Grilled Salmon

4.95 from 18 votes
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This grilled salmon recipe is healthy and easy to prepare on a sizzling hot barbecue. Learn the tips for nailing beautiful char marks and achieving a tender, flaky texture. It’s a seafood dish that requires only a few simple seasonings and cooks in less than 10 minutes.

Grilled salmon fillets on a flaming barbecue.

One of the most straightforward items to cook on the barbecue is flaky, lightly charred, grilled salmon. The naturally oily flesh sears like a dream without becoming overly dry. A large fillet can be cut into smaller portions, making it a breeze to flip and cook in 10 minutes.

In culinary school, I learned to cook salmon skin-side up first. It might seem a little riskier, but gorgeous dark lines will appear when grilling as long as you give the fish time to cook. Once the fish flips, there is still time for the skin to get crispy. The silky fish combined with crunchy skin is a mealtime winner!

Cutting the fish

Person with a knife cutting a salmon fillet into smaller pieces.

For a 1 ½ pound salmon, cut into 4 to 5 equal size pieces, not larger than 3 inches. If the fillet is any bigger, it’ll be difficult to flip over with tongs without falling apart. If you prefer to keep the fillet whole, you might want to try my cedar plank salmon recipe.

Moisture is the enemy

Cover the salmon in paper towels to help remove excess moisture from the surface. If it’s not dry enough when it hits the grill, it will take more time to evaporate the water instead of instantly charring, which is what you want.

I find that chill in the refrigerator when wrapped in paper towels keeps the fish together when cooking with more success than if at room temperature.

Season the salmon

Brushing olive oil over pieces of raw salmon.

I keep it simple with olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Salmon has a rich taste, and I think just a squeeze of lemon is all that’s needed to pair with the smoky flavors created on the barbecue. Although if you want to take it further, marinade ingredients like soy sauce and brown sugar are a great option to experiment with.

What side do you grill first?

Start by grilling the salmon fillet flesh-side down. This ensures dark grill marks on the surface while still providing crunchy salmon skin if left on. Make sure to gently press the filet down for more contact with the grate.

Prevent sticking to the grill

The grill should be preheated to high heat, have clean grates, and you should apply oil to the grates before adding the fish. This will help create a nonstick surface. Make sure the surface of the salmon is dry before adding the seasonings and brush oil on both sides for extra insurance.

The key is to not move the fish once you’ve placed it on the hot grill grate. A crust should form, creating the characteristic dark char, and that is when the fish will naturally release from the grates. I find that the fish needs to be about 70% done cooking before you flip the salmon. If needed, carefully use a spatula to help unstick any stubborn areas when attempting to turn over. Alternatively, grill the salmon in foil.

Cooking time and temperature

Grilling salmon skin side up.

Heat the gas or charcoal grill to high, about 450 to 500ºF (232 to 260ºC), before adding the fish. The goal is to sear the salmon filet quickly on both sides without drying the flesh out. Grilled fish cooks very quickly and needs less than 10 minutes in a lid-closed barbecue, depending on the thickness.

How do you know it’s done?

Use a fork to see if the flesh flakes apart easily but is still moist towards the center. The fish should be opaque and slightly more translucent in the center. Test the thickest part of the salmon with an instant-read thermometer. Depending on the desired doneness, target 125ºF (52ºC) for medium-rare and 140ºF (60ºC) for medium.

Can I eat salmon skin?

Yes! Also long as the scales have been scraped off. I usually will use a spoon on the whole fillet to remove the scales before cutting. Simply run the spoon in the opposite direction of the scales, and they’ll flick off. If you’re lucky, some grocery stores already have them cleaned and ready to eat.

Sides I serve this with

More grilling recipes

Cooked salmon fillets with grill marks on the surface.

Recipe Science

Always season the grill

One of the most important steps in grilling, especially at high heat is to season the grill by oiling the grates. This technique creates a thin polymer barrier between the grate and the food to help prevent sticking.

Grilled Salmon

Easy grilled salmon recipe prepared on a sizzling hot barbecue. Learn the essential tips for nailing beautiful char marks without it falling apart!
4.95 from 18 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients  

  • 1 ½ pound salmon fillet
  • olive oil, as needed for brushing
  • kosher salt, as needed for seasoning
  • black pepper, as needed for seasoning
  • 4 lemon wedges

Instructions 

  • Cut and Dry the Salmon – Cut salmon into 4 equal portions, about 2 ½ to 3 inches wide. Wrap each fillet in paper towels, place it on a plate, and allow it to sit for up to 15 to 20 minutes to remove excess moisture.
  • Season the Surface – Brush each side of the fillets with olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Preheat the Grill – Set the grill to high heat, 450 to 500ºF (232 to 260ºC). Clean the grill grates by carefully greasing them with the oil using a folded paper towel until shiny and glossy, about 5 to 10 times.
  • Grill the Salmon – Place each fillet diagonal to the grill grates and flesh-side down. Gently press down for maximum contact. Cover and cook until the salmon can be easily lifted off the grill, about 4 to 5 minutes. Check at 4 minutes, then every 30 seconds until the fish no longer sticks. Use a spatula if needed to release the flesh from the grates.
    Carefully flip and cook until medium-rare (125ºF) or medium (140ºF) doneness, about 3 to 5 more minutes depending on the thickness.
  • To Serve – Transfer to a clean platter and serve with lemon wedges.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 247kcal (12%)Carbohydrates 2g (1%)Protein 34g (68%)Fat 11g (17%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Cholesterol 94mg (31%)Sodium 75mg (3%)Potassium 858mg (25%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 68IU (1%)Vitamin C 10mg (12%)Calcium 25mg (3%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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2 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Maurice Eddy says

    So pleased to see you grill the salmon skin side up first then flip it. Why do so many fancy named chefs on TV do it the ither way up? I prefer to under grill it so it finishes off on the plate.

  2. Chuck Fulanovich says

    Recently purchased some grill mats. No more fish sticking to the grates, easy to flip and grill marks are beautiful.