Yummly Essentials: The Best Way to Grill Salmon
Grilling salmon is fast and easy. With this simple grilling trick, you get the best-tasting, most tender and moist salmon ever. Add a fresh, zesty tomato relish, and your favorite new salmon recipe is ready in 30 minutes.
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Article and recipe by Sara Bir. Photographs by Brittany Conerly.
Do you love salmon, but have eaten grilled salmon that’s not so great? Salmon is healthy and easy to cook, but for the best grilled salmon, you can’t just plop it on a blazing-hot grill. The secret? Back off the heat a little for big payoffs. I’m going to walk you through how to grill salmon by indirect heat grilling so it comes out buttery and delicious.
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What is indirect heat grilling?
Most often at cookouts, people use direct heat grilling. That’s when you cook food right over the flames. But salmon is delicate and can very quickly dry out and overcook when it’s grilled that way. Indirect heat grilling to the rescue!
Indirect heat grilling (also known as two-zone grilling) is when you have flames on only one side of the grill and lay the food on the opposite side, which is cooler. Then close the lid. For much-loved barbecue favorites like ribs and beef brisket, hours of grilling low and slow over indirect heat transforms tough cuts of meat into something succulent.
Wait, low and slow salmon? Don’t worry — when you use indirect heat grilling for salmon, it takes mere minutes, not hours. The cook time for five-ounce fillets is 5 to 12 minutes, depending on how thick they are.
Why indirect heat grilling is best for salmon
Though salmon can stand up to other high-heat methods like broiling and sauteing, direct heat grilling tends to cook salmon too quickly, drying it out and even giving it off flavors. (The charring that makes a burger so great doesn’t do salmon any favors.) You still get grilled character when grilling salmon over indirect heat, especially if you’re using a charcoal grill.
Another issue with high heat: Ever had salmon that seeps out lines of white goop as it cooks? It’s totally safe to eat, but not very appealing to look at. That white goop is albumen, the same protein found in egg whites. It occurs naturally in salmon, too. When salmon cooks too fast over too high heat, it forces the albumen out of the flesh and onto the surface. A little bit on grilled salmon is normal, but a lot is a sign to tone the heat down.
More bonuses to grilling salmon over indirect heat are you don't have to watch it like such a hawk, as it's less likely to char, and there's no need to turn the fish.
How to grill salmon
For this recipe we went with center-cut salmon that’s at least 3/4 inch thick. Go for either Atlantic or wild salmon like Chinook (also called king) or Coho, which stand up well to grilling. You could also try it with wild sockeye fillets, which are more tapered on the ends. Start by seasoning the fish with salt and pepper. Then light the grill. Letting the fish sit out as the grill heats will lead to move even cooking. Other than that, you've got zero prep time with this recipe.
Prepare a bbq for indirect heat, aka two-zone grilling at medium heat (350° to 450°F). Preheating is different for gas or charcoal grills.
For a gas grill, preheat the grill with all the burners on, then turn off the center burner or one of the side burners. The area with no heat underneath it is indirect heat.
For a charcoal grill, fill a chimney halfway with charcoal, then light. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes for the charcoal to be ready; it’ll glow red and be coated with powdery white ash. Wearing heavy grill mitts, dump the glowing coals onto the firegrate so they cover only half the fire grate; the area with no coals is indirect heat. Set the cooking grate in place and let it heat 10 minutes.
As the grill heats, make my fresh relish with juicy tomatoes and salty olives and capers. Not your bag? Other options are salsa verde, mango salsa, or your favorite prepared pesto or tapenade. If you like it simple, just squeeze some lemon over the fish when it’s done.
If you’re using the Yummly Smart Thermometer, now is the perfect time to insert it into the fish, following the guide on the Yummly app.
Just before cooking, oil the grill grate to keep the fish from sticking. Use tongs to hold a small wad of paper towel slicked with a little vegetable oil and rub the towel over the grates on the cool side of the grill.
With a metal spatula, place salmon skin side down on the cooler, indirect heat side of the grill, opposite the flames. Then cover the grill. This makes the grill like an oven (leave the lid off, and your fish will take ages to cook).
Set a timer so you check the salmon after 5 minutes (or, using the Yummly Thermometer choose a preferred doneness, then track the progress on the app). Salmon fillets that are around 1 inch thick will cook in about 8 minutes, a lot faster than fillets that are twice as thick. If your salmon is 2 inches thick, it could take up to 12 minutes.
How to tell when salmon is done grilling
There are a few ways to know when salmon is done grilling. It’s easier with this recipe, since you don’t have to flip the fish and it's flesh side up.
The most obvious clue is how the fish looks; it should be opaque on top, not translucent. The second way is to lightly press the fish. It should easily flake apart. A thermometer is another trusty tool. If you’re not already using the Yummly Thermometer, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the fillet; the internal temperature should read 120℉ for medium-rare (pearly) or 130℉ for medium. The last trick is to slide a metal paring knife into the thickest part of the fillet. When you pull out the knife and touch it, cool means keep grilling. If it’s clearly warm, the salmon is ready.
Get the recipe: Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Olive Relish
Grilling salmon gently over indirect heat — opposite the flames — gives you buttery flesh, with no worries about dryness or possible harsh flavors that can happen when you grill salmon right over the flames. Top the salmon with a quick, Mediterranean-inspired relish of fresh tomatoes, briny olives and capers, and a touch of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.
No marinade is needed here, and the total time is only 30 minutes! Before you know it, you're all set for a summery dinner on the patio.
More ways to enjoy our favorite fish
High in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein, salmon also happens to be totally delicious. On Yummly you'll find more favorite ways to cook salmon such as grilled fish with brown sugar and soy sauce, salmon cooked on a cedar plank, Japanese crispy salmon, salmon with black pepper and kosher salt, and an easy lemon juice-Dijon salmon marinade. Keep exploring to get the most out of every bite!