How to Grill Salmon to Perfection

Master how to cook flavor-packed salmon on the grill with this easy how-to.

We know it can feel intimidating to cook fish and seafood at home if you're new to the concept and haven't learned the basics of grilling 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, 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 great for both charcoal and gas grilling. The key is grilling salmon for the right amount of time so the fish is 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.

Grilling Salmon: 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 grilling salmon with skin or without, the best way to add 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.

filet of salmon on spatula
Blaine Moats

How to Grill Salmon

Now that you've prepped the fish, it's time to fire up the grill. If you plan to use a cedar plank, read all about grilling salmon on a cedar plank; otherwise, here are a few things to remember as you master grilling salmon.

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: If you're grilling salmon on a charcoal 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 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.

As you master how long to cook salmon on a grill, try our Test Kitchen trick to test the heat level. 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.

cooked filet of salmon with fork
Blaine Moats

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

When grilling salmon, you need to start with fresh salmon or thawed salmon that was previously frozen for the best results. 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 grilling salmon.

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.

If you're craving some grilled salmon recipe inspiration, try our Basil-Buttered Salmon or Grilled Salmon and Leeks. Be sure to add salmon to your grocery list for your next trip to put your new grilling salmon knowledge to work. You'll be pleased to find out just how easy it is.

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