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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This will make sure that the salmon doesn’t stick to the grill, and will ensure the end result is nice and crispy.
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.
A clean, well-oiled grill is the best defense against anything sticking to it.
Make sure you give the grill plenty of time to reach the ideal temperature.
Make sure that none of your fillets are touching each other on the grill, and start them off on the skinless side.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This recipe gives the salmon a bright hit of acidity from Meyer lemons, paired with a cool and creamy cucumber salad.
Whiskey, ginger, garlic and teriyaki sauce kick the flavor of this grilled salmon into overdrive.
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.
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.
A topping of balsamic vinaigrette and a simple accompanying salad of kale and quinoa make this a hearty and delicious lunch or dinner.
Butter makes everything better, and this one is loaded with garlic and fresh herbs. Roasted vegetables round out the dish.
This salmon gets a sweet, spicy and Asian-influenced kick from the addition of brown sugar, hot mustard, soy sauce and rice vinegar.
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.
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