How to Grill Salmon

Grilling fish has never been easier — here's how to make sure it doesn't stick.

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July 01, 2020

Tender, juicy salmon is perfect for grilling. While most fish are too lean and delicate to go directly on the grill, salmon is well-suited to high-heat cooking. But if you're not careful, it could stick or fall apart. Learn to do it perfectly every time with these tips.

Which Cut Is Best for Grilling?

A typical serving of salmon is 6 to 8 ounces per person. Look for steaks or center-cut, skin-on fillets. Center-cut pieces are thicker and more uniform, so they cook evenly. The skin will hold the fish together and protect it from drying out or sticking to the grill. It's easy to remove after grilling if you don't want to eat it.

Set the salmon on a paper towel-lined pan and pat dry. A dry surface speeds up the searing process and prevents sticking. If it's marinated, blot off as much marinade as possible before grilling. Then allow the salmon to come to room temperature for 20 minutes for more even cooking.

Prep the Grill

Meanwhile, start with a clean grill – while it's still cold, brush any food residue from the grates. Then lightly coat a bunched-up paper towel with olive oil. Using tongs, wipe the oil onto the grill grates. Don’t use too much—dripping oil can cause flare-ups and excess smoke.

Make two cooking zones: a hot zone for searing and another for lower, gentle cooking. For a gas grill, turn the burners on one side to high and the other side to low. If you're cooking with charcoal, push the hot coals onto one-half of the grill. The two zones will allow you to sear the salmon on the high-heat side, then transfer it to the cooler side to finish cooking. Close the lid and preheat for 15 minutes. This will burn off the oil and make the grill nonstick and very hot, about 500 degrees. For a charcoal grill, keep the lid vents open for air circulation.

Prep the Fish

Lightly rub the salmon with olive oil on both sides, and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Always season fish just before grilling to avoid moisture loss and flare-ups.

Open the grill lid and place the salmon, skin-side down, on the hot zone. Most of the cooking will take place on the skin side. Allow 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness.

Use a flat spatula to gently flip the salmon over onto the lower-heat side. If it sticks, give it another minute or two. When it's ready, it will release easily. (Note that you should never use tongs to flip delicate fish.) Cook for an additional 2 to 4 minutes on the other side, depending on the desired doneness.

The salmon will be medium-rare at 120 degrees F. Let it rest for a few minutes before serving to allow for some carryover cooking.

And there you go! Perfect grilled salmon, every time.

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