 quarts water
You can easily do the math and calculate the amount of brine needed for more salmon fillets. Six hours is enough time to let the salmon sit in the brine solution.
Steps to take when smoking salmon
- Preheat your smoker. Add the first badge of wood chips and set the temperature to 100 degrees. When the smoke starts to come out, you can add your fillets. It is essential to keep the temperature between 90 and 100 degrees.
- Every few hours, add more wood chips. If there is no smoke through the entire cooking process, don’t worry, it is fine.
- Open the vents and make sure the temperature is stable. You always need fresh smoke inside the smoker. Circulating the same smoke and air into the smoker is a big NO.
- Gradually raise the inside temperature. At the end of the cooking process, it should be around 150-160 F.
- The time needed to smoke the salmon will vary, depending on the weather conditions and the size of the fillets. An internal fish temperature of 145 F is ideal, but keep in mind that the fish will continue cooking after you take it off the smoker. So removing it a bit earlier is better than later.
- Once ready, the salmon is fine to eat. Yet, you can also let it sit on the grill for an additional hour. There are recipes, which suggest wrapping the salmon after cook and refrigerating it overnight.
- Smoked salmon will have thick skin and moist flesh. The meat should be with no discoloration or brown spots.
Smoked salmon is delicious, and you can use it for many dishes.
Salads, pasta dishes, or appetizers can be made out of salmon.
It is an excellent fish to eat, and you should try smoking it.
Remember to use a good quality salmon, and you will get the most out of it!
Related: How To Tell If Salmon Is Spoiled