Smoked salmon can be both hot-smoked and cold smoked. But what difference does this actually make?
Hot smoked salmon means it’s been cooked and smoked at the same time, usually in a grill, oven, or smoker. Cold smoked salmon is where the smoke is generated separately and then transferred into the area holding the salmon. Effectively smoking the salmon without cooking it.
Both are safe to eat but are usually prepared and served very differently.
Let’s look at what makes hot and cold smoked salmon different, whether they are considered cooked, and the properties of the fish.
Whether the salmon is cooked or not depends on the method that the chef used to prepare it. If the salmon is “hot smoked,” it’s completely cooked and safe to eat. The chef prepares the salmon in a grill or smoker and cooks it through with both smoke and heat. Hot smoked salmon can take on a light brown or reddish color and often has a flaky interior. Delicious.
Technically “cold smoked” salmon isn’t cooked. Instead, the salmon is prepared by simply adding smoke to the salmon, keeping it at food-safe temperatures between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This isn’t hot enough to cook the salmon but is widely considered safe to eat so long as the salmon has been handled correctly. Cold smoked salmon is usually pink and juicy and served as ceviche or sushi.
Each smoking method gives the salmon a unique flavor, color, and texture that’s suitable for different types of cuisine. Hot smoked salmon is more common at your everyday restaurants. Whereas cold smoked salmon is a delicacy in many parts of the world, often served with other luxurious ingredients like caviar.
Hot smoking and cold smoking processes are also used in other meats too. In the same way, hot smoked sausage is safe to eat as it’s been precooked, whereas cold smoked sausage is not.
Hot Smoked Salmon
To prepare hot smoked salmon the fish is cooked in a smoker where both the heat can cook it and the smoke can add the familiar delicious smoky flavor. Although different temperatures can be used to achieve the hot smoked taste and texture of the salmon, it usually ranges between 120-250°F. Many people will also brine or season the salmon first, to give it added flavor and textures to their liking but it’s not necessary.
If you are buying packaged or canned smoked salmon, it will always be hot-smoked and therefore cooked. It will be sealed airtight with certain preservatives to stop it from going bad or growing any harmful bacteria. As soon as it’s opened however and can mix with the air and oxygen it must be refrigerated and consumed fairly quickly.
You can easily hot smoke salmon at home using any smoker of your choice, whether it’s a pellet grill, offset smoker, or your everyday charcoal grill. You can get yourself a cedar plank too so that the salmon cooks evenly and is infused with the classic woody flavor.
How Can You Tell When Smoked Salmon Is Completely Cooked?
A fully cooked hot smoked salmon will be a nice and bright reddish brown, and delicately flaky in texture. But, in order to tell if it’s completely cooked it’s always best to use a thermometer to ensure its internal temperature is at least 145°F in the center.
What Do You Need To Make Hot Smoked Salmon
If you are looking to make hot smoked salmon at home, all you need is:
- Salmon Fillet
- Source Of Heat (such as a smoker or grill)
- Source Of Smoke (such as a smoker, or smoker tube/smoker box)
- Wood Chips Or Wood Pellets For Smoking
- Cedar Plank (optional, for added flavor & consistency)
- Seasoning (salt, pepper, or a rub)
Cold Smoked Salmon
Since cold smoked salmon only reaches temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the fish isn’t classified as cooked. However, in most cases, you can still eat cold smoked salmon without compromising your health, so long as it’s fresh and has been treated correctly.
However, if the cook doesn’t prepare the salmon correctly, they could put you at risk for ingesting pathogens. This is why it’s vital to cure the salmon first before cold smoking, usually with salt and sugar which draws out moisture preventing bacterial growth and preserving the soon-to-be smoked fish.
Even if the salmon has been prepared, cured, and cold smoked properly, people with weak immune systems and pregnant women shouldn’t eat cold smoked salmon. Similarly, young children and elderly people are more at risk so should also avoid cold smoked salmon. This is precautionary, but safety comes first.
You can cold smoke foods easily by using a device like a pellet tube smoker, or wood smoking box in your everyday grill. Just be sure you get the curing and preparation process right.
When you make cold smoked salmon, store it in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Afterward, place the leftovers in the fridge or freezer. You can freeze cold smoked salmon for up to a month without worrying about the bacterial buildup.
Is Smoked Salmon Safe To Eat?
Generally, it’s safe to eat both hot smoked salmon and cold smoked salmon without cooking it or heating it up. So you don’t have to throw a cold smoked salmon on the grill or in the oven before you eat it as long as it was prepared and stored properly. Similarly, since hot smoked salmon is fully cooked, there won’t be any added risk when eating it. You don’t even need to reheat it so long as it’s been stored properly.
Processed smoked salmon is usually even safer to eat because of the vigorous quality checks and the extra precautions these commercial companies take. However, you should always check the label to be safe, just to see what their recommendations are. A prime reason is that there are different types of smoked salmon–while they might look similar in the store, they have different tastes, textures, and preparation methods.
Ultimately, if you choose to eat cold smoked salmon, you’ll have to accept a small level of risk. However, this is true for all meats anyway, and most smoked salmon is safe to eat if you follow the precautions.
Is Raw Salmon Safe To Eat?
Raw salmon can safely be consumed so long as it has been flash-frozen to at least -31°F, whether it’s been properly cured and cold smoked or not. However, eating raw fish always carries risks.
By flash-freezing the salmon, the low temperatures do kill all the parasites that might have inhabited the fish. However, bacteria can still grow on the salmon after it’s been thawed, before consuming. It’s not recommended to try the flash-freezing process yourself unless you have specialized equipment. But, if you are certain that the process has been followed correctly, or trust in the professional chefs serving the food, then you can eat raw salmon safely.
Even if you’re smoking or cooking the salmon yourself, take precautions when you handle or prepare raw salmon at home. Never use the same utensils for preparing raw salmon and other ingredients. Keep your workspace clean, and wash your hands afterward.
Can You Get Food Poisoning From Smoked Salmon?
Whether it’s hot smoked or cold smoked salmon there is always a risk of getting food poisoning. In most cases, the food poisoning from eating smoked salmon is almost always due to improper preparation or storage, rather than naturally from the fish.
This means that although there is a risk if you have cured, prepared, smoked, and stored the salmon, or trust the chef that has, you should be at a fairly low risk of getting sick at all!
Is Lox Raw Salmon?
Traditional lox is made from raw salmon that has been cured in salt. Although it’s widely accepted that it is safe to eat as it’s undergone specific curing processes, you’ll have to accept a certain level of health risks.
If you’d prefer the smoky flavor of cold smoked salmon, you could order or make nova lox. Most people when they say lox really are referring to nova lox, which is virtually the same except it’s been smoked as well as cured. Gravlax is another type of salmon that’s cured and covered in spices. These varieties have a striking taste and texture that’s different from lox, which is usually soft and delicate.
Make sure you store lox or any other kind of raw salmon in the fridge at all times– as raw fish can quickly develop bacteria if it’s left on the counter.