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Removing Pin Bones from Salmon and Deboning Salmon

When it comes to seafood, there are certain body parts we typically like to avoid eating. Most consumers discard shrimp tails and we always leave the shell out of lobster rolls. If you’ve eaten herring, pickerel, or pike, you may also be familiar with dealing with bones. What about salmon—does salmon have bones? While you may have eaten salmon that’s already had its bones removed, deboning salmon on your own is actually not that hard.

Does Salmon Have Bones?

Yes, salmon has bones. A lot of people are not sure if salmon has bones because as the second most popular seafood product in the US, most of the salmon purchased at the supermarket has already had its main bones removed. 

That said though, like many animals, salmon do have large bones. The largest, being the spine, but those are removed when the salmon is fileted. The most common type of bones you will see in salmon are the pin bones: these are long and thin that run along the salmon filet. These ones are typically easy to see and they’re often removed before salmon is sold. 

The one big exception is salmon steaks, where you might see large, thick bones still connected to the spine.

But what about salmon pin bones?

Yes, there’s another type of bone to be aware of, and it’s found in most salmon filets. However, it’s actually not a bone at all! 

Pin bones refer to the needle-like pieces that run along the length of a filet of salmon. While not bones per se, they’re calcified nerve endings that feel very similar to bones. The salmon need them because it helps them sense other salmon swimming close by. 

If you use your fingers, you might be able to feel a line of pin bones just under the surface of a filet. They’re about one or two inches long, and you should be able to feel them sticking out. Alternatively, you may notice a shallow trench where the pin bones have already been removed. 

Can You Eat Salmon Pin Bones?

Now that we know that salmon are in fact a boned fish, you’re probably wondering: can you eat salmon bones?

Before you start to panic about all of those salmon bones you potentially consumed over the years, take a deep breath and relax. Only in rare cases are pin bones problematic. They’re soft, thin, and flexible, and can be relatively easily digested by your stomach acid. 

Truth is, pin bones are totally edible! In fact, in many parts of the world, salmon pin bones are eaten on a routine basis. They’re known to be rich in a variety of nutrients, especially calcium and iron. In fact, for people who avoid dairy products or other calcium sources, fish bones can make an excellent substitute!

However, they do present a small risk of getting lodged in your throat. If you feel a slight tickle after a salmon dinner, consider eating a piece of bread to move any lodged pin bones down into your stomach. 

While serious complications are extremely rare, if you feel any discomfort or pain anywhere along your digestive tract, consider seeking professional help. If necessary, a doctor can help to remove any ingested pin bones. 

How to Remove Pin Bones from Salmon Filet

Before you prepare your Pan-Fried Salmon Lettuce Wraps, you’ll want to know how to remove pin bones from salmon. 

The process for removing pin bones from salmon is much like that of deboning a salmon steak—only you’ll just be looking for pin bones. Actually, feeling is better than looking when it comes to detecting pin bones. They’re teeny-tiny, and often difficult to see. 

That said, get a pair of pliers or tweezers and get ready to get a little touchy-feely with your salmon!

    1. Lay the salmon on a cutting board. Run your fingers down the length of the filet to feel the tips of the pin bones. 
    2. Remove the pin bones with your tweezers/pliers.  Using your fingers, you should be able to feel the pin bones on the surface of the fish. Gently secure the salmon filet by placing your fingers around the pin bone you’re removing. This helps protect the meat surrounding the pin bone. Remove them in the same direction that they lie.  
    3. Repeat the process until you’ve removed all the pin bones.
    4. Don’t forget to wash your pliers or tweezers before you store them!

How to Debone Salmon Steak

Welcome to Deboning Salmon 101. We can provide you with everything needed for worry-free wild Alaskan salmon. 

First, you’ll want to be sure that you have two tools handy:

  • A sharp, flexible knife
  • A pair of tweezers or pliers
  • Once you’ve got your tools, you’re ready to learn how to debone salmon. Think of it like playing the board game Operation, and have a little fun with your food!

    When you’re ready to debone your salmon, here’s what you’ll do:

    1. Lay the salmon steak flat on a cutting board. Running your fingers along the length of the fish will help you feel for the bones. 
    2. Find three sets of bones. You’ll see rib bones near the cavity of the steak, pin bones that run along the length of the salmon, and the vertebrae, which should be at the center. 
    3. Use the flexible knife to remove the rib bones. Cut gently along the part where the flesh meets the cavity to remove the rib bones. 
    4. Use the flexible knife to cut out the vertebrae. Once the rib bones are loose, you’ll see where they attach to the vertebrae. You can cut horizontally here to remove both—the rib bones and vertebrae. 
    5. Remove the pin bones with your tweezers/pliers. Using your fingers, you should be able to feel the pin bones on the surface of the fish. You likely won’t find too many pin bones, but when you do, just remove them in the same direction that they lie.  
    6. Be sure to clean your tools. No one likes fishy-smelling tweezers! Wash them with dish soap and water before storing them.

    Final Thoughts

    Well, look at you! Now you know how to prepare a delicious salmon meal and how to remove bones from salmon. Hopefully you’ve realized that the process is simple and takes very little time. Even better, if you happen to forget about the pin bones (we’ve all been there) you can still happily enjoy your wild Alaskan salmon with no worries, because they’re extremely unlikely to cause a problem.