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How to Grill Salmon

Learn how to grill salmon that will impress your guests and make you look like a pro. MORE+ LESS-

Salmon—chock full of protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids—is one of the healthiest fish you can eat. It's also fabulous cooked on the grill.

Maybe you've tried to grill salmon a few times, but it either turns out as dry as an old shoe, or the skin is burned and it's raw in the middle, or it breaks up and falls into the bowels of your grill. Have no fear! Whether you choose filets or steaks, these tips can help you get your grill on with confidence.

Start With a Good Salmon

There's a big flap about farmed salmon versus wild-caught. What you choose depends upon your budget and your feelings about environmental sustainability. Generally, wild-caught salmon is more expensive. So is farm-raised salmon "grown" in the United States, because it is highly regulated. Environmental groups concerned about aquatic sustainability recommend either wild salmon or farm-raised salmon from inland tanks. As far as choosing what's for dinner, look for evenly colored flesh and skin that is shiny. Like any other fish you buy, it shouldn't smell “fishy”.

Prep for Grilling

Prep your salmon by first checking for any pin bones left behind. Remove them with steady fingers or a needle nose pliers. Then brush both sides of the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Leave the skin on! This helps anchor the fish together on the grill so you're not picking bits of it off the grate with your tongs. That’s kind of embarrassing when you're trying to show off your culinary chops.

Grill Like You Mean It

Even the experts quibble about how to grill salmon. Bobby Flay cranks his grill to "high", slaps his filet skin-side down until it's done and does not turn it. Some like a medium-high flame for about four minutes on each side. If your grill is properly heated (I would go with a medium-high flame), and you're not cooking thick steaks, there's really no need to flip. The danger in a grill that's too hot is ending up with charred skin and raw flesh. Not the best way to impress your dinner guests.

Another way to impress is to dress up the salmon with a flavorful marinade. This will not only add flavor but also help keep your salmon moist. Let the fish soak it up for about fifteen to thirty minutes before you grill or brush it on while it's cooking. Strong flavors stand up well on salmon.

If you want to go quick and simple, try some of the many condiment options from your local supermarket or gourmet store. For a good, fast glaze, just brush with apricot jam, honey mustard or barbecue sauce.

And to avoid embarrassing sticking accidents, oil your grates before putting the fish on the grill. Some people use cooking spray (just don't spray into an open flame), but I prefer to rub the grates down with vegetable oil before turning on the grill.

How Do I Know When It's Done?

Ah, the eternal question. This will depend upon the thickness of your filet or steak and the heat of your grill, as well as your taste preference. If you're grilling a two-pound salmon filet that's about an inch and a half thick, it could take about fifteen minutes on a medium-high grill. The trick is to watch it, and check for signs of doneness:

  • When the skin just begins to separate from the flesh, it flakes easily when poked with a fork

  • The filet feels slightly firm and not spongy

  • The filet looks opaque.

Then remove it from the grill with a wide, flat spatula.

Grilling fish of any kind may seem intimidating at first, but it's definitely worth the effort. Learn a few basic tricks and your salmon will be a huge hit!

What's your favorite salmon recipe?