Best Wood for Smoked Salmon

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Historically, smoking fish was one of the most common preservation method, but nowadays, we typically smoke it because it tastes AMAZING!. Salmon is my all time favorite meat to smoke as the flavors are out of this world! If you’re wondering what’s the best wood for smoked salmon, you’re in the right place!

Let’s see what’s the best wood for smoked salmon, and all the flavors each type can infuse into your fish!

Overview

Summary of the Best Woods for Smoking Salmon

Maple

Maple is so often used in smoking pork and chicken that you may end up overlooking it as an option for smoking fish. But in reality, maple wood and salmon are a glorious combo!

In addition to providing maple syrup, Acer or maple trees also provide pitmasters with maple wood and its yummy smoke.

This hardwood is a major crowd pleaser in BBQs and grills thanks to its mild smokiness and subtle sweetness.

For salmon, maple hits the right spot of smoke strength. It’s not as bold or heavy as pecan or cherry, but it’s richer and sweeter compared to apple wood.

If you’re looking for a lighter taste profile with no bitterness or thick layers of earthiness, maple should be right up your alley.

It’ll deliver a pleasant, sweet aroma while still letting the natural taste of salmon come through.

Maple is quite a forgiving wood that’s difficult to overdo. Not to mention, it offers a steady burn for a long time.

Alder

Alder wood is one of the most delicate hardwoods out there, and it’s perfect for smoking salmon.

It offers mild smokiness, which is great because it won’t overpower your fish or turn it bitter.

We used it for other types of fish such as smoked trout, and smoked Pacific rockfish and it brings such a lovely balanced flavor!

Alder is a good option if this is your first time smoking salmon. It burnsslowly, allowing you to gently smoke the salmon over several hours.

The very subtle flavor profile of alder wood gives you a great opportunity for mixing with other types of wood such as cherry or pecan.

Cherry

Cherry is a fruit wood that earned its place among the best smoke woods for most foods. It’s particularly popular in smoking poultry, but the versatility extends to fish such as salmon.

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Our smoked mackerel always turns out amazing, and we typically use cherry or apple wood for this type of fish.

The light smokiness and sweet notes of cherry are just as great when paired with salmon. The subtle richness of this wood is mild enough to still let you experience the natural taste of your fish.

If you need additional reasons to love cherry, I’d say the wood’s ability to color meat is more than enough. Smoking with cherry wood creates a lovely mahogany layer on the outside of the salmon.

For an extra punch of flavor, consider mixing cherry with pecan, alder, or oak.

Apple

If you prefer sweeter notes and mild smokiness but want something stronger than alder and more mellow than cherry, then you should seriously consider apple wood.

This fruit wood is one of the best to pair, not only with chicken, brisket, and pork but also fish.

It goes exceptionally well with salmon with subtle flavors that highlight the natural taste of the fish instead of overpowering it.

If you’re one of the people who find apple wood a little too weak on its own, try mixing it with oak or mesquite for a stronger kick.

Beech

A lot of people love mild smokiness with hints of nuttiness. If this sounds appealing to you, then you should give beech a try.

The flavor of this hardwood will penetrate nicely into the fish and give it a distinct yet subtle richness.

Beech is a forgiving wood that you can easily work with if you have little smoking experience.

It burns slowly and steadily, delivering a more intense kick if you pre-soak the wood.

Pecan

Offering a fruity taste profile but with more smokiness than most fruit woods, pecan is a terrific choice for cooking salmon.

This hardwood burns slowly and delivers a sweet, rich flavor with a strong nutty taste and a delightfully earthy aroma.

Still, pecan isn’t as intense as hickory, oak, or mesquite wood.

When working with salmon, there’s a good chance the meat will turn out bitter if you use too much of this wood unless you’re really careful. To get around this, consider mixing in some beech or alder wood.

Pairing pecan with salmon is probably something you should only try after you have some experience, so I recommend starting with a small amount until you get the hang of this wood.

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Oak

A type of hardwood, oak has a reputation of being one of the most popular woods used in smoking all kinds of meat, from pork and beef to chicken and fish.

Oak is native throughout most of the northern hemisphere, which means it’s also easy to find.

Thanks to its medium-strength flavor and deep-colored smoke, salmon will get a pleasant smokiness and complexity and you’ll still be able to taste its natural flavor.

The slightly sweet earthiness of oak is on the lighter side compared to other traditional wood such as mesquite or hickory.

It can burn for long periods and get very hot, so it can help you smoke your fish low and slow or fast and high.

Hickory

Hickory is another staple for smoking meats, especially pork.

However, this hardwood can go very well with salmon if you’re after a more intense flavor profile. Hickory promises a strong smoky taste with a hearty, savory feel.

It also delivers a sweet and nutty taste with bacon-like notes. Yes, hickory is pungent, but it can be a welcome change from the lightly flavored wood that salmon smokers usually go for.

However, this means you need to be especially careful when using hickory, as it’s very easy to overpower the fish and turn it bitter.

Hickory offers a long burning time even at high heat and produces dark smoke.

Walnut

Last but not least, let’s talk about walnut wood. This type of hardwood is commonly used to smoke red meats, but I think it can go well with salmon if you’re careful enough.

Why? Well, walnut delivers an intense smoky flavor that can overpower delicate fish such as salmon if you use too much of it alone.

However, if you mix it with something mild like alder, it’ll beautifully balance out the taste. For a fruity kick, you can try throwing in some apple wood.

Tips For Smoking The Best Salmon

Smoked salmon is one of our favorite meals and we truly believe anyone can get perfect results by following the proper steps.

Here are some things you need to do for mouthwatering results:

  • Dry brine the fish for 6-8 hours. This will pull out moisture from the fish, making it more firm. It will also allow the seasonings to penetrate the meat for a tasty result.
  • Rinse the brine well. This is very important! If you don’t rinse it properly, it can turn out too salty.
  • Dry the salmon with paper towels and let it sit in the fridge uncovered for two hours. During this time, it will develop a tacky film which will help the smoke adhere to its surface.
  • There’s no need to baste the salmon during smoking. If you decide to do it, you can baste the fish at 45 – 60-minute intervals. Refrain from raising the hood too often, as this can cause temperature fluctuations.
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Favorite Smoked Salmon Recipes

You can definitely enjoy smoked salmon next to a side such as these delicious smoked asparagus bundles, or easy grilled patty pan squash.

Here are some of my favorite sides for salmon in case you need more inspiration!

You can also use smoked salmon as an ingredient, and there are so many amazing recipes that call for it.

Smoked Salmon Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms are an easy dish that’s perfect even for beginners.

Smoked Salmon Dip is another simple recipe your family and friends will love if you decide to serve it at parties and events.

And remember, when you need food on the table fast, go for grilled salmon. It may have a lighter smoky flavor but it will still taste delicious!

FAQ

Wrap Up

The level of smokiness and the intensity of flavor of your salmon doesn’t just depend on which type of wood you burn, but also on the smoking temperature and duration.

You don’t want your meat to end up too light or too overpowered, so you need to experiment with all these factors to whip up the perfect smoked salmon dish.

To make things easier, consult our free wood smoking cheat sheet whenever you plan to smoke beef, pork, poultry, lamb, seafood, baked goods, or veggies.

In the end, it’s a matter of trying variations of the same recipe until you get a version that works for you.

Remember, the best wood for smoked salmon isn’t the same for everyone.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>