Four industrial processes for smoking food were studied through their effects on the organoleptic properties of smoked salmon and on the occurrence of 20 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) known as being contaminants of smoking processes. The contamination by PAHs of the food might be measured by their corresponding toxic equivalent quantity (TEQ) expressed in mu g kg(-1). The results show a significant correlation between the smoking process parameters, the odour of the smoked fish and the presence of PAHs. Smouldering, thermostated plates and friction smoking processes allow smoked fish with very close odorant characteristics to be obtained. However, differences of pyrolysis temperature (between 380 and 500 degrees C) causes significant differences of PAHs concentration even if the contents are under the legal threshold concerning benzo (a) pyrene (5 mu g kg(-1)). Smoked fish obtained by liquid smoke vaporisation presented the lowest level of PAHs but benzo(a)pyrene concentration is nevertheless important. The odours brought by the liquid smoke process are more 'cold smoke' and 'vegetal/green' than the other techniques, which are smokier and fishier. (c) 2007 Society of Chemical Industry.