The best smoked salmon
Hosting a last-minute dinner party? Putting on an engagement brunch for your best friend? Smoked salmon is an easy and delicious food that goes well with many dishes and appetizers. You can layer it on a bagel and schmear for a gourmet touch to breakfast. Plus, salmon is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and the smoked variety enriches its flavor and texture for an even more delectable taste.
This shopping guide covers all the different types of smoked salmon and addresses any questions and concerns you might have. We've also included our top picks, like the SeaBear Smoked Salmon Trio, which offers three species of wild salmon.
Considerations when choosing smoked salmon
Types of smoked salmon
Smoked salmon is prepared in three different ways. Some need to be refrigerated and others can sit on your shelf for years. Here are the three main types:
Cold smoked salmon
This salmon is smoked at a lower temperature (about 80°F), which preserves the silky, smooth texture of the fish and also gives it a "fishier" taste. This type needs to be refrigerated because it is partially uncooked. Be aware that if you're pregnant or immunocompromised, the low-temp smoking process may not kill certain harmful bacteria.
Hot smoked salmon
For a less fishy taste and for a more fully cooked salmon, this type is smoked at a higher temperature (about 145°F) for a longer period. This results in a flakier texture and smokier flavor. The cooking process also kills more bacteria. Some hot smoked salmons don't require refrigeration; check the product's label for storage instructions.
Though not technically smoked, cured salmon is another type of pre-prepared salmon that you can find packaged. It's usually prepared with brine and lacks a smoky flavor. The fish is silky in texture and usually requires refrigeration.
Varieties of smoked salmon
This type of cold smoked salmon is originally from Nova Scotia, though you can now find "Nova" varieties from the Pacific, Ireland, and Scotland. Nova salmon is cured before it is smoked, resulting in a milder flavor.
Another type of cold smoked salmon, Balyk uses the best part of the fish, which is trimmed by hand, making this the most expensive type of smoked salmon on the market. In fact, you probably can't find it in your local market but may encounter this tasty salmon in a fancy restaurant.
Kippered salmon is a type of hot smoked salmon that is treated first with brine -- and sometimes also covered in a sweet alcohol mixture -- before it is smoked at 130°F.
Candy salmon is another variety of hot smoked salmon that is smoked for a prolonged period of time, resulting in jerky-like strips of sweet salmon.
This hot smoked salmon is smoked over wood. Different types of wood give unique flavors, and the fish may be rubbed with spices as well. The type of wood used is often listed on the package.
A popular cured salmon, lox is easy to find at your local grocery store and comes in thin slices. Mild in flavor, it is not smoked but rather salt-cured. Lox is a favorite topping on bagels.
This is the Scandanavian version of lox. The curing process involves extra seasoning like dill and other spices, and alcohol -- giving it a unique flavor profile from traditional lox.
Smoked salmon can come in different forms: fillets, steaks, chunks, or slices. Most people find slices the most convenient. You can also buy smoked salmon whole.
Wild vs. farmed
Some smoked salmons are sourced from wild fish caught in their natural habitats, like rivers and oceans. Farmed fish have been domestically raised in controlled pens. They may be fed antibiotics and low-quality fish meal, which is why many people prefer more expensive, more healthful wild-caught fish.
Expect to pay between $18 to $40 for smoked salmon. At the lower end of that price range, you can get six ounces of sliced salmon or filet; at the higher end, you will get the whole fish.
Q. Is smoked salmon as healthy to eat as regular salmon?
A. Salmon is a healthy food because of its omega-3, protein, vitamin D, and vitamin B content. However, smoked and cured salmon have high levels of sodium. In addition, there is some evidence that smoked products are carcinogenic. We recommend eating smoked salmon in moderation.
Q. Can I eat smoked or cured salmon if I'm pregnant?
A. According to the American Pregnancy Association, refrigerated forms of smoked salmon should be avoided because they carry the risk of Listeria contamination, a harmful bacteria that can cause a miscarriage. Shelf-safe smoked salmon is fine to eat, but it's best to check with your doctor first if you have any questions about the safety of a fish product.
Smoked salmon we recommend
Best of the best: Seabear Smoked Salmon Trio
Our take: An 18-ounce box featuring smoked wild coho, pink, and sockeye salmon.
What we like: Comes with three moist and tasty filets. Salmon is wild-caught. Tastes fresh and authentic.
What we dislike: This is a fairly expensive option, though it is worth the price.
Best bang for your buck: Bumble Bee Premium Smoked Coho Salmon
Our take: Budget-friendly cans of smoked coho for healthy snacking and dishes.
What we like: High in protein and omega-3s. Great for keto dieters. Cans are a great value.
What we dislike: Packed in oil. May taste bland to some.
Our take: Jerky-like strips for a perfect, healthy snack with a sweet taste.
What we like: High in protein, low in carbs. Individually packaged for grab-and-go snacking. Wild caught and sourced from small-family fishermen.
What we dislike: On the pricey side, but very high quality.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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