Salmon Varieties, Explained

Here's how to tell your sockeye from your Atlantic

It's hard to deny the versatility of a nice piece of salmon. Whether it's sandwiched between a toasted bun, pan-seared until the skin is crackling, or cured and sliced paper thin, this coral-hued fish is a sure bet when we're craving a seafood dinner.

But why does the seafood counter stock so many different kinds? From extravagant, pricey Chinook to cheaper Atlantic fillets, here's the difference between the four most common salmon varieties.


These days, most salmon labeled Atlantic are farm raised, making the fish one of the more affordable weeknight dinner options. Mild and delicate, Atlantic salmon is an all-around crowd-pleaser, both in terms of flavor and overall bang for your buck.

Anything other than Atlantic salmon is wild-caught from the Pacific Ocean, including the three varieties below. And though they're on the pricier side, they're known for their desirable fat content and more assertive flavor.  


Also known as Chinook, this gargantuan fish can grow to a whopping 100 pounds. The fillet is coveted for its luxurious texture, bold flavor and high fat content, and is exceptional when grilled over charcoal. Charred Chinook belly and fat-streaked collar often make appearances at high-end restaurants.


Although it tends to be a bit smaller than other varieties, the sockeye salmon fillet is instantly recognizable by its brilliant blood-orange color. It's not as fatty as Chinook, but its texture is still dense and buttery, and offers a pure, fishy flavor. This is a solid choice for whipping up sushi, crudo or homemade gravlax.


Alternatively labeled "silver salmon," a coho fillet is leaner than the majority of Pacific-caught salmon. It's best prepared using a gentle method, like poaching in a flavorful white wine broth with lemon and herbs, or steamed en papillote with various aromatics.