We’ve had our fair share of grilling disasters, but our biggest flops are usually seafood. Fish is a fickle thing—and although salmon is slightly more resilient than some of its white-fleshed cousins, it’s still easy to butcher a beautiful fillet with the direct heat from a barbecue. Here’s how to cook salmon on the grill, so you don’t go in blind and end up hungry.
How to Cook Salmon on the Grill Without Getting Burned
1. choose The Right Fillet
The key to grilling salmon successfully is to start with a skin-on fillet. The reasons for this are twofold. First, the skin will get nice and crispy (read: absolutely delicious). But more importantly, the skin helps hold the flesh together throughout the grilling process so you don’t have to worry about your salmon flaking apart and falling through the grates. Look for skin-on fillets that have already been cut into individual portions—roughly 6 ounces apiece—or grab your sharpest pair of kitchen shears to divide a larger cut yourself prior to grilling. True, the presentation may be more impressive, but a big piece of delicate fish is much more daunting to flip, which is why we suggest you leave that trick to the pros.
2. prep The Fish For Maximum Flavor
Salmon is divine when seasoned simply, so if that’s what you’re going for just rub the fillets down with a little olive oil, add a generous sprinkling of salt, a pinch of fresh cracked pepper and you’re good to go. Alternatively, you can go bold and turn those fillets into vehicles for umami flavor by soaking the salmon in a mouthwatering marinade while you wait for the grill to get hot. Either option promises plenty of deliciousness—but if you skip the marinade, don’t forget to brush the fillets with olive oil to prevent sticking.
3. get The Grill Ready
Fortunately, with skin-on fillets you can avoid the pitfall of fall-apart fish, but fish that sticks to the grates is another grill master disaster. There are two ways to combat this, according to the Wild Salmon Co.: Brush the fillets with oil and lightly grease your grill before firing it up. Once the grates have been brushed with oil, turn the heat to medium (350 to 450°F) and close the lid. Within roughly 10 to 15 minutes, the grill will have reached the right temperature and you can start searing those suckers.
4. grill The Salmon
This next piece of advice is very important, so ready carefully, friends. Place fillets on the grill with the skin side facing up. If you get this part wrong, the skin will get too crispy and stop doing its number-one job—namely, sparing you the aforementioned tragedy of fillets that flake apart into the fire instead of your mouth. Plus, the dry spices on the fish might cause it to burn if it’s cooked too long, so it’s best to cook it most of the way on the skin side. Let the salmon cook for 3 to 4 minutes (longer, if your fillets are thicker than one inch) and then use a spatula or tongs to carefully flip each piece so the skin is facing down. Cook the salmon for another 3 to 4 minutes after flipping, or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the fillet reads 135°F. The fish should easily come off the surface when it’s fully cooked, the Norwegian Salmon Council adds.
5. wait And Plate
Transfer the salmon to a plate (and add a couple pats of butter if you like), then cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let the fish rest for 5 to 10 minutes so the fillets finish cooking. Then plate the fillets—give each one a squeeze of lemon, perhaps—and dig in. Your salmon will boast an Insta-worthy sear, skin that tastes better than bacon and meat so moist it melts in your mouth. Tastes like a job well done.