Best wood for smoking lox: Cured in brine & ready to smoke

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 27, 2022

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If you like smoked fish, salmon is probably one of the tastiest fish to smoke at home. Making smoked salmon isn’t a daunting task and you can do it in any type of smoker.

However, the key to great smoked salmon is in the wood you use.

There are many different kinds of wood that can be used for smoking lox, but some work better than others.

Best wood for smoking lox | Cured in brine and ready to smoke

In general, fruitwoods like apple or nut woods like pecan are the best choices for smoking lox. These woods provide a subtle flavor that compliments the fish without overwhelming it. A cedar wood plank is the other common option that gives a fresh woodsy aroma.

In this guide, I’m sharing the best wood types you can use to smoke lox at home.

But first, I have to discuss the lox vs salmon debate which confuses many people.

Lox vs smoked salmon: what’s the difference?

Lox is a type of salmon that is cured in salt brine, while smoked salmon is fish that has been cured and then smoked. The two have different textures, flavors, and uses.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

Lox is not fresh salmon!

Here’s the thing: lox is NOT SMOKED whereas smoked salmon is… well, smoked.

However, these days lox has become an umbrella term for all types of smoked salmon recipes. Therefore, you can technically smoke the salt brined lox.

Traditional lox is cured in a salty brine but people mistake it for Nova smoked salmon, which is a type of smoked salmon.

Many brands label their smoked salmon product as “Nova Lox,” hence adding to the confusion.

Best wood for smoked lox

Although the type of wood used to smoke salmon varies, it is always hardwood such as pecan, oak, cherry, hickory, or apple.

The light, sweet scent of applewood makes smoked salmon/lox taste light and pleasant.

Cherry wood smoked salmon is milder and sweeter, but oak has a richer flavor and hickory has a fuller-bodied richness that can be overbearing for delicate salmon.

Good choices for smoking salmon include:

Alder wood

  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: earthy, slightly sweet, subtle, neutral

There are many different opinions on what type of wood is best for smoking lox.

Some people say that alderwood is the only way to go, while others claim that any type of hardwood will do the trick.

Personally, I like to use alderwood for smoking lox because it imparts a delicate flavor that doesn’t overpower the fish. It’s also a very mild wood, so you can’t really go wrong.

Besides, lox must smoke for a longer time and a mellow wood like alder provides the perfect amount of mild flavor.

The best way to describe alder wood is that it has a mild neutral-tasting smokiness.

This wood is delicate and its flavor is mildly sweet, so not quite like the fruit woods, but not as strong as oak or hickory.

Also, there’s a hint of earthiness to this wood so you can still taste real wood smoke flavors whether you’re hot smoking or cold smoking.

The reason why alder wood is a good choice to smoke lox is that this wood is the most ‘universal’ wood for smoked fish.

If you want good quality alder wood chips, try the Camerons Products Alder Wood Smoker Chips which burn a clean thin blue smoke.

Apple wood

  • intensity: mild
  • flavors: subtle, fruity, sweet

Apple wood is another good option for smoking salmon because of its mild and sweet flavor. It will give your lox a slightly fruity taste that makes it irresistible.

Also, since lox is salty from the brine, the sweetness of the apple wood balances out the flavors.

Some people say that if you want the best smoked salmon, you need to use a fruit wood like apple.

I agree because this wood has a pleasantly sweet aroma that lets the natural taste of the salty lox come through.

Apple is also an excellent blending wood for strong woods such as hickory. It can tone down or balance the flavors of woods like oak.

Overall, apple wood is good for hot smoking and cold smoking salmon too when you’re after a mild sweet taste.

Mr. Bar-B-Q applewood chips can help you achieve the perfect smoked salmon.

Cherry wood

  • intensity: mild
  • flavors: sweet, fruity, lightly floral

Cherry wood is another popular choice for smoking lox. It has a sweet, fruity flavor that compliments the fish nicely. It also has a milder flavor than some of the other fruitwoods.

The flavor of cherry is sweet, fruity, and lightly floral. Salty lox pairs well with the delicate taste of fruity cherry.

One thing to keep in mind with cherry wood is that it can be very dense. This means that it doesn’t light easily and can smolder instead of burning evenly.

For this reason, I like to use cherry wood in conjunction with another type of wood.

In my opinion, cherry wood is the perfect choice for those who want a subtle smoke flavor.

It has a sweet taste that isn’t overpowering and its aroma is heavenly so it’s a great wood for smoked salmon.

I like to taste the natural flavors of cured salmon, so I like that cherry doesn’t overpower it.

Cherry can produce smoke that adds a red color to the salmon, so it looks very smoked and well cooked.

Cherry wood chunks are a good solution if you’re going for a longer lox smoke.

The Weber cherry wood chunks are the most affordable option on Amazon if you smoke salmon frequently.

Beech wood

  • intensity: medium
  • flavors: nutty, slightly sweet

You can use beech wood to smoke lox and it will give you a nice, mild smoke flavor. In fact, beech is one of the most underrated but best woods for smoking salmon.

Beechwood is a little more intense than other softwoods like alder or cedar, but it doesn’t have the strong flavor of oak or hickory.

You should know beech is a cool burning wood, so it’s excellent for electric smokers too.

Beech wood is a light wood with a sweet, nutty taste that goes well with salmon. If you like the taste of nutty smoke, you’ll really enjoy beech. It’s mild enough

The wood chips have a distinctive taste so it’s a great way to give the smoked fish lots of flavor without overpowering it.

You can try to source beech wood chips locally since they’re hard to find online.

Oak

  • intensity: medium
  • flavors: rich, bold, smoky, earthy, lightly savory

Oak is a classic wood for smoking salmon and lox. You’ve probably already heard about the fact that oak is one of the best woods if you like pure hardwood flavor smoke.

This wood imparts a neutral and slightly earthy and savory smoke aroma.

When I think of oak wood, the first thing that pops into my mind is Southern BBQ.

Also, it’s used for Texas-style barbecue and it’s excellent for cold-smoked lox when you want an authentic smoky aroma.

The rich, bold, smoky, earthy, and slightly savory flavors it imparts are the perfect complement to the salty, briny flavor of smoked salmon.

While any type of oak can be used for smoking salmon and lox, red oak is generally considered to be the best variety.

It has a moderate intensity that allows its smoky flavors to shine without overpowering the other flavors in the dish.

If you’re looking for a wood that will give your smoked salmon and lox a truly classic flavor, oak is the one to choose.

The Camerons Smoking oak chips have a pleasant earthy flavor with a hint of muskiness.

Maple wood

  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: sweet and sugary

If you’re looking for a light, sweet flavor, maple is a great option. It’s similar to apple in terms of sweetness but it doesn’t have the same fruity notes.

In fact, sugar maple is much sweeter than the fruit woods like apple and cherry.

You can mix the super-sweet maple wood with classic smoky oak and you end up with delicious strong smokiness with subtle sweet notes – exactly what your lox needs.

The reason why I like to use maple wood chips when smoking salmon is that it doesn’t leave any bitter taste when burned.

For the best maple bbq smoking chips, try the Camerons Smoking wood chips which give the fish a deep sweet taste.

Hickory wood

  • intensity: medium to strong
  • flavors: earthy, bacon-like, slightly musky, and sweet

Hickory is a strong, smoky wood that can be overpowering for some people.

However, if you like a bold smoked flavor, hickory is a perfect choice. It has a very intense smokiness that will give your salmon a real kick.

The overall flavor of hickory smoke is bacon-like, earthy, and slightly musky.

It even has a light sweetness to it but if you’re looking for a real Southern bbq flavor, hickory is sure to please.

Just be careful not to use too much or your salmon will end up tasting like bacon.

A little goes a long way with hickory smoke so start with a small amount and add more if needed.

Camerons Smoking hickory wood chips give your salmon a deep, rich smoked flavor with hints of sweetness.

Pecan

  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: nutty and slightly sweet

Pecan is a great option for smokers who want a bold, nutty flavor. It’s similar to oak in terms of richness but it has a slightly sweeter taste.

It’s also a very dense wood, so it’s good for smokers who have trouble getting their smoker to stay lit.

Pecan is perfect for those who want a smoky flavor that’s different from the traditional oak. The flavor is bold, nutty, smoky but it also balances out the saltiness of the cured lox.

Since you can smoke lox for a longer time, you can use something like the Weber wood. These wood chunks have a strong, nutty flavor that goes well with salmon.

Cedar wood planks

  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavor:  spicy, savory, smoky, woodsy & fragrant

You can smoke lox on cedar planks and it gives the fish a mild and slightly sweet taste. Cedar is also a good option if you are looking for wood that will produce little smoke.

Just keep in mind, you should never use cedar wood chips for smoking because they contain harmful residue which can make you ill.

Cedar planks, on the other hand, are safe to use for smoking salmon fillets because the plank doesn’t actually catch fire.

Simply place the filleted salmon of the soaked plank and you’ll end up with a fresh flavor that can be better than using some of the best wood chips.

Lox (salmon) is a mild-flavored fish. It can take on all kinds of wood flavors but a cedar plank is an interesting option.

A cedar plank has a savory and smoky aroma but it’s also a bit spicy, woodsy, and fragrant. Therefore, the fish will taste amazing and smoky without any bitter aftertaste.

Also, by placing the lox on a soaked cedar wood plank, you can ensure the fish’s flesh stays intact and doesn’t fall apart.

For a bit of extra deliciousness, add fresh lemon wedges which give the smoked fish a pleasant light citrus flavor.

Can you use the same woods you use to smoke salmon to smoke lox?

Yes, lox and salmon are the same fish and the only difference is that the lox is cured and brined in a salt mixture so it’s more savory and salty. You can use the same woods for smoking though.

You can also use any wood chips your use for smoking fresh salmon or for smoking fish of all types.

Fruitwoods and nut woods are not the only choices for smoking salmon, but they are generally the best.

If you choose to use another type of wood, make sure it is hardwood that has been properly seasoned.

When smoking salmon, use wood chips rather than chunks. This will give you a more consistent flavor and prevents the wood from burning too quickly.

You’ll want to soak the wood chips in water so they burn slowly.

When using wood to smoke salmon, the goal is to maintain some of the natural flavors of the fish. So, add wood chips sparingly, especially if using a stronger one like hickory wood.

Woods to avoid when smoking lox

Softwoods, like pine, elm, cypress, fir, should be avoided as they can make the salmon taste bitter.

The truth is softwoods should never be used to smoke any type of food.

These are high in resins and poisonous saps, which not only make food taste bitter but also harm your health. It is possible to become unwell by inhaling wood smoke from conifers and other softwoods.

Anything from the coniferous family, in fact, should be avoided.

Because cedarwood is toxic if burned directly, cedar planks are used as a cooking vessel but never as a fuel source.

Thus, it’s best never to burn the cedar wood when smoking food.

When choosing wood for smoking salmon, it is important to avoid any that have been treated with chemicals or oils.

Takeaway

Back in the day, curing and smoking salmon was the only way of preserving it.

The times may have passed, but the tasty smoked lox is always a favorite for anyone to enjoy as it’s impossible not to love this magic mix of soft fish, salt, and smoke.

This delicate meat can actually take on a lot of wood smoke flavor.

Many different types of wood can be used for smoking, but not all of them are created equal.

For a mild smoky and sweet taste, fruit trees are best. But if you want a nutty, subtle taste, go for pecan and beech wood. Finally, if you like more robust flavors, oak chips or hickory are sure to please!

So whether you’re a beginner smoker or a seasoned pro, you can’t go wrong with one of the smoking woods from this list. The lox will surely have a distinctive taste.

Also find out which are the best woods to smoke tuna, another great fish for smoker!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.