What's the Difference Between Smoked Salmon and Lox?

Word of Mouth

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When you're talking about a topping for bagels and cream cheese, lox is the name most tossed around — it just sounds natural to order a bagel with lox and cream cheese. But is lox really just smoked salmon? Here's a guide to what lox really is, as well as a primer on how different types of smoked salmon are made.

Lox
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Lox

Lox was traditionally only made from the belly of salmon, although other parts of the fish are now also used. The salmon is salt-cured or brined but never cooked or smoked, so it has a very silky, rich texture and translucency. Lox is the traditional topping of bagels with cream cheese and is most often served thinly sliced.

Gravlax
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There are two other versions of lox where the preparation methods do vary a bit:

  1. Nova Lox: This lox, which comes from Nova Scotia, is actually cold-smoked after the curing or brining process.
  2. Gravlax: Gravlax is the Scandinavian preparation of lox, where lots of fresh dill and spices such as juniper berries and pepper, as well as some liquor such as aquavit or brandy, are additional ingredients used during the curing process.
Hot-Smoked Salmon
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Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon is a much more generic term than lox. Smoked salmon can be made from any part of the fish, and it starts with salt curing or brining, just as in lox.

Cold-Smoked Salmon
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The next step is where smoked salmon is different from lox. The salmon can be covered in spices or a dry rub after curing, then smoked in one of two ways:

  1. Cold-Smoked Salmon: The salmon is slowly exposed to smoke in about an 80°F environment for a few days. The salmon doesn't get cooked, so the flesh of cold-smoked salmon stays very moist and silky and has a beautiful translucent pink color. Cold-smoked salmon has a similar texture to lox, but has an additional layer of smoky flavor. It is also a common topping for bagels and cream cheese and is usually sold thinly sliced.
  2. Hot-Smoked Salmon: The salmon is smoked with heat in the same way meat gets smoked. The fish gets cooked all the way through and ends up with a firm, flaky, and drier texture, but it also has a distinct smoky flavor. When shopping for hot-smoked salmon, it looks very similar to a piece of cooked or grilled salmon.

Updated from a post originally published in March 2011.

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