How to Grill Salmon

Everything you need to know, including how long to grill salmon.

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April 20, 2021

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 Type of Salmon 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.

How to Marinate Salmon

It isn’t necessary to marinate salmon before grilling it, but doing so can impart extra flavor and moisture to your finished fish. And you don’t have to let your salmon marinate for long – just 10 minutes will do. Make a simple marinade from a fat and acid in a 3:1 ratio, then add salt and an aromatic. We love Ina Garten’s Asian Grilled Salmon, which has hundreds of five-star reviews and leans on a marinade made from olive oil (the fat), Dijon mustard (the acid), soy sauce (the salt) and garlic (the aromatic). Drizzle the marinade on the salmon while you preheat the grill.

How Prep Salmon for the Grill

For even cooking, you'll want to let the salmon come to room temperature for 20 minutes before grilling.

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.

Right before placing it on the grill, 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.

How to Clean and Heat the Grill for Salmon

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.

How to Grill Salmon

1. 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.

2. Use a fish 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.

How Long to Grill Salmon

Salmon cooks quickly on the grill (usually no more than 12 minutes total), so don't walk away or get distracted. The salmon will be medium-rare when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest portion reads 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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