How To Grill Salmon Perfectly Every Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heat the grill to medium-high

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

Put the salmon on the grill skin-side up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the Whiskey Ginger Grilled Salmon recipe.

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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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