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One type of food that takes on a whole different, mouth-watering flavor profile when grilled is fish. This is especially true for salmon. Not only is grilled salmon absolutely delicious but it is also very healthy for you. Plus, salmon’s density is perfect for high-heat grilling.
But, when it comes to grilling salmon, there are some important things to keep in mind to ensure that you end up with a good result. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered there!
In this article, we’ve put together the most important pro tips on how to grill salmon to a flavorful and juicy result every time (even if you’re fairly new to grilling!):
If you’ve read any of our other blogs on tips for grilling specific items, you may have noticed a trend with the first tip. But it rings true with anything you are cooking on your grill or smoker. The higher quality you start with, the better result you’ll end up with.
So for salmon, you want to consider the specific type and if it is wild-caught or farm-raised. There is a wide variety of different types of salmon, which all range in flavor and how well it holds up on the grill.
The “premier” salmon in both taste and size is King salmon (aka Chinook), with its high fat content and succulent taste. But, this type will also be the most expensive. If you don’t want to splurge on the King variety, sockeye is another good option. Sockeye salmon is low in sodium, full of omega-3 fatty acids, and rich in distinct salmon flavor.
Wild-caught salmon will have a more robust flavor and will be leaner. This is because wild salmon have to work harder for their food than farm-raised salmon. Like any type of protein, higher fat fish will have a more mellow and buttery taste. So, if you or those you are feeding are more mild fish fans, a high-quality farm-raised option would be the way to go. No matter if you get wild-caught or farm-raised, fresh and never frozen salmon is your best choice.
Another important factor is the thickness of the filet. Ideally, you want to get filets that are between 1-inch and 1.5-inches. Center-cut salmon filets are usually a great choice because they will be thicker and more uniform.
When selecting your salmon, besides considering the specific type of salmon, you also want to go with skin-on filets. The skin will help hold the salmon together and protect it from sticking to the grill or drying out. Plus, when grilled, the skin takes on a delicious crunch. But, if you don’t want to eat the skin, it's easy to remove after it comes off the grill.
Taking your salmon right out of the cold refrigerator and putting it on the grill can cause it to cook much faster on the outside before the inside is even close to being done. So, for even cooking, you need to let the salmon sit out at room temperature for about 20 minutes before you are going to grill it.
Once you are ready to start grilling, make sure to set the salmon filets on a paper towel-lined plate or pan and pat them dry first. This will speed up the searing process and help prevent them from sticking to the grill grates. If you have marinated the salmon, blot away as much marinade as you can before grilling.
Make sure to brush both sides of the salmon with an even coating of oil to further prevent them from sticking. It is important to use a neutral-flavored oil that has a high smoke point, like avocado oil or grapeseed oil. Light olive oil is another good option as well.
One of the best things about grilled salmon is its distinct, natural flavor. So you don’t want to mask that with a ton of seasonings. Remember to go light and even just a pinch of salt and pepper on each side is enough. Season the salmon after you have oiled both sides.
*Bonus tip: Always season fish just before you put it on the grill to prevent moisture loss and the chance of a flare-up.
A two-zone cooking setup is ideal for grilling salmon. You want to have a hot, direct heat zone for searing and another indirect, lower heat zone for slower, gentler grilling. The two zones will enable you to properly sear the salmon on the direct heat side and then transfer it to the indirect heat side to finish cooking.
If you are cooking on a charcoal grill, just make sure all of the hot coals are on one half of the grill. For a gas grill, simply turn the burners on one side to low and the other side to high.
Before your salmon goes on the grill, you need to let the grill properly preheat to 450°F. This is one of, if not the most important tip to ensure success when it comes to how to grill salmon. A smoking hot grill will ensure that the fish doesn’t stick to the grill and you will easily be able to lift it away when it’s done cooking.
Start grilling your salmon skin side down. The skin provides a layer of protection between the grill grates and the flesh of the fish as it cooks. So cooking it skin side down first will allow you to cook it a majority of the way through and help it hold together better when you flip it over.
Don’t panic, the fish may stick to the grates at first, but after roughly 6 to 8 minutes, the skin will become crisp and release naturally, allowing you to easily flip the filet.
You want to keep the lid of the grill closed while grilling salmon. This will enable you to maintain a more consistent cooking temperature and create a very similar environment to an oven.
Don’t try to keep flipping the fish throughout the cook. To ensure that the fish holds together without falling apart or sticking to the grill grate, you are only going to gently flip it once after it is about 90% of the way cooked. You are only flipping it to the non-skin side to brown it for the final 1 to 2 minutes.
Salmon cooks quickly on the grill so make sure you are paying attention to it! To avoid overcooking it, you want to aim for a final internal temperature of 140°F. But don’t forget about carry-over cooking. The salmon will continue to cook for a few minutes once you’ve pulled it off the grill.
To prevent the fish from overcooking, transfer it to a plate when it has reached an internal temperature of 125°-130°F. Then let it rest for a few minutes to reach the final desired temperature before serving.
Cedar wood planks provide a perfect surface to grill salmon on. Not only do they help prevent the fish from sticking to the grill but they also impart that delicious wood-smoke flavor into the salmon. You’ll get even more of that charred wood flavor than you would just cooking the salmon directly on the grill.
Check out our article on grilling on wood planks for more info on this method and how to do it properly.
Cooking mouth-watering grilled salmon is much easier than some people may think. By following the tips we covered above, you’ll be well on your way to knowing exactly how to grill salmon perfectly every time. The most important things to remember are to start with quality salmon, preheat the grill until it is smoking hot, and use two-cooking zones.
Once your salmon filets come off the grill, serve them up with a slice of lemon, a cucumber dill or tartar sauce, some grilled asparagus or another veggie, and maybe even a glass of Pinot Noir for a delicious finish.
Now, if you want a step-by-step grilled salmon recipe, check out our online video/class for Sweet Heat Cedar Plank Salmon Bites for only $7.98!
Do you know of another tip for how to grill salmon that we should add to the list? Plan on grilling salmon soon? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!
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