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Is Smoked Salmon Cooked? A Detailed Review of The Differences Between Cold-Smoking and Hot-Smoking Salmon

Is Smoked Salmon Cooked? A Detailed Review of The Differences Between Cold-Smoking and Hot-Smoking Salmon

I grew up in a Jewish household. With that comes some Jewish guilt, a lot of candles for Hanukkah, an expectation to eat gefilte fish, and lots and lots of smoked salmon with my bagels.

But, many didn’t have the same upbringing I did, which can lead to a ton of questions about smoked salmon, especially if you’re new to it. A question I’ve heard often throughout my life is: Is smoked salmon cooked?

It depends. Smoked salmon is very popular, and can be prepared both through cold-smoking and hot-smoking. Cold smoked salmon is not considered cooked, although it has been cured and is safe to eat. Hot smoked salmon is considered cooked.

When you buy smoked salmon from the grocery store, especially from a refrigerator, it’s generally cold-smoked.

The good news is that both are great options! In this article, we’ll dive more into the differences between the two, and even provide some recommendations on how to serve them.

We cover the following items in this post:

Is Smoked Fish Raw or Cooked?

Salmon in a smoker. Is smoked salmon cooked?

It depends on how the fish was smoked.

  • Cold smoking doesn’t cook the fish, and therefore it is still raw. Cold smoking temperatures are generally between 68 – 86 °F (or 20 – 30 °C). This allows food to obtain a smoky flavor and retain its moisture.
  • Hot smoking does cook the fish as it exposes the fish to greater levels of heat. Hot smoking temperatures are generally between 126 – 176 °F (52 – 80 °C).

However, most smoked fish dishes in the US are hot-smoked, meaning they are cooked. The most common types are salmon, mackerel, trout, and whitefish.

There are a few different ways to smoke meat, but the two listed above are extremely popular. Other methods include warm smoking, liquid smoke, and smoke roasting. The temperatures vary for each, and the amount of time a type of meat is smoked can determine how cooked or raw it is.

Prior to smoking, the fish is frequently brined in a dry or wet salt combination to aid curing and add flavor. If the seafood has been brined, it is allowed to dry for a couple of hours before going into the smoker.

Is Smoked Salmon Cooked or Raw? 

Smoked salmon on a plate. Is smoked salmon cooked?

Smoked salmon is interesting as it’s popular both cold and hot-smoked. It depends on whose selling it and where.

But, to make it easy, you can remember the following: Cold-smoked salmon is considered raw, whereas hot-smoked salmon is considered cooked.

How Is Cold Smoked Salmon Different From Hot Smoked Salmon?

  • Cold-smoked salmon is smoke-cured but not cooked. Inside the smoker, the temperature is regulated between 68 – 86 °F. Keeping the smoker at this level prevents the meat from cooking. This can take 18 – 24 hours, and sometimes longer if there is a high volume of fish.
  • Hot-smoked salmon is cooked in a smoker rather than cured. The fish is cooked in the smoker at temperatures ranging from 126 – 176 °F (52 – 80 °C). This can take between a few hours to most of the day, depending on how much fish is being smoked and how hot the smoker is running.

Either type of salmon is healthy and nutritious, but if you are concerned about your health and the risks of consuming raw fish, cooked salmon may be preferable for you.

What’s The Best Way to Eat Smoked Salmon?

This really comes down to your preference, but we do have some recommendations below.

I’ve had both many times over, and I love both!

  • I prefer cold-smoked salmon as an addition to a bagel with cream cheese, or avocado toast. You can eat it by itself, but the salty flavor of the salmon is balanced well with a creamy counterpart.
  • I prefer hot-smoked salmon as more of a centerpiece to a dish, that can be complimented well with some potatoes, rice, a nice pasta, or even a salad. I like it with some jasmine rice of rice pilaf.

However, we expand on this answer below.

Cold-Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon on a bagel. Is smoked salmon cooked?

When it involves consuming cold-smoked salmon, the basic aim is to keep it as close to its natural form as possible. Meaning that it is preferable to be eaten raw and cold.

Cold-smoked salmon pairs well with several other meals like blinis, crostinis, deviled eggs, and fresh veggies because of its salty flavor. It is also great stuffing for sushi rolls or mixed-over bagels and cheese cream.

Hot-Smoked Salmon

Hot smoked salmon on a tray. Is smoked salmon cooked?

Hot-smoked salmon is an excellent alternative for several cuisines. It can be used to make creamy dips, omelets, pasta, quiche, and chowder, or eaten in sandwiches and salads.

Salmon patties are yet another great way to use smoked salmon. Salmon patties can be served with a variety of side dishes, including guacamole or rice, providing a more balanced flavor.

Hot-smoked salmon also goes well with a variety of side dishes, including garlic rice, mushroom pilaf, and macaroni and cheese.

One Major Tip

Make sure to use the correct salt when smoking salmon! Kosher salt is the best option. We’ve used the wrong salt before, and it makes the salmon way too salty to eat.

Is It Better to Cook Smoked Salmon?

It’s not necessary to cook already smoked salmon, regardless of whether it was cold-smoked or hot-smoked.

This really comes down to personal preference.

I personally would never cook cold-smoked salmon, as I enjoy the way it’s prepared and I don’t want to impact the flavor or texture.

Final Thoughts: Is Smoked Salmon Cooked or Raw?

Smoked salmon generally doesn’t require any additional cooking.

It has either already been fully cooked when hot-smoked, so no subsequent cooking is needed. Or, it is meant to be served cold after cold smoking and doesn’t need to be cooked, as the curing process helps prevent bacteria growth and preserves the food for longer.

So, if someone asks you: Is smoked salmon fully cooked? Or, is cold smoked salmon raw? You now know the answer!

And my best recommendation for cold locks is a Jewish Whopper. That’s what my dad has always called it at least. You need the following:

  • Bagel of your preference (I’m a sesame fan)
  • Cream cheese of your preference (I like Philadelphia Whipped)
  • Sliced tomatoes (sliced thin)
  • Sliced onions (sliced thin)
  • Smoked salmon (cold)
  • Capers

For some extra texture, toast the bagel. You’re going to love it!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Cold Smoked Salmon Cooked?

No, it’s not. It’s considered cured, but not cooked.

Cold smoked salmon is heated at reduced temperatures for quite a long time, leaving it uncooked yet retaining the smoky taste.

Cold-smoked salmon provides a less smoky flavor and some believe it tastes fresher. Hot smoking is the preferred technique if you desire a strong smoked flavor.

Cold-smoked salmon is smooth, and hot-smoked salmon is flaky, comparable to baking.

Does Smoked Salmon Cause Cancer?

It might.

The American Institute for Cancer Research has noted that smoked or cured fish are classified the same way as processed meats when it comes to cancer. They note that consistent amounts of processed meats can lead to colorectal cancer.

Other research groups haven’t yet come to the same conclusions. Either way, it is worth asking the question. Like most things in life, we recommend eating smoked salmon in moderation to be risk averse.

Can Smoked Salmon Make You Sick?

This really comes down to the quality of the meat, and whether it was prepared and stored correctly. Like anything else in life, there is a chance you eat some bad salmon and are a little under the weather because of it.

However, the companies serving smoked salmon in the US have to follow strict protocols, and the food they sell is prepared following guidelines from the second they catch the living fish to when you buy it from a store. So, don’t stress unless you have found some fish that smells or looks like it’s in bad shape, or it has expired.

The FDA has a robust guide on how to select and serve seafood. We find it to be extremely informative.