Salmon 101 - Understanding The Different Types of Wild Salmon

Salmon 101 - Understanding The Different Types of Wild Salmon

“Can anyone here name the 5 types of wild Pacific salmon?”


We’ve started our SeaBear Salmon 101 class – an experience designed for all new employees – with that question for over 20 years.  In all that time, very few have been able to name all 5 correctly, despite the fact that many of our employees have grown up right here in the Pacific Northwest!


Wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest is prized around the world. There are 5 types of wild Pacific salmon, most abundantly found in the pristine, icy cold waters of Alaska, but also in the waters off Washington, Oregon, and Canada. How are these 5 types of salmon different from one another? Which is best? Which should I choose?  


First, let's start with "which is best"?  We believe there is no better or best --- they are all different, each can be wonderful, and it depends on your personal tastes AND what you plan do to with it.  We like to say it is much like wines or craft beer in that way -- is a Merlot better than a Cabernet or Pinot Noir? Is a Pale Ale better than a wheat beer or Stout?  Depends on what you like, and what you are drinking it with!  Same is true, from our perspective, with wild salmon of the Pacific Northwest.  So, let's start by understanding the differences among the 5 types.


5 Types of Wild Alaskan Salmon

The 5 types (5 species) of wild Pacific salmon are:  King, Sockeye, Coho, Keta and Pink.  There -- now you already know more than most people!  The King is the largest -- often growing to 25-50lbs (with the largest ever caught over 100lbs!) -- the Pink is the smallest, typically 1-3 lbs, with Sockeye, Coho and Keta mostly in the 4-9 lb range. The following chart gives a quick overview of how each differs by its look and taste, as well as providing a secondary name for each:





Wild KING Salmon (Chinook)

Orange-red color and very large flakes.

Moist, mild succulent flavor.

Wild SOCKEYE Salmon


Rich, red color.  Tight flakes.

Moist, robust salmon flavor.

Wild COHO Salmon


Orange-red color with medium-large flakes

Moist, mild.

Wild KETA Salmon


Lighter in color with firm texture and medium-large flakes

Earthy flavor.  Less moist.

Wild PINK Salmon


 Light color, smaller flake.

Delicate flavor, light, tender texture.



Different Ways To Use Each Type of Wild Salmon

This is a very subjective area -- whatever you like is great. But here are our favorites and recommendations.


ON THE GRILL or IN THE OVEN FOR DINNER -- We LOVE wild King salmon and wild Sockeye salmon.  The natural oil levels of these salmon make them super-moist and succulent and so delicious for a center-of-the-plate experience.




SMOKED - We smoke all 5 types.  Sockeye, King and Coho salmon are our favorites for smoking in the traditional Pacific Northwest tradition.  If the smoked salmon is going to have a flavorful topping -- like cracked pepper or minced garlic -- then we like to use Coho, Keta or Pink, all of which are milder in flavor, so the salmon flavor works well with the topping.



IN RECIPES - Whichever wild salmon you like best can be used in your favorite recipes, but we do have one tip: If the recipe has a rich sauce (like an alfredo), consider using Pink or Keta.  Both of these are less moist, and so they won't fight the other elements of your recipe.


Now that you've completed this quick Salmon 101, you know more about wild salmon of the Pacific Northwest than most people across the country. We hope it helps you understand -- and thoroughly enjoy -- this most delicious and storied of seafoods from the heart of the Pacific Northwest.


Check out SeaBear's wild salmon offerings HERE, and our smoked salmon offerings HERE.