These Are Our Favorite Woods for Hot & Cold Smoking Smoking Salmon

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When choosing wood for smoking salmon, you want to go for a lighter wood that won’t overwhelm that delicate smoked salmon flavor.

We’ve tried hot and cold smoking salmon with a variety of different smoke wood combinations, and these are the ones that we’ve found work the best.

There are also some woods that we definitely don’t recommend using, so make sure you read until the end.

What is the best wood for smoking salmon?

salmon cold smoking with smoke tube

When hot-smoking salmon, the fish cooks in a much shorter amount of time compared to other smoked meat. Therefore, you want to smoke salmon with a light wood so it doesn’t overpower the fishy flavor. Our favorite woods for smoking salmon are oak, apple, or cherry wood.

This rule also applies to smoking fish in general. Sticking to a light wood with any type of fish ensures you don’t overwhelm it with smoky flavor and the fish taste can shine through.

The 10 best wood for smoking salmon

Let’s look at the best wood for smoking salmon and why. These recommendations apply whether you are using wood chips, chunks or pellets.

1. Oak

Oak is hands down one of the most popular woods for smoking, period. The hardwood adds just the right depth and complexity to salmon through its moderate smokiness and earthy flavor.

It has a high-temperature range and burns slowly and even. It’s our go-to when hot-smoking salmon or making smoked salmon burnt ends. Sidenote: if you haven’t tried them, you need to.

2. Hickory

Another wood we like to use to add flavor when smoking fish is hickory. A Southern smoking staple, it offers a more intense flavor and smokiness than oak. This is offset by subtle sweet and nutty notes.

When using hickory wood for smoking salmon, it’s important to be careful and not use too much. It’s easy to overpower the fish and too much smoke can make it taste bitter. But if you’ve got the smoking skills, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most flavorful smoked salmon available.

3. Apple

Apple is one of the best woods for smoking salmon as it’s one of the lightest woods available. If you want a gentle fruity flavor that won’t overpower but enhance the salmon’s natural taste, step this way. It gives the fish a very mild, smoky and sweet flavor while delivering a delicious crust on top. We prefer to use applewood for our cold smoked salmon recipe.

4. Cherry

Cherry is another fruit wood like apple, so the flavor profiles are very similar. But you get a light smoke flavor paired with subtle cherry notes instead. Cherry wood also does its job and doesn’t overwhelm the salmon taste, giving the fish a light mahogany color while burning slowly.

5. Peach

Now we’re just listing fruit! Seriously though, peachwood might not be as common as other fruit-flavored moods, but it’s another mild option to have in your arsenal as it won’t overwhelm the salmon.

6. Pecan

Pecan is the perfect wood for shorter smokes, which suits salmon perfectly. For example, our hot smoked salmon recipe includes three hours of smoking. In the end, your salmon will have a subtly sweet flavor. Most importantly, pecan delivers a delectable nutty taste and more smokiness than the aforementioned fruit woods.

If you use pecan wood for a longer smoke, the flavor can become overpowering. This is why it’s great to combine it with other woods, but more on that below.

7. Alder wood

In the Pacific Northwest, it’s traditional to smoke fish with alder wood. In fact, it’s the wood of choice for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Alder might not be a household name like oak, but it should be.

Alder wood is one of the most neutral, not to mention delicate, woods available. It will give your salmon a deliciously balanced flavor. Think a little smoky, a little sweet, and a little nutty. Alder wood also burns slowly, so it’s perfect for smoking fish over several hours.

8. Maple

Maple trees aren’t just for maple syrup. Get your hands on maple wood and it will give your salmon a mild smoky and sweet taste. Commonly used for smoking salmon in the Northeastern United States, it’s a perfect medium between the other options listed.

It’s not as rich as pecan, but it’s stronger and sweeter in flavor than apple. We also like maple because it offers a slow and steady burn over long periods. No bitterness or thick smoke, just a subtle sweetness.

9. Beech

Beech is a very common firewood. But it’s also frequently used in Germany and across Europe for smoking. It has a similar flavor profile to alder wood, which is why it’s perfect for smoking salmon. The clean, cool, and mild smoke pairs with a slightly nutty taste to not overwhelm the fish.

Beech is also known as a fairly forgivable wood, so it’s great for beginner smokers. It burns slowly and steadily, giving your salmon a subtle richness over time. While some people recommend soaking beech for a more intense flavor, we believe soaking isn’t necessary.

10. Lemon

Lemon is another less common wood type, but it’s similar in lightness to apple. It gives the salmon a subtle lemon and smoky flavor. If you use lemon wood, we recommend going easy on lemon juice or any additional lemon flavors as that will inevitably overpower the fish.

Best wood combinations for smoking salmon

When it comes to smoking meat in general, you don’t have to leave the mixing and matching exclusively to the rubs. Experiment with wood combinations, too. One of the most popular combinations for general smoking is pairing a richer wood like oak, pecan, or hickory with a sweeter fruit wood like apple or cherry.

wood chunks burning over hot coals

While we recommend light wood for smoking salmon, some people find apple or alder wood too mellow on their own. If this is you, go ahead and try pairing the mild alder or beech with a sweeter wood like cherry or pecan.

In an offset smoker, we recommend starting with the stronger-flavored wood and then adding the lighter wood. This results in a good balance of smoked and sweet flavor. Here are even more wood combinations to try.

Wood we don’t recommend for smoking salmon

Here are a couple of wood varieties we don’t recommend using for smoked salmon.

1. Mesquite

There are a couple of reasons we don’t recommend Mesquite wood. Primarily, it has a strong flavor and burns hot and fast, producing a lot of smoke. This will easily overwhelm the salmon and impact its taste.

2. Conifer woods

Conifers include pine, spruce, and fir. These conifer woods are considered softwoods and the high sap levels can give smoked fish an unpleasant taste.

Now, you might think that cedar is a conifer and cedar plank grilled salmon is a common way to cook salmon. The difference is these cedar planks are treated and include natural oils that seep into the salmon while grilling. Cedar, in general, also doesn’t have the same sap levels as the conifer wood pellets mentioned.

What’s the best type of wood for smoking salmon?

wood chips, pellets and chunk on a wooden board

This always depends on the type of smoker you’re using. For example, you’re going to want to use wood pellets with a pellet grill. But generally speaking, wood chips are the most common type of wood used when smoking salmon. They also work with most smokers that have a smoker tray.

Our second preference is smaller wood chunks, especially if we’re using an offset smoker or cold-smoking salmon, as they are better for longer smoking periods.

Where to buy wood for smoking salmon

First, you’ll be able to buy wood at your local barbecue store or wood supply store. If you don’t have one nearby, your next stop could be Walmart. They have Weber and Western wood chips and chunks available nationwide.

If all else fails, turn to the old faithful – Amazon. With Prime, you can get a bag of Weber apple wood chunks delivered directly to your door.

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