How To Grill Fresh Salmon


Grilled salmon is best.


Northwest Treat


One of the nicer aspects of living in the Northwest is having good access to really delicious Pacific salmon.  The folks in Alaska have done a great job of marketing “Copper River” salmon, but honestly any fresh, wild salmon that’s been grilled is tough to beat—provided it’s cooked just right.

I used to think grilling fish was hard.

No matter the type of grill, it’s hard to beat salmon prepared this way.



I prefer grilling salmon to other types of preparation.  The key is to avoid overcooking it and keep the whole process as simple as possible.  I upgraded my grill last summer to a newer liquid propane unit and I have to say I love the convenience.  Now, I crank a knob, hit a button, and wait a couple minutes for my grill to heat up—that’s it and I’m ready to go.  I used to grill with charcoal, and though I love the extra flavor it took considerably more effort to get things going.


Here’s How I Grill


Over the years, and with several tips from friends, I’ve discovered a pretty bullet-proof method for grilling salmon.

This is a lovely Copper River salmon fillet.

I cut my salmon into equal serving-sized pieces before grilling it.

Step 1: Pick out a good salmon fillet at the store.  There’s no question salmon is pricey, which is why it’s still a special treat around our house.  However, if you watch for specials and get one of those store discount cards you can sometimes save up to half.  When I can, I usually get wild salmon (instead of farm raised) and look for fresh, rather than recently frozen.  Of course, where you live can make a huge difference in the quality of the fish that’s available.  As to quantity, I typically figure on 6 – 8 ounces per person (about 3/8 to 1/2 pound).  If I have them cut off a piece for me I ask for the thick end of the fillet (i.e. the head). The tail is a little harder to gauge for cooking time since you have uneven thickness to deal with.


Preparing my salmon with lemon and dill.

I like lemon and dill on my fish. My wife prefers salmon rub.

Step 2: When I’m ready to cook it, I cut the fillet into equal-sized servings.  Some people prefer to cook a whole fish and then cut it.  However, I’ve learned that if I pre-cut my fish it cooks more evenly and a little faster overall.


Preparing the fish goes quick.

If I use rub, I brush a light coat of oil over the fish first.

Step 3: I use three very basic preparations for my fish.  The first is to do nothing to the fish other than throw it straight on the grill.  The second is to squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over it, and then sprinkle on a little dill over that.  The third is to lightly brush the fish with olive oil and then cover it with salmon rub.  The rub I use is called “Rub With Love” and is stocked in a case next to the fish counter at my super market.  It adds a bit of spice to the flavor and always gets good reviews from our guests. One variation I recently hit on with my rub is to first coat some of Costco’s fresh made pesto (look in their refrigerated section near the hummus) on the fish and then sprinkle on the rub. Talk about yum!


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Of course, there are many other ways to go with your fish.  One friend uses butter and tarragon as a precook topping. Another tops his fish with butter, dill, and rings of onions.  And I’ve even had one who grilled the fish covered with fresh mangoes and rosemary.  Bottom line:  Salmon is a great food that can be enhanced in many different ways.


My wife loves this salmon rub.

The rub goes on easily with a spoon.

Step 4: Once my fish is ready I throw it on a hot grill.  This is where it gets tricky to give advice to others.  Grills are different.  They heat differently.  Fish thickness varies.  The key is to get familiar with your grill so you know what to expect.  I preheat my grill first to about 450 to 500 degrees and then turn my burners down to a medium flame. In fact, if I’m only cooking a small amount I sometimes turn off a burner or two on the end opposite of my fish.


Once it's on the grill all you need to do it wait.

Pop the fish straigh on the grill and then close the cover.

With the temp right, I pop the fish pieces I’ve cut straight onto the grill and then close the grill cover.  I leave the skin on the fish as it’s cooking.  The skin gets black from the flames, but since I don’t eat it that doesn’t matter.


Now, it’s simply a matter of waiting—unlike steak there’s no need to turn fish.  As a rule of thumb, with my fish cut into serving-sized pieces, it usually takes about 9-10 minutes of grilling for a 1 inch thick fillet (measured at the widest part).  Since thickness varies a bit each time, I’ll usually check the fish about 8 minutes in.


If I’m careful, I can take a fork, dig into the thick part of the fish and separate just enough to look at the color.  If the fish still appears wet and translucent  it may need a little more cooking.  If it’s mostly turned to a lighter shade of pink (or red in the case of Copper River or any other sockeye salmon) it’s done.


Mmm...I can taste it already.

I check the fish on the grill. Once the color goes from mostly translucent to mostly pink it’s done. Remove and tent.

Step 5: Once the fish is cooked as described in the step above, I remove it from the grill, place it on a plate and then “tent” or cover it in foil.  Fish actually keeps cooking for a few minutes after it comes off the heat, so this method is a way to keep the fish from drying out, and thus, overcooking it.  If you’ve pulled the fish off too early and it really isn’t quite ready, you can always put it back on the grill for another minute or two.  If you’ve lost the skin somewhere along the way, set a piece of foil on the grill and put the fish on that.  That will keep the “flesh” from burning.


Tent your fish after grilling it.

Tenting does the final cooking. This method keeps the fish from drying out and overcooking.

Step 6: Serve with fresh lemon wedges or your favorite tartar sauce.


My only regret grilling salmon is I don’t get to do it more often.  Salmon is terrific for our health as it contains vital heart healthy Omega-3’s, but the cost seems to go up and up every year.  Still, by grilling at home I can save big time over the price at a restaurant and mine usually comes out perfect.  Give grilling a try if you get a chance—you won’t be sorry.



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