Wild Salmon Species Guide

Sarah Mickey All Recipes, Culinary Tips & Techniques, Salmon Recipes, Seafood Tips & Techniques 2 Comments

A note about Fat/Oil Content
Fat/oil is a good thing when it comes to salmon. Salmon oil is very high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids (“good fat”), and a higher content leads to a stronger, richer flavor and moister fish.

Some people prefer lighter tasting salmon like Coho and Pink…but rich flavor is the main reason Sockeye and King are the darlings of the restaurant industry.

Pink Salmon (aka humpback salmon, “humpies”)
Most Tender, Affordable, and Sustainable

Fat/Oil Content Low (4% Avg)
Flake Size Smallest
Fish Size Smallest
Tenderness Most Tender


Frequently overlooked, Pink salmon is the smallest of the Pacific species. It is plentiful and therefore relatively affordable and sustainable.

Pink salmon is the most tender of all salmon, which unfortunately means its flesh is frequently damaged during large-scale commercial fishing. Because of this damage, it is usually found in cans. When handled with care instead, you end up with beautiful, tender fillets.

Besides being tender, Pink salmon has other benefits. Its relatively small size (below 4 pounds), low place on the food chain, and youth when spawning mean that there is less bio-accumulation of toxins than larger salmon.

Available Cuts:
Whole Pink Salmon

Pink Salmon Fillets

Smoked Pink Salmon

Pink Salmon Jerky


Sockeye Salmon (aka blueback salmon, red salmon)
Darkest Color, Lots of Flavor – The Restaurant Favorite

Fat/Oil Content 2nd Highest (10% Avg)
Flake Size Medium
Fish Size Small
Tenderness Firm


Probably the most popular of all Pacific Salmon, sockeye salmon also possesses the darkest flesh – almost ruby in color.

In terms of flavorful/healthy oil content, sockeye is second in line, behind king salmon. It has a medium flake size, and robust flavor. Their firmer flesh is harder to tear accidentally while cooking. Sockeye salmon tend to weigh between five and seven pounds each.

Available Cuts:
Whole Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon Fillets

Smoked Sockeye

Sockeye Lox

Sockeye Jerky


King Salmon & Ivory King Salmon (aka chinook salmon)
The Largest and Richest Salmon

Fat/Oil Content Highest (12% Avg)
Flake Size Largest
Fish Size Largest
Tenderness Firm


King salmon are the fattiest, richest, and largest of the Pacific salmon species. Their meat often has ribbons of white running through it in a striped pattern. King has the highest oil content, and the largest flake size. King salmon meat is firm, so it will stand up to grilling without tearing.

Available Cuts:
Whole King Salmon

King Salmon Fillets

Ivory King Salmon:
While relatively uncommon, it is possible to find king salmon that have not developed their pink color. This is a natural occurrence in the wild. These king salmon are sometimes sold as Ivory Kings or White King Salmon, and should otherwise have the same characteristics as red kings.

Available Cuts:
Whole Ivory King Salmon

White King Salmon Fillets


Coho Salmon (aka silver salmon)
Tender, Great with Marinades, Sauces & Smoke

Fat/Oil Content Medium (7% Avg)
Flake Size Medium-Small
Fish Size Medium
Tenderness 2nd Most Tender


Coho salmon have flesh that is similar to King salmon in color (and is therefore the color most people associate with salmon). They have a medium flake size like sockeyes (although smaller), but are leaner and have a less pronounced flavor. Their more mild flavor makes them a great choice for salmon dishes featuring sauces, marinades, or smoking.

Coho salmon is more tender than Sockeye or King salmon. This species is often used as a more affordable substitute for Sockeye.

Available Cuts:
Whole Coho Salmon

Coho Salmon Fillets

Smoked Coho Salmon

Coho Lox

Coho Salmon Jerky


Keta Salmon (aka chum salmon, fall salmon)
Late Season Availability

Oil Content Low (4% Avg)
Flake Size Large
Fish Size Large
Tenderness Firm


Keta salmon are some of the palest and leanest salmon. They are relatively large (weighing around eight pounds each) with a delicate flavor. Their flesh is firm, with a large flake, making them one of the easier salmon varieties to marinate, grill and/or smoke (as long as you don’t let them dry out). You do not have to be as gentle with keta salmon as with pink or coho.

The keta salmon season tends to peak later than other species, making fresh Keta more likely to be available when other salmon is scarce. Keta salmon is the species least commonly sold fresh, and the most commonly dried Pacific salmon.

Available Cuts:
Keta Salmon Fillets

Smoked Keta Salmon

Keta Lox

Keta Salmon Jerky

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon on the market is usually farmed, due to the almost complete depletion of wild Atlantic salmon fisheries.

Farmed Atlantic salmon generally is far less flavorful than wild caught varieties and usually contains synthetic coloring agents.

There are widespread and serious concerns about salmon farms’ pollution, sustainability, and negative effect on wild salmon populations due to parasites, escaping farmed salmon diluting the gene pool, and disease. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch sustainability program rates all farmed Atlantic Salmon as Red/Avoid.

Most farmed salmon is raised in Norway, Chile, Washington State and British Columbia. Farmed salmon is outlawed in Alaska.

Marx Foods does not sell Atlantic Salmon.

Post Written by Matthew Johnson

Comments 2

  1. What type of salmon can I pickle and jar that will keep it’s nice color.What should I keep in mind to get the best taste? Thanks

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