How to Grill Salmon for a Quick Weeknight Meal
We know it can feel intimidating to cook fish and seafood at home if you’re new to the concept and haven’t studied up on basics like how to grill salmon. But you don't have to be a gourmet restaurant chef to ace a perfectly cooked salmon. Its healthy fats make the fish flavorful and more forgiving than other seafood varieties, and our Test Kitchen pros are here to walk you through exactly how to make perfect grilled salmon with skin, grilled salmon in foil, and more. Salmon fillets and steaks are naturals for both charcoal and gas grilling. The key is to get the salmon grill time right so the fish is perfectly flaky. Follow these tips, then put your new skills to good use with our delicious grilled salmon recipes. Heart-healthy grilled salmon is packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, so you can feel good about indulging in a tender, melt-in-your-mouth salmon dinner.
Cooking Salmon on the Grill: Prep Steps
The prep needed for cooking salmon on the grill is very simple.
- Before grilling fish, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. If the fish is too wet, it may stick to the grill.
Whether you’re cooking grilled salmon with skin or without, the best way to grill salmon with added flavor is to use a dry rub or sprinkle with spices or herbs (thyme, dill, or basil works well with grilled salmon). Or marinate it. Salmon will absorb flavors quickly, so even 15 to 30 minutes in a marinade can be enough to add big flavor to your grilled salmon.
How to Grill Salmon
Now that you've prepped the fish, it's time to fire up the grill. If you're planning to use a cedar plank, read all about how to grill salmon on a cedar plank; otherwise, here are a few things to remember as you master how to cook salmon on the grill.
- Grilling salmon with skin is just fine. If the fillets still have skin, cook skin-side down and remove the skin after grilling if desired.
- Place fillets in a well-greased grill basket to ensure they stay intact. Grilled salmon in foil (nonstick or greased) works too; just be sure to cut a few small slits in the foil to let the juices run off. You can also grill salmon fillets and steaks directly on a greased grill rack.
- Direct grilling: To grill salmon on a charcoal grill or gas grill over direct heat, place the fish on the grill rack directly over medium heat (350°F to 375°F). Grill, covered, 4 to 6 minutes per ½-inch thickness or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork. Turn the fish once halfway through grilling if it’s thick.
- Indirect grilling: To grill salmon on a charcoal grill or gas grill over indirect heat, prepare your grill for indirect cooking using a drip pan. Place salmon over the drip pan. Grill, covered, over indirect medium heat 7 to 9 minutes per ½-inch thickness or until the salmon flakes when tested with a fork, turning once halfway through grilling if desired.
- If you like, brush the salmon with olive oil or melted butter after turning to add flavor and keep it moist.
Salmon Grilling Tip: As you master how long to cook salmon on a grill, you can try our Test Kitchen trick to test the level of heat. Place the palm of your hand at the level of the grill rack and count the number of seconds you can comfortably hold it in that position. If the heat is medium, or 350°F to 375°F, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for about 4 seconds. Learn more about how to control grill temperatures like a pitmaster.
How to Check Salmon for Doneness
How long to grill salmon varies based on the thickness of the fish you select. The thicker the cut, the longer the salmon grill time.
- Using a fork, check the flesh at the thickest part of the fillet. You’ve reached the ideal grilled salmon temp when the salmon is opaque yet moist and pulls apart easily.
Another way to check doneness is to test grilled salmon temp with an instant-read thermometer. (This is especially useful for thick salmon steaks.) Insert it horizontally into the fish. Remove the fish from the grill when it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F.
How to Choose Fresh Salmon
To make the best grilled salmon, you need to start with fresh salmon or thawed salmon that was previously frozen. Use these tips when selecting salmon at the store.
- Salmon has a moderately firm texture that helps it hold together well when grilling. When shopping, look for moist, cleanly cut fillets or steaks and avoid those with a strong fishy odor. Don’t be fooled by the color—it’s not a sign of freshness but rather of the salmon species.
- Plan to grill salmon the day you buy it or keep it loosely wrapped in the coldest part of the refrigerator (far from the door, generally in the back and on the bottom shelf) up to 2 days.
- If it hasn't been previously frozen, you can freeze salmon up to 3 months.
- Yes, grilling frozen salmon is totally doable. If your fish is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator 1 to 2 days before you proceed with our steps above for how to grill salmon.
Salmon Buying Tip: A salmon steak is a crosscut slice from a large dressed fish and is usually ½ to 1 inch thick. A fillet is a boneless piece of fish cut from the side and away from the backbone. You can purchase it with the skin on or ask to have it removed. We recommend wild-caught Alaskan salmon and salmon farmed in closed-tank systems as two of our healthiest varieties of fish to eat.