Coho vs Sockeye vs King Salmon: What’s The Difference?

Ever wonder the difference between Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and King Salmon? These are three of my favorite salmon species and they’re used in a variety of recipes across this website. So let’s chat about how each is unique.

Raw salmon filets on a tray of ice.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m really into salmon (on that note: you need to try my Orange Glazed Salmon recipe). And what’s not to love? This fatty fish is brimming with health benefits, can be prepared numerous ways and it tastes amazing.

But I’m not just into any salmon. If you’ve taken a look at all my salmon recipes, you’ll notice that I always recommend either Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, or King Salmon—and these species all have one important thing in common: they’re typically wild caught as opposed to farmed (I always steer clear of farmed salmon, as it’s much more likely to contain pollutants, antibiotics, and toxins).

While these three types of salmon are all great, there are subtle differences. Let me explain some of the perks of each.

King Salmon (aka Chinook Salmon)

King Salmon is the largest of the Pacific salmon species (they can reach over 100 pounds!) and the highest in fat, including anti-inflammatory Omega-3’s. It’s often considered the most delicious and is prized for its thick, moist and buttery smooth texture, which makes it feel like a total treat. Some liken its texture to smoked salmon. The one downside: It’s usually the most expensive salmon you’ll find at the fishmonger—but honestly, it’s money well spent. King Salmon from Alaska is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified sustainable.

Availability: Wild King Salmon is available fresh or frozen year-round.

Try it: While you can use any type of salmon to make my Easy Baked Salmon or Dijon Baked Salmon recipe, King Salmon makes it extra melt-in-your-mouth good.

Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon is high in good fats, though not quite as high as King Salmon, and delivers a deep, rich flavor. It’s flesh is an unmistakable vibrant red, which is a result of its exceptionally high levels of an antioxidant pigment called astaxanthin. In combination with Omega-3 fatty acids, astaxanthin is believed to protect the nervous system and brain from inflammation. Sockeye Salmon from Alaska is MSC-Certified sustainable.

Availability: Wild Sockeye salmon is available fresh from mid-May through mid-September, and frozen year-round.

Try it: These Salmon Patties are incredibly moist, delicious and flavorful, and while they can be made with canned salmon, I personally love them with fresh Sockeye or Coho salmon.

Coho Salmon

Like my other go-two salmon picks, Coho Salmon is high in anti-inflammatory fats, but has a milder flavor than both King Salmon and Sockeye Salmon, making it a good gateway fish for salmon newbies. Its orangey-red flesh has a firm texture, and many consider it the best type of salmon for grilling. Coho Salmon from Alaska is MSC-Certified sustainable.

Availability: Wild Coho Salmon is available fresh mid-June through late October and frozen year-round.

Try it: One of my favorite summer grilling recipes is this Cedar Plank Salmon with Maple Ginger Glaze and it’s easy to make with a large Coho Salmon filet (or individual pieces). 

Why I Always Steer Clear of Atlantic Salmon

I always steer clear of Atlantic Salmon since nearly all of it is farmed. A few problems with farmed Atlantic Salmon (which I elaborate on here):

  • These fish have a lower nutritional value because they’re often fed an unnatural diet of grains, plants, and fish meal
  • They’re often bred in a densely populated, filthy environment
  • They’re dosed with antibiotics and pesticides (which can then get passed on to you)
  • They’ve occasionally been shown to contain higher levels of industrial pollutants called PCBs than wild caught salmon. Plus, they’re often farmed in areas of the world where they’re not native. And when they escape (which happens), that can lead to the development of invasive populations that threaten other fish.

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55 comments on “Coho vs Sockeye vs King Salmon: What’s The Difference?”

  1. Interesting post. I would just like to question your disdain for farmed fish. Do you feel the same way about farmed animals versus wild. Is venison better than Angus beef? Personally I do not like venison and I much prefer the taste of farmed salmon. I would not eat wild hogs because they are known to carry dangerous viruses.

    • Farmed salmon are the source of viruses for wild fish. No other feedlot system is allowed to have contact with closely related wildlife. See the work of Alexandra Morton, decades of research proving that salmon farms bring disease to wild salmon.
      Everywhere that introduces salmon farming experiences a collapse of the wild stocks shortly after. Then the drugs and pesticides used to control sea lice in the farms kill the local crab, lobster, and shrimp.
      The irresponsibility of near- shore aquaculture cannot be overstated.

  2. Hello, great information in your post. I have a question about Skuna Bay salmon that claims it is sustainable. What is your take on their product?

  3. Thank you. I just recently found your video. Great information. I have a question here in Ohio we don’t find a lot of fresh salmon. Any advice or thoughts on cooking frozen wild-caught salmon?
    Thank you

    • You can use frozen, wild-caught salmon. Just make sure to bring it to room temperature before cooking. You can find more information on that in my baked salmon recipe post :)

    • You can buy Salmon direct from Alaska. They ship by FedEx. There’s more than one supplier of small quantities. The one I have been using lately is: Alaska Sausage Co., Inc.

  4. BTW you mentioned Coho is wild … sadly this is no longer a guarantee as it is being farmed today too … the consumer should be aware of this … cheers

  5. Thank You for sharing,

  6. Thank you for this article. I never knew the difference between salmons. Very naive in selecting which part of the fish as well. Can you explain the difference of from the waist down to the waist up when selecting to cut? The butcher had asked me and I had no idea…sigh. Usually they are sliced but he had a whole salmon ready.

    • The filet (side ) of a salmon has basically three areas tail mid section and head section. The tail does the most work for the fish hence the toughest and leanest meat. The mid contains the less active and more fat content as well as belly trim with fat, a nice selection. The head area also contains fat does more work than the mid but is a better cut than the tail. The fillets cut from this section may need be cit in half they are very wide depending on the size of the salmon.

  7. I love SOCK EYE. Never heard of the KING one so I will be looking for it soon when I visit Houston.

  8. .Thank Lisa, I had bought and received someCoho, even though it was $16.00 a lb.

    There are A few other I would recommend.
    But Tanners is the best price wise etc.
    Besides I like those Tanner kids..
    Everett Smith

  9. Loved this interesting informative site-it gave me new insight about the salmon I buy which is wild caught sockeye, have not tried King but would like to, just not sure where I can get it? Also I was just wondering if there was any info on the possible degree of mercury in these wild caught fish.?

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post Virginia! You’ll definitely have to give king salmon a try. And you’d have to do a Google search to find information on the mercury levels in the salmon.

  10. Tried your simple pouched egg recipe this morning. They came out great even though the eggs were probably a week to a week and a half old. Thank you Lisa

  11. thank you for your post about Salmons. What about wild caught Atlantic salmon?

    • There’s virtually impossible to find as it doesn’t really exist anymore.

    • These would be rare to find though still seen in Maine and the Maritime providences of Canada. They are an endangered species and are prohibited from being caught. It is estimated it will take 75 years for them to be considered for removal from the endangered species list. East coast industrialization in the 1840’s- 1930’s destroyed the rivers they relied on for breeding with dams and water mills. Fishing the remaining salmon was legal until 1948. They are still available in Scotlands rivers and northern Europe but almost gone there as well, what a shame that a fish the was as prolific at the mighty cod is gone form the waters of the east coast.

  12. Are your aware of any companies that sell salmon online and shipped frozen? It’s hard to find a trusting source these days.

  13. Thank you so much for your information about the farmed salmon. Also, thank you for being so creative with Chia seeds.

    I have been fighting sciatica for a long time with no results from doctors, so trying to improve my diet. Thanks for the help.

    • Hi Robert – I’m so glad to hear that my posts are helping you get inspired in the kitchen and living a healthy lifestyle. Fighting sciatica isn’t the easiest but I hope my recipes can help you!

  14. I am a third generation Californian and have always loved. But now have a brother-in-law and 3 nieces who have done commercial fishing in Bristle Bay. And do get the best when I visit them. They are all good cooks. will have to share your recipes with them. If you go to Alaska will send you their numbers.

    • Hi Dian – Thanks so much for sharing! I love to hear that my followers are from all over the world and will definitely let you know if I ever head up to Alaska :)

  15. Thank you for this timely post! I was at Costco and I didn’t know which type of salmon to buy with so many options. ? 

  16. Thank you for breaking that down. I knew not to eat Atlantic salmon but wasn’t sure after that.

  17. I am an Alaskan and I can say you absolutely nailed it. A very good description of the differences between the species of salmon. And yes, please always buy wild caught Alaskan salmon. It is not only the healthiest choice, but also a well-regulated sustainable fishery so you know can enjoy them with confidence.

    • Hi Theresa – So excited to hear from a true Alaskan! I’m glad you enjoyed this post :)

    • Hi Theresa!

      I have visited Alaska a number of times. Homer is my favorite place to visit. Do you know anything about Wild Alaskan Company? I wondered about their salmon which you can buy online and they ship frozen.


  18. Lisa,
    Thank you so much for all your wonderful information and recipes I enjoy so many of them. 
    I also love salmon in the sommer.  

  19. Nothing is better than fresh wild caught salmon, but when you can’t find it, or it is too expensive for your budget, it is handy to have a package of frozen wild caught Alaska salmon patties from Costco in your freezer. It’s pink salmon which not on your list of favorites, but it is clean and tasty and much less expensive than fresh -$6.00 a pound in a three pound package.

  20. Thanks so much for sharing your recipes and your knowledge, Lisa!
    I enjoyed reading your salmon blog. Just curious— when you’re at the restaurant and you order salmon, do you ask the server what type of salmon they serve?

    • Hi Jane – I do ask sometimes, but not always. When I’m out with friends and family, I try to focus on who I am with and have a good time :)

  21. I love all of these but especially smoked salmon – that I get from my sister in Alaska. I can eat that right out of the jar – nothing added. I think I have made most of your recipes except for the plank salmon. I really want to try that as anything with maple is good. Your orange glazed salmon is my go-to recipe simply because it is so easy. I NEVER eat Atlantic salmon as it is so easy to get the good stuff year round in California.

    • Hi Karen – smoked salmon is also one of my favorites! I’m happy to hear you love the Orange Glazed Salmon recipe :)

  22. I try to keep up with the fast changing (new information) that keeps flowing in. I’m referencing the issue (problem) of clean fish of any kind. There is in development GMO Salmon of all things. Pollution is bad enough and a reality. Also, it’s difficult to know where trust can be applied! As a result, I don’t buy fish of any kind any more. It is really sad because if you take everything else out “of the picture” Salmon would be the very best choice in all regards. Thank you for your great article.

  23. Hi Lisa,
    Just curious, someone told me eating the skin is really good for you. Do you know if this is true? Thanks, Michelle

    • Hi Michelle – salmon skin is safe to eat as it contains some of the same nutrients as the salmon itself! However, I would just make sure that the quality of the salmon is good.

  24. Thanks for your amazing information. Sounds healthy and delicious.

  25. Such an interesting post I didn’t even know there was really a difference. I guess because nowadays the grocery stores don’t really label the what kind of salmon they have in the case. One thing I never do is buy farmed after reading about how they are raised. Great and informative post!

    • Thanks Tammy! I agree, farmed is not the best option. But, I hope this post keeps you informed about the many different types of salmon out there!

    • Where I live (near Seattle) the salmon is always marked Wild if it is and restaurants also mention it in their descriptions. If they don’t, we know it is Atlantic farm-raised and of lower quality.

  26. Love salmon in the summer! I never really knew there was much of a difference between the types! Great info!

    • Hi Beth – Salmon in the summer is my favorite as well! Hope this post helps you when shopping for salmon :)

  27. Great info on here!! Thank you for posting this!!