grilled salmon
iStockPhoto

How to Grill Salmon Perfectly Every Time

This foolproof guide will have you mastering grilled salmon ASAP
grilled salmon
iStockPhoto

Salmon is one of the most versatile proteins around, and it’s one of the most popular fishes for any time of year for a few good reasons: It’s plentiful, it’s delicious, and it’s very easy to cook. Sure, you can always just stick it in the oven on a sheet pan or cook it on the stovetop, but if you really want to maximize salmon’s potential, the best way to cook it is on a grill. There’s something about those grill marks and the slightly crispy crust it develops that makes grilled salmon irresistible. But if you’ve never grilled salmon before (or have failed in previous attempts), we understand that it can be a little intimidating, even though it’s easy enough to grill up on a weeknight. Here’s a step-by step guide to the perfect grilled salmon, followed by some recipes for inspiration.

Choose either steaks or fillets

Choose either steaks or fillets
iStockPhoto

Both steaks (which are cut crosswise across the fish) and fillets (which are cut lengthwise) are equally ideal for the grill. We’re more partial to fillets, however, which are prettier than steaks and easier to eat.

Buy wild-caught salmon

Buy wild-caught salmon
iStockPhoto

Wild-caught salmon is more flavorful and easier to cook than the farmed stuff. It’s a little more expensive, but trust us, it’ll be worth it.

Slice it into individual servings

Slice it into individual servings
iStockPhoto

It’s much easier to grill individual portions of salmon than large slabs; the bigger the piece is, the harder it’ll be to flip. Before you get started, make sure the salmon is portioned into about 4-ounce servings.

Make sure to leave the skin on

Make sure to leave the skin on
iStockPhoto

Leaving the skin on will keep the salmon in one piece as it cooks. If you don’t like the skin, remove it after it’s done cooking.

Remove any pin bones

Remove any pin bones
iStockPhoto

Before cooking salmon, run your fingers along it to make sure it’s not hiding any pin bones. If you find any, simply pull them out with a pair of tweezers.

Pat the salmon dry

Pat the salmon dry
iStockPhoto

If the salmon hits the grill wet, it’ll create steam, which you don’t want. This goes for any meat you’re grilling, especially chicken.

Rub the salmon with oil

Rub the salmon with oil
iStockPhoto

This will make sure that the salmon doesn’t stick to the grill, and will ensure the end result is nice and crispy.

Season with kosher salt

Season with kosher salt
iStockPhoto

Make sure that it’s kosher salt you use in your seasoning; it’ll help prevent sticking and is also the best salt for cooking in general.

Clean and oil the grill

Clean and oil the grill
iStockPhoto

A clean, well-oiled grill is the best defense against anything sticking to it.

Heat the grill to medium-high

Heat the grill to medium-high
iStockPhoto

Make sure you give the grill plenty of time to reach the ideal temperature.

Put the salmon on the grill skin-side up

Put the salmon on the grill skin-side up
iStockPhoto

Make sure that none of your fillets are touching each other on the grill, and start them off on the skinless side.

Don’t touch it

Don’t touch it
iStockPhoto

Just like when you’re grilling steak, you’ll want to leave the salmon completely alone for at least a few minutes; if you start mussing with it, it’ll definitely stick.

Use a large metal spatula

Use a large metal spatula
iStockPhoto

Make sure you have a large metal spatula and a pair of tongs handy; they’ll be your best friends when it’s time to flip, and they’re indispensable grilling tools.

Know when to flip

Know when to flip
iStockPhoto

A well-oiled, well-heated grill will release the meat when it’s ready; be patient and don’t try to force the salmon off of the grill, or else it’ll fall apart. After about four or five minutes (depending on how cooked you want your salmon to be), gently slide the spatula underneath each piece (with the aid of tongs if needed) and flip.

Look out for white beads

Look out for white beads
iStockPhoto

If you notice little white beads of forming on the salmon, that means it’s starting to overcook. It's a totally harmless protein called albumin, by the way. 

Remove from the grill

Remove from the grill
iStockPhoto

After a few more minutes on the skin side, slide the tongs back under the fish and remove each piece from the grill. Six minutes total (for an inch-thick filet) should be perfect for medium-rare (about 125 degrees); if you prefer your salmon well-done, let it cook for about 10 minutes total, or until it reaches 145 degrees.

Let it rest

Let it rest
iStockPhoto

Like any piece of meat that has just finished cooking, it needs a few minutes of resting to let the temperature even out and the juices settle.

Grilled Salmon With Meyer Lemons and Creamy Cucumber Salad

Grilled Salmon With Meyer Lemons and Creamy Cucumber Salad
Amy Neunsinger

This recipe gives the salmon a bright hit of acidity from Meyer lemons, paired with a cool and creamy cucumber salad.

Click here for the Grilled Salmon With Meyer Lemons and Creamy Cucumber Salad recipe.

Whiskey Ginger Grilled Salmon

Whiskey Ginger Grilled Salmon
Dine & Dish and The National Salmon Council

Whiskey, ginger, garlic and teriyaki sauce kick the flavor of this grilled salmon into overdrive.

Click here for the Whiskey Ginger Grilled Salmon recipe.

Salmon Marsala

Salmon Marsala

Think chicken is the only protein that can get the Marsala treatment? Think again!

Click here for the Salmon Marsala recipe.

Ayesha Curry’s Spiced Salmon Mango Avocado Salad

Ayesha Curry’s Spiced Salmon Mango Avocado Salad
Ayesha Curry on behalf of the National Mango Board

A sweet and spicy dry rub lends a lot of flavor to the fish, and a tangy salad of arugula, mango and avocado makes this dish decidedly upscale, and perfect for summer.

Click here for Ayesha Curry’s Spiced Salmon Mango Avocado Salad recipe.

Atlantic Salmon Grilled With Fennel, Lime and Sumac

Atlantic Salmon Grilled With Fennel, Lime and Sumac
Mark Roper

Lime zest and sumac are bright and citrusy, and when balanced with chili powder and roasted fennel seeds, it makes for a perfect spice blend for salmon.

Click here for the Atlantic Salmon Grilled With Fennel, Lime and Sumac recipe.

Balsamic Salmon With Strawberries

Balsamic Salmon With Strawberries
Alaska Seafood

A topping of balsamic vinaigrette and a simple accompanying salad of kale and quinoa make this a hearty and delicious lunch or dinner.

Click here for the Balsamic Salmon With Strawberries recipe.

Herb Butter Salmon With Blistered Tomatoes and Green Beans

Herb Butter Salmon With Blistered Tomatoes and Green Beans
Lexi's Clean Kitchen

Butter makes everything better, and this one is loaded with garlic and fresh herbs. Roasted vegetables round out the dish.

Click here for the Herb Butter Salmon With Blistered Tomatoes and Green Beans recipe.

Glazed Sweet and Spicy Salmon

Glazed Sweet and Spicy Salmon
Shutterstock

This salmon gets a sweet, spicy and Asian-influenced kick from the addition of brown sugar, hot mustard, soy sauce and rice vinegar.

Click here for the Glazed Sweet and Spicy Salmon recipe.

Get creative!

Get creative!
Shutterstock

As mentioned, salmon is incredibly versatile and takes well to a wide variety of side dishes and flavor profiles, from sweet to spicy to herbaceous. It’s also a light and crowd-pleasing protein, perfect for summer grilling. Here are some more recipes that prove that salmon is the perfect summer food.

More From The Daily Meal:

How to Cook Grilled Chicken That Isn’t Boring

23 No-Cook Barbecue Sides

America’s 35 Best Seafood Shacks

25 Timeless Summer Dishes

50 Things You Need to Do This Summer