Ingredient Intelligence

How Well Do You Know Your Salmon? Our Visual Guide Will School You on this Popular Fish.

published May 2, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If there were a trophy for Most Popular Fish, salmon would take the prize in the United States. As just a bit of proof, oven-baked salmon and pan-seared salmon fillets are two of Kitchn’s most popular recipes.

But is all salmon the same salmon? Not exactly. There are six varieties of salmon widely available in the United States. Five of these come from the Pacific, and the sixth — well, its name is Atlantic salmon, so you can easily guess which coast it swims along.

Although all salmon has the same basic nutritional makeup — high in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and protein — there are a few variations among the different types. For instance, Pacific salmon are mostly harvested wild in the summer and fall, while all Atlantic salmon currently available for purchase is farmed. The flavor, texture, and fattiness of different types of salmon vary as well. Here’s the breakdown.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Chinook Salmon

Chinook / King Salmon

The largest and rarest of the Pacific salmon varieties, Chinook salmon are also known as king salmon. The name comes from the Chinook people of the Columbia River region, although the fish can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Monterey, California.

As befits its royal title, king salmon is the highest in fat (and hence, flavor) of all the Pacific salmon varieties. Take advantage of Chinook season to grill salmon fillets or steaks or pan-sear fillets to get the most salmon flavor.
Season: Summer and fall
Best for: Grilling and searing

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon

The brilliant red-orange flesh of this salmon makes it a stunner on the plate, and its bold taste corresponds to its color. This type of salmon is abundant in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest — along with Chinook, it’s one of the most prized varieties from the Copper River. Bake or grill in foil with a glaze, or pan-sear skin-on fillets.

Season: Summer and fall
Best for: Grilling, baking, and pan-searing

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Coho Salmon

Coho / Silver Salmon

Coho salmon are also known as silver salmon because of their extremely shiny silver skin. Most frequently found in Alaska, Coho are not as fatty and rich as Chinook and are also smaller. Try grilling or roasting a stuffed whole Coho for a change of pace, or grill the salmon on cedar planks to infuse it with sweet, smoky flavor.

Season: Summer and fall
Best for: Grilling and roasting

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Canned Pink Salmon

Pink Salmon

If you’re eating canned salmon, chances are you’re having pink salmon. This variety of salmon is smaller in size and milder in flavor than its compatriots, making it a popular and affordable option for canning. (All canned salmon should note what type it is on the label, just like all tuna cans should say “albacore” or “yellowfin.”) Pink salmon can be found in large numbers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska during the summer months. If you’re not catching and eating fresh grilled pink salmon, chances are you’ll be enjoying it in a salmon burger or salmon patty soon.

Season: Summer for fresh
Best for: Grilling for fresh, and salmon salad or burgers for canned

Chum / Keta / Dog / Silverbrite (not pictured)

Don’t worry — this dog doesn’t bark. Like the pink salmon, this smaller variety is also mild-tasting and frequently canned. Frozen fillets can also be found in some grocery stores, although we had trouble finding it in New York City (which is why it’s not pictured in our guide). It’s not as high in fat, so many cooks can find it drier in texture and taste. Use the canned salmon to make salmon burgers or patties or one of these other recipes for canned salmon. Or slow-roast chum salmon fillets — the longer, slower cooking time helps keep the fish moist.
Season: Summer or fall for fresh
Best for: Salmon burgers and cakes

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic / Salmo

Although Atlantic salmon is no longer caught wild, that’s no reason to shy away from farm-raised fish. Sustainable fisheries abound in the Northeast, producing Atlantic salmon with a rich, fatty texture and mild taste that makes it perfect for grilling, baking, pan-searing, and using in sheet-pan recipes like this maple-mustard salmon.

Season: Year-round
Best for: Any application, including grilling, baking, and pan-searing

A Note on Salmon Sustainability

When buying farmed salmon, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends you look for Atlantic salmon farmed in indoor recirculating tanks with wastewater treatment, or salmon certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

As for wild salmon, you can also search for sustainable fisheries and have wild Pacific salmon shipped to you directly no matter where you are by using the Local Catch Seafood Finder network.

Credit: Photo: @christophertestani; Food Styling: @jesseszewczyk