Best wood for smoking salmon + how-to recipes & tips

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 8, 2021

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Salmon is a great meat to eat. It has a rich, juicy taste and an exceptional flavor profile.

It is also extremely healthy for you. Rich in omega fats, it lowers blood pressure, it’s great for skin, it’s weight loss friendly and it supports healthy brain activity.

8 wood tips for smoked salmon

Methods of smoking salmon

If you eat salmon often, you are probably looking for different ways to prepare it. Smoking salmon can add some variety to your salmon menu.

If you have never smoked salmon before, you may be wondering about the best methods to use.

You may be thinking about what woods are best for smoking salmon and what cooking techniques are recommended.

This article has everything you need to know about smoking salmon. Read on to find out more.

Best Woods for Smoking Salmon

Salmon is delicate meat that does not have the rich taste of beef. Therefore, it can easily be overpowered by stronger woods.

Here are a few milder kinds of wood that will provide a nice subtle flavor:

  • Alder: Some may think that alder wood is too delicate for salmon. However, because salmon must smoke for long periods of time, it is the perfect choice. It will lend a light smokiness to the salmon, without overpowering it.
  • Apple: Slightly stronger than alder, applewood gives salmon a smokey, fruity taste that takes it to the next level. It provides the perfect amount of smokey sweetness without detracting from its flavor. Mix it with mesquite to give the salmon just a bit of bite.
  • Maple: Maple is another type of wood that adds a sweet flavor to salmon without overpowering it. It is never bitter and it works to provide a delicious taste that complements salmon perfectly.
  • Cherry: Cherry wood is more versatile than you might think. It adds a mild sweetness while still allowing the salmon to take center stage. It works well when mixed with alder, pecan, or oak.
  • Pecan: Pecan is from the hickory family and, therefore, it is quite a bit stronger than the other fruity woods on this list. Therefore, it should be used sparingly. But when used in moderation though, it will give your salmon a warm and delicate taste.
  • Walnut: Walnut is another type of wood that can be overpowering if overused. However, it gives salmon a nutty, smokey flavor that elevates the taste. Proceed with caution.
  • Oak: Oak is another wood that runs that delicate balance between giving salmon a great taste and overpowering it. However, it can give your salmon a unique medium sweet flavor, that just might make it all worthwhile.
  • Beechwood: Beechwood will produce a light, clean flavor that is also somewhat nutty. It will penetrate the fish without affecting the distinct taste.

Woods to Avoid When Smoking Salmon

There are certain woods that definitely will not work for smoking salmon. In general, these woods will overpower the taste of the salmon.

Here are a few you will want to avoid:

  • Cedar: Cedar planks and salmon are a match made in heaven. Cedar for smoking? Not so much. As a rule, cedar does not burn well in a smoker and it should be avoided.
  • Hickory: Hickory is a very strong wood that is best used for red meat. Although some argue that it could be used to smoke salmon, you have to be extremely cautious when doing so. Hickory can easily overpower salmon, to the point where it’s extremely bitter and practically inedible.
  • Mesquite: Mesquite is best for dark meats that can stand up to the strong flavor. It should definitely be avoided when smoking salmon, but if you just can’t get enough of the taste, try mixing it with a milder wood.
  • Conifers: Woods from conifers and pines contain a lot of sap and resin. Therefore, they are unsuitable for smoking any type of food. They will give food a funny taste and they can even make diners sick.
  • Green-Wood: Wood that is very green will also make food inedible and it can make people sick.

Salmon Smoking Tips

If you are smoking salmon, there are certain tips and techniques you should be familiar with. Here are a few that should be noted.

Cook Time

Salmon takes a long time to smoke, usually between eight and twelve hours. Therefore, its very important to keep the temperature under control while it’s smoking. Be sure to use a smoker that you trust to stay within the correct parameters. An electric smoker is recommended.

Start with Fresh Salmon

Of course, you can smoke frozen salmon, but it will taste much better if you start with fresh filets.

To Filet or Not to Filet

If you choose to filet your fish yourself, make sure you know what you are doing. You can easily end up shredding the entire salmon.

If you buy a fish that has been pre-fileted, try to get one with the pin bones still in. These are the bones that run the length of the fish and removing them hastily can break the fish’s flesh.

Instead, opt for removing them with pliers at home.

To Scale or Not to Scale

Why leave the scales on when smoking salmon

Leaving the scales on the salmon will make your filet easier to grill and slice and it won’t affect the flavor.

Therefore, we say, scales on.

Also read: wood pellets vs chunks vs chips, which should you choose?

Preparation for Smoked Salmon

You can prepare your salmon for smoking one of two ways. The first is to dry cure it. Using this method, you will smother the fish in salt and then wash it off after letting it sit for hours.

The alternate is to wet cure it or brine it. With this method, you will allow your fish to sit in a bath of water, salt and sugar.

Here is a recommended recipe.

  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • 1 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 quarts water

This will be enough for one filet. If you are cooking two filets, double the ingredients. If you are cooking three filets, triple them, and so on.

The salmon should be soaked for six hours total and it should be turned occasionally. Once it is done brining, take it out and dry it.

The curing method is one of the things that differentiate salmon from lox

Process for Smoking Salmon

Now that the fish has been properly prepped, you are ready to smoke it.When smoking, you will want to have the following equipment on hand.

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.