The best wood for smoking salmon are hardwoods. Some of the best options include cedar, alder, apple, lemon, and cherry.
Smoked salmon is one of the best fish dishes to make with your smoker. There is nothing quite like smoked salmon sandwiches or bagels, especially during the summer season. Plus, smoking salmon helps it to stay fresh for longer.
But what type of wood should you smoke your salmon over? While you have several options, there are some woods that are better for smoking salmon than others. Some options will leave your smoked salmon bursting with flavor, while others are too strong and can overpower the natural taste of the fish.
Read on to learn all about the best types of wood for smoking salmon.
The Different Types of Woods Used to Smoke Salmon
There are many different types of wood that are available for your smoker. But just because a certain wood is available doesn’t mean that it should be paired with smoked salmon. The best woods for smoked salmon are:
All of these woods have a lighter flavor so that they won’t overpower the natural taste of the salmon. They are also complementary to salmon, helping bring out some flavors you didn’t even know were there. Don’t see your favorite type of wood above? Below we break down all the details of how different types of wood can be paired with salmon.
Hardwoods vs. Softwoods
If you didn’t know already, there are two main groups of wood for smoking: hardwood and softwood. Hardwood varieties tend to smoke longer and hotter than softwood varieties.
Hardwoods are from trees like oak, hickory, and maple. While softwood comes from trees like pine and spruce.
When you are choosing a wood for smoking salmon, we recommend always choosing a hardwood. Because hardwoods burn more evenly, they generally produce a better final product–something which is really important when smoking fish.
Cedar is one of our favorite hardwoods for smoking salmon, and we aren’t alone. Cedar is one of the most popular wood choices for smoking fish because its distinct woodsy smoke flavor compliments the taste of salmon. It can also help keep the fish moist with natural oils found within the wood.
This is one of the reasons that you can buy cedar planks for smoking salmon. These planks can be placed beneath your fish as it smokes to further increase the flavor.
Be careful, however, as cedar will produce a stronger smoked flavor, which may not be for everyone, especially if you are smoking your fish for an extended period of time. If you are a beginner to smoking salmon, then we highly suggest you start with a fruit wood listed further down on this list.
After cedar, our next favorite wood for smoking salmon is alder. Like cedar, it has a lighter smoke flavor, which naturally compliments the flavors already present in the salmon.
Alder wood is recommended for longer smokes, such as when you are cold-smoking salmon, because this wood is almost too light—meaning you won’t get a smoky flavor in your fish at all during short smoke sessions.
Those doing a shorter smoke who are worried about cedar overpowering the salmon can mix alder wood with cedar wood to help calm it down a bit, making it an excellent wood to have on hand, even if you prefer cedar.
Apple wood is the sweetest fruitwood on the market, and we recommend all smokers keep a little on hand. While it is usually best paired with pork, we find that it can also be paired with salmon, especially if you are going with a sweeter recipe.
Apple wood is somewhere between alder and cedar, meaning it isn’t as weak as alder, but it isn’t as strong as cedar, either. We recommend it for someone who wants a smoky flavor in their fish without the stronger flavor cedar wood introduces.
Honestly, after cedar, lemon wood is probably the favorite when it comes to smoking salmon. If you think about it, there's a reason we are always pairing our fish with lemon.
Lemon adds a sweet flavor similar to apple wood that won’t overpower the fish. The only thing we recommend is to go easy on the lemon juice on your salmon to make sure you don’t overdo it on the lemon flavor, as lemon wood will add some during the smoking process.
Cherry wood is a go-to wood when it comes to smoking fish and poultry. Cherry wood has an excellent natural flavor, and it is mild enough that it won’t overpower your salmon(or any fish, for that matter.)
Just know that cherry wood has a lighter smoke flavor, so for those who crave smokiness in their fish, you might find you’d rather mix cherry with a stronger wood, such as pecan, oak, or apple.
Other Woods That Can Be Used to Smoke Salmon
Some of the other woods that you can use to make smoked salmon (that didn’t make our top 5) are the following:
- Maple (better for sweet recipes like Apple wood)
Ready to make your smoked salmon? Then head on over to our smoked salmon recipe to get started.
Woods to Avoid When Smoking Salmon
Just as there are preferred woods for smoking salmon, there are also a few you should avoid. We’ve listed them all below.
Hickory is an excellent wood for smoking game and beef, but it is too powerful for smoking salmon. It will quickly overpower the natural salmon flavor and could leave a bitter aftertaste that you probably won’t like.
Like hickory, mesquite is simply too powerful for salmon. Keep these wood chips for your beef and rips, as they will quickly ruin your smoked salmon.
Conifer or Softwoods
Any softwood that is full of resin or sap, like conifer, should be avoided. These aspects of the wood will quickly infiltrate your salmon and leave the final product inedible.
The Final Verdict
Overall, the best wood for smoking salmon will depend on your personal tastes. But generally, if you are making a savory salmon, we recommend cedar wood, and if you are making a sweet salmon dish, then apple wood will serve you best.
We hope this has answered all your questions about what wood to use to make your smoked salmon.
Is your smoked salmon missing a little something? Consider adding our smoked salmon seasoning to your next smoked salmon–you’ll love the results.