Many people struggle with cooking salmon, frustrated by bland flavors and dried out fish, especially when grilling. This guide provides pointers on how to grill salmon on a gas grill, but feel free to use the same tips on a charcoal grill also, since success is all about how well you control your heat!
Getting the perfect salmon dish isn’t as tricky as it may seem if you follow a few simple steps. This article provides my tried and true recipe. It also provides flavor tips and other grilling ideas to make your taste buds pop each and every time.
What You Need
So much of what you need is dependent on your own personal taste. I’ll share what I used, and provide a few extra suggestions so you can pick what is best for your palette.
Charcoal or Gas Grill
You can easily cook over either type of grill. The important thing to keep in mind is you want to be grilling at a medium-high (450-500 degree) heat, so your grill must maintain this. I chose to grill on my propane grill since I discovered I was out of charcoal briquettes. Charcoal provides smokier flavor if that’s something you prefer. I usually do.
A Quality Cut of Salmon
Wild salmon is a bit more fishy and also more lean. Farm raised salmon tastes more mild and has higher fat content. Personally I like both, and being buried in a land-locked area, I always choose the freshest option available. Whatever you choose, you don’t want an overwhelming fishy smell when fresh; plan on cooking within 48 hours after bringing it home.
Olive or Grapeseed Oil
Olive oil and grapeseed oil both have a high smoke point and will help hold seasoning in pace and lock in moisture while you cook.
Cedar Plank or Tinfoil
I always prefer a cedar plank to cook on. These are found in your local store’s grilling section or wherever you find fresh fish. They are generally sold in pairs and provide plenty of cooking surface for large portions.
Cedar Planks for Salmon
High quality cedar planks perfect for grilling, at a veery reasonable price.
You can also use tinfoil to wrap the salmon (more on that below). You can even grill right on your grate. That said, you want your fish to hold as much moisture as possible, and the direct flame from the grill tends to suck that right out. Some people have perfected the grate method, but I simply have not been able to be successful (plus I LOVE the added flavor of a cedar plank).
Herbs and Seasoning to Taste
There are SO many flavor options you can use on salmon. I used a simple onion powder, pepper, chili lime infused salt–and later added a little garlic with fresh lemon; however, ginger, paprika, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, soy, brown sugar, rosemary, basil, and dijon mustard are prefect for salmon. Try them all!
Step 1: Soak Your Plank
Incredibly important step! You MUST soak your planks for a minimum of 15 minutes. I strongly recommend soaking for at least 1 hour, if not more.
Add hot water to start and weigh your plank down so it is fully submerged. You want it to get it water-logged to help keep your fish moist, so it doesn’t burn up when cooking.
Step 2: Remove Salmon Skin
While your plank is soaking, go ahead and prepare your fish. If the skin is on, you probably want to take it off. I only leave it on if I plan on grilling it directly on the grate to help hold in moisture and protect against direct flames.
To get the skin off cleanly, take a sharp fillet knife (or just a sharp knife) and work a corner off. It should peel easily while you slowly pull it away from the meat. If you see it sticking, work the edge of a knife under that area and continue.
Step 3: Season
Getting the skin off also helps to infuse the entirety of your fish with your seasoning. I like to let mine marinate for at least 20 minutes before grilling. In this case I added some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and my seasonings mentioned above and just let it sit covered in the refrigerator until I was ready to cook.
Step 4: Preheat Grill to 450 Degrees Fahrenheit
Once you are ready to get grilling, make sure your grill is at a medium-hot temperature. 450 degrees is just about right for grilling salmon in a timely enough manner that you don’t have to worry about it drying out.
Step 5: Season Cedar Plank on Grill
This is another optional step. If you want to infuse a strong, smoky flavor into your fish, first season your cedar plank; then lay it face down over the heat and let it begin to char for about 5 to 10 minutes; then flip it and lay your raw fish on it to start grilling.
Step 6: Grill Salmon
Once you are ready to grill, simply set the salmon on the plank and close the grill. You want it to cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, and should check to make sure your plank is not starting to burn around the edges. If you see it charring before the fish is done, spray it down with a bit of water.
You also can move your plank out of a direct heat by moving charcoal briskets to the sides of the grill, or by turning off one of your propane burners and placing the plank over that area. Just be sure to keep an eye on the process to avoid burning or overcooking.
Step 7: Check for Doneness
Your salmon should cook for approximately 20 to 30 minutes depending on how thick it is. It is usually very easy to tell when it is done as it will easily flake and appear more opaque. Pull the fish apart in the thickest spot to check for both ease of flakiness and color. But don’t wait too long for this or you may overcook it.
You can also check the internal temperature, and remove the fish when it is 125 to 135 degrees in the middle of the thickest cut. It will continue to cook once removed, so be sure to get it out the heat as soon as you see it’s done. It will cool quickly and should be served as soon as you can for the best texture.
Step 8: Enjoy!
Salmon can be served up with a wide variety of sides. Fresh grilled veggies, rice, and potatoes are popular options. It also works well in a salad, especially when you have leftovers!
I roasted up some parmesan crusted baby potatoes (made in my air fryer), and thoroughly enjoyed my meal!
Tips and Ideas
Curious to know how to cook salmon in foil on the grill? Basically, your foil replaces the cedar plank; you use it to help keep the heat from directly searing your salmon while also locking-in moisture. You can get a little more creative and actually wrap your fish in foil along with seasoning, lemon and onion slices, and any other spices or flavors.
Note that the salmon will cook faster if completely enclosed, and the meat will taste less smokey (which you may or may not appreciate). I suggest keeping the fish away from direct heat and only cooking it for about 10 to 15 minutes before checking to see if it’s done.
If you choose to cook directly on your grill grates, make sure they are well-oiled to avoid sticking and keep the skin on. Only put the fish skin down on a preheated grill. Never ever try to flip your salmon on the grill; you’ll most likely lose half your meal.
I have grilled MANY salmon this way with great results. The trickiest part with grilling anything is to avoid overcooking, so always stay close to your grill to avoid charring or drying out your fish. Don’t feel you need to stick to a single seasoning either; play with ideas that compliment your sides.
Planks are a great way to help keep heat from directly searing your fish, but they also help hold moisture and provide flavor. Tinfoil allows you to control the moisture and can help infuse your seasonings.
We’d love to hear of your favorite ways to grill salmon below, and, as always, please share!