The Differences Between Gravlax, Lox, and Smoked Salmon — and How to Make All Three

Do you know the differences between the cured fish preparations?

Smoked Salmon Toasts with Mustard Butter
Sour cream or cream cheese may be the usual spread with salty smoked salmon, but chef David Tanis thinks softened butter makes a tasty alternative. (Think of ham-and-butter sandwiches.) To give the butter a zippy bite, he stirs in lemon zest and both Dijon and grainy mustards.

Lox, gravlax, and smoked salmon — all delicious, and, despite how similar they look, they're all different. How?

Let's start with lox. Originally derived from the Yiddish word for salmon (laks), lox is never cooked. It's made by taking a fillet from the salmon's belly and curing it in salty brine.

Gravlax is similar, but instead of a simple salt brine, the traditional Nordic recipe calls for a cure with three key ingredients: salt, sugar, and tons of dill. Optional additions include juniper berries, horseradish, and aquavit or vodka.

Smoked salmon is similar to lox in that it's salt-cured, usually without much sugar, but there are two significant differences: It can come from any part of the fish (not just the belly), and, of course, it's smoked. Cold-smoked salmon has a raw texture similar to lox or gravlax, while hot-smoked salmon is firmer and flakier.

Now that you know the differences between the three delicious fish preparations, there's something else you should know: They're all easy to make at home. Here, our best recipes for lox, gravlax, and smoked salmon.

This Nordic method of wet-brining fish takes some time, but it's well worth it.

Three-Day Brined Lox with Anise-Herb Sauce. Photo © Antonis Achilleos
© Antonis Achilleos

Andrew Zimmern's stellar recipe results in superb flavor and texture.

Gravlax of Salmon

Cold-smoked salmon usually requires an elaborate setup, but this brilliant trick of quickly smoking the fish, then curing it like gravlax, is a great option for the home cook.

Smoked and Cured Salmon with Orange Zest
David Prince
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