We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Learn more about our review process.

Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Best Way to Cook Salmon on the Grill



Learn all about how to prepare delicious salmon on the grill!
Learn all about how to prepare delicious salmon on the grill!

There’s a lot of us who answer “salmon” to the question, “What’s your favorite fish,” and that’s because of its unique buttery flavor, the tenderness, the intense color…. Well, we could go on and on, couldn’t we?

You can bake salmon, pan fry it, poach it…

…but one of the best ways to cook it is on the grill.

Besides its amazing taste, salmon is rich in essential nutrients. It tastes good and it’s good for you. Your mother told you that and, as usual, she’s right!

Salmon is generally served at a medium cook, and it’s easy to tell when it’s done. Let’s fire up the grill and serve up some lovely salmon.

Selecting your cut

When you see a piece of salmon with a U-shaped opening at the bottom, that’s a salmon steak. The thick, rectangular or square pieces of flesh is a salmon fillet. Salmon fillets are the cut you want for the grill.

During certain parts of the year, salmon becomes scarce, and distributors opt for farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is often coho salmon. Environmental protection organizations say that many farms keep the salmon in crowded conditions, thus encouraging disease and parasites. So, to ensure freshness, taste, and health, buy “wild caught” salmon. Salmon is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

NOTE: All Alaskan salmon is wild caught.

See this post to learn about the best vacuum sealer for freezing fish and game!

Most fish is flash frozen when caught, so the fish in your grocery may be frozen or partially-thawed when you buy it. Salmon keeps up to four months in the freezer, and you can thaw it overnight in your refrigerator.

You can also mail-order salmon, which arrives in a partially-thawed state.

Check out the fresh2yourdoor Fresh Atlantic Salmon Portions at Amazon

Salmon fillet is the cut you want for the grill.
Salmon fillet is the cut you want for the grill.

Preparing the fillets

The salmon fillets should be about 1-1/2 to 2 inches wide. Slice them or ask the butcher to slice them for you.

Make short work of that freshly-caught fish with the best electric knife for cleaning fish!

Brush the fillets generously with olive oil, then sprinkle both sides with kosher salt and pepper. Lemon pepper is a fine substitute for regular ground pepper.

Check out McCormick Seasoning Salt, Lemon and Pepper at Amazon

You can serve your fillets with the skin on or off. If you plan on serving them with skin, use a very sharp knife to slide against the scales to remove most of the loose scales before cooking. Score the skin to keep it from curling.

Check out the NoCry High Performance, Level 5 Protection, Food Grade Cut Resistant Gloves at Amazon

NOTE: The butcher may have removed the scales before sale.

Keep your knives sharp with the best electric knife sharpener for fillet knives!

Ready the grill!

Turn the grill to medium-high or pile the coals up and heat them to a medium-high temperature. Be sure the grill grate is clean and then oil the grate with olive oil.

Grilling the salmon

Place the fillets flesh side down on the grill at a diagonal to the grill grate. When raw, the fish holds together in a way it doesn’t when cooked, so you can be assured it will hold together during this first part of the cooking process.

Let the salmon grill for about 5 to 6 minutes, or about 2 minutes per inch. Basically, just enough to get some nice grill marks and an opaque color. Don’t turn the fish. You’ll only turn once during the cook.

The salmon is ready to turn when the color changes about 2/3 of the way up the fillet. You may see a white, frothy oil squeeze out of the fillets. Turn the fillets skin-side down, again at a diagonal to the grill grate. Let the salmon cook for another 5 to 6 minutes until the fish is opaque throughout. The fillets should be firm and opaque, but not tough.

The proper internal temperature of cooked salmon is 145° F. Insert a thermometer into the side of the fillet to ensure it’s cooked to the perfect temperature.


Salmon looks just as lovely as it tastes!
Salmon looks just as lovely as it tastes!

Slide a fish spatula (an elongated metal spatula with tines) under the fish between the skin and the fillet when the salmon is done to perfection. If possible, leave the skin behind on the grate. If you can’t, and the salmon seems done in other ways, the skin can be taken off after removing it from the grill, or you can just plate it skin-side down, as some people like the look of the grilled salmon skin.

Check out the OXO Good Grips Fish Turner at Amazon

Allow the salmon to rest a few minutes. It will continue cooking after removing from the grill until it cools. Plate, and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon over each fillet. Done and done! Pair your salmon with a nice glass of Brut, some tasty appetizers, and enjoy!

Add that extra richness to your salmon with a knob of fresh butter. Here are my tips on keeping your butter super fresh.

There are plenty of fish in the sea!

For more salmon-cooking tips, check out my article on how to smoke salmon. You might also like this recipe for the best smoked salmon brine!

Or, if you’re in the mood for some walleye, head on over here for my favorite recipe for pan-fried walleye fillets.

They might not be fish, but they sure are delicious. Check out this recipe for the tastiest colossal sea scallops, seared on a cast iron skillet.

Do you use a pellet grill for smoking salmon? Learn about which pellet flavors go well with fish and other meats!

Take some of that leftover salmon (if there are any) to work with you. Here are the best lunch coolers for construction workers.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

Leave a Comment