How to Grill Salmon

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Seattle has apparently experienced only 58 minutes of summer so far this year, if by “summer” you mean a temperature exceeding 79 degrees.  Summer means more than that to me, of course, but I will concede that this has been a funny kind of summer in Seattle.  The kind of summer where we make a lot of soup and wading pool days get rained out and last week we packed both our fleece and down coats for a trip to the Olympic Peninsula and ended up wearing them both, one layered over the other.

So there haven’t been as many outdoor summer dinners as usual, and there haven’t been as many meals cooked on the grill.  But summer in Seattle means salmon, regardless of the weather, and a piece of grilled salmon is worth braving the cold for.  Or at least the not-80-degrees.

A few years ago we took a cooking class at Flying Fish, one of our favorite Seattle fish restaurants.  I highly recommend it if you’re local or visiting.  Chef Christine Keff is a great teacher and engaging hostess, and the classes include lunch and plenty of wine.  We left with the confidence to grill a salmon filet of any size and the ability to get it right—at least most of the time.   (This method also works well for halibut, our other summer grilling favorite.)

Grilled salmon:  First, get ready: Heat the grill well so the grates get hot.  Take an excellent piece of fish, preferably purchased from a fishmonger you know and trust, out of the fridge.  Rub it with olive oil, but wait to season it with salt & pepper until just before it goes on the grill.  When the grill is quite hot, use a long-handled tongs to quickly rub a tightly folded, oiled paper towel (we use canola oil) over the part of the grate the fish will go on.  You don’t want too much oil or it will flare up; you just want a light coat to prevent the fish from sticking.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and place it onto the grill with the skin side up.  Cover the grill.  Leave the fish alone until it lifts easily from the grill when nudged.  Use a long-handled spatula (or two, if you’re turning a whole side of salmon) to gently lift and flip the fish over, then admire the grill lines you’ve made before covering the grill again to let the fish cook on the second side with the skin down.

The beauty of this method is that once you have those nice grill lines on top of the fish, you can continue grilling it with the skin side down for as long as necessary to cook the fish to your liking.

The most foolproof method for checking the fish is to insert a small sharp knife at an angle into a thick part of the filet and turn it gently to peek inside.  If the fish flakes apart and the color of the flesh is uniform throughout the filet, it’s done.

Note: if you’re cooking a thick piece of fish, it will probably separate easily from the grill before it is cooked halfway through, so leave it a minute or two longer on the first side than you otherwise would.


9 thoughts on “How to Grill Salmon

  1. kristina

    Seattle sounds really lovely right about now…

    I should give this method a try, we usually grill fish on a cedar plank because it’s so easy. However, those beautiful grill marks do look appealing :)

  2. EverydayMaven

    Love and Hate this post. Love because it is about Salmon and I am about anything that is about Salmon in Seattle. It’s amazing.

    Hate because it is a painful reminder that Summer as I know and love it may not only not be possible up here in the PNW but probably isn’t going to happen.

  3. Erina

    There really is nothing better than a perfectly cooked piece of salmon and yet so many people butcher it! Thanks for the reminder of best tips and tricks.

  4. Hannah

    We are grilling salmon tonight and your tips are very appreciated. The sun is out…could it be we’ll have a warm evening? Fingers crossed. Have a great weekend!

    1. emmycooks Post author

      Living in Seattle makes you so grateful for the occasional warm evening, doesn’t it? Last night was so nice, and it looks like we have another one coming our way! Enjoy. :)

  5. Mick Wood

    We have a son stationed out of Everette, and hit Seattle at the time this was hitting the ‘net, oddly enough; we enjoyed our visit, and dined on other delicious things of the area. We’d driven from IL, where temps had been 102+ days before, and welcomed the reprieve! I’ll have to give this one a go; I’m a planker as well– gotta soak them well! I’d picked up a few bottles of various infused olive oils locally, and found that either black- or red-pepper flake oil worked great; also, putting a few splits of soaked cedar on the fire added more flavor. Delicious fish; sadly too rarely found fresh locally.


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