The Best Ways to Cook Salmon Fillets on the Grill

by Dominic Miller

Salmon lends itself to grilling better than most fish available at your local supermarket. Thanks to its relatively high fat content, salmon benefits from grilling much like beef, developing a smoky sear on the outside while sealing in its moisture. Unlike its leaner white fish cousins, salmon doesn't require much coddling to avoid falling through the grates of your grill. Following a few best practices will eliminate that worry altogether.

Don't Fear the Oil

Any grilled salmon recipe will benefit from liberally brushing olive oil directly on the fish and on the grates of the grill before you heat it. Do so as you're preparing your fillets according to your recipe but only after you've seasoned the fish. Not only does the oil help prevent sticking, it adds flavor and aroma. Use a light olive oil as opposed to expensive extra virgin oil. Light olive oil serves this purpose without adding much fat to your meal or overwhelming the flavor of the salmon.

To Skin or Not to Skin?

The decision as to whether to cook the salmon on its skin is often dictated by your audience's taste, but there are practicalities to consider as well. Should you remove the skin, you must grill the salmon on both sides to prevent burning. Grill the salmon top -- with the rounded-side down -- first and then turn the salmon to finish. Place the fillet diagonally across the grates and rotate to the opposite diagonal to create grill diamonds on top. Over medium heat, allow a total of three minutes on each side for medium doneness. Add or subtract about 30 seconds per side for medium-rare or medium-well.

Turn Your Grill Into an Oven

Grilling the salmon on its skin allows you to cook the fillet skin-side down to completion, resulting in a crispy bottom and moist top. Grill over medium-high heat for two minutes, until the bottom of the fillet appears quite firm. Reduce the heat to medium-low, close the grill's lid, and allow the salmon to roast, covered, until the top of the fillet is barely opaque -- or about five minutes. Use a metal fish spatula to remove the fillets from the grill. To serve the salmon skinless, place the spatula's edge just above the skin. The flesh will easily separate, and you can enjoy the benefit of that perfect sear without the skin.

An Oil Alternative

To eliminate additional fat from your cooking process, protect your fillets from the direct flame of the grill with an aluminum foil pouch. The foil deflects the heat but is thin enough that it allows for some searing effect. Place fillets skin-side down on squares of foil large enough so that each fillet can be loosely wrapped. Leave pouches open at the top. If you'd like a bit more flavor, add a crushed clove of garlic and a sprig of fresh dill to your pouch or whatever herbs suit you. Grill your pouches over medium-high heat for three minutes and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Roast the salmon covered for about five minutes for medium doneness.


  • On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
  • On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Lebensky

Photo Credits

  • Shizuka Blaskowsky/Demand Media

About the Author

Dominic Miller is a sommelier and restaurateur with more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, during which he has served as a consultant to several of America's most iconic restaurants and wineries. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Goddard College, where he studied economics and creative writing, and holds additional degrees in hospitality management and culinary arts.