How to Grill Salmon

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Salmon is a great fish to grill – it’s rich in all the good stuff my doctor tells me to take in pill form and the flavor of simply grilled salmon can’t be beat. When grilling fish, go for a fillet or steak with skin and some primary skeletal frame to ensure the meat doesn’t fall apart. Then simply follow the instructions below.

Make sure the grates are clean and hot, about 600°F. Dry off the fish and place it flesh-side down on the grates. Remember–where it hits it sits. The fish will lift easily when the proteins align as the “brown” sear marks form. Or, you can spritz the flesh with some cooking oil spray – but use a light touch.

 grilled salmon flesh side down on grates

I test to see how it’s doing by looking at the edges where the fish flesh meets the hot grates. Watch for the edge and point of contact to show signs of browning. I either use my fingers or the tips of tongs to gently lift the edge of the fish to see if it’s releasing. If you get nervous and simply have to use a spatula, spritz the spat with cooking oil and place it flat on the grates. Then in one quick motion, slip the spatula between the fish and the grates. This reduces the chance of damaging the sear marks and keeps the presentation looking tasty.

Turn the fish once and cook the skin side on the grates. You can also spritz the skin with some cooking spray prior to turning.

This is a perfect time to glaze the fish with something like butter and garlic or, if you prefer sweeter, brush on some teriyaki sauce or brown sugar and butter. The heat of the grill will cook the glaze to create a tasty layer of flavor on the grilled fish.

When the fish reaches an internal temperature of about 145°F you can slip the spatula between the fish and skin and lift it off. I try to cook fish in portion sizes, so there are no double spatula attempts to turn an entire side…too many chances for disaster! Don’t sweat it if some of the fish sticks a bit. It’s all part of learning the technique and mastering your skills!

Salmon with grill marks
Grilled salmon with crispy skin.

6 thoughts on “How to Grill Salmon

  1. This is a very good Salmon 101 article. I find so many people, who are afraid of grilling salmon (dumb) and this should give them the knowledge and confidence to “bite the bullet”, and acquire the technique and ability to enjoy one of the tastiest and healthiest foods in the world…….

  2. Bill – thanks for the kind words. Clean grates that are hot, dry slightly saline surface – and if you just can’t stand it, spritz a bit of cooking spray on the salmon flesh, but not too much! – and place on the grates. Pay attention! And cook portion size pieces that you can lift with the spatula. The notion of cooking a full side that is un-trimmed is, well, for the pros! (PS I don’t do it!)

  3. I am terrified of trying to cook fish!! TERRIFIED!
    I think it’s because the cost of fish is so high and to ruin it would be such a financial as well as a good taste loss – do you know a good Talapia recipe for the grill or smoker?

  4. My local winery serves a Bourbon glazed salmon. They also recommend their red wine blend to accompany the dish. Awesome. Your tips will get me going as soon as this spring snow melts. I want to try my favorite BBQ sauce with some Maker’s Mark as the glaze and serve with a nice Merlot.

  5. I use non stick aluminum foil to grill salmon. Cooks great and I don’t lose any fish in the grates. Easy/no clean up too. I put a bit of olive oil on the non stick foil, then place the salmon skin side down. I use potlatch on the other side. Yum!

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