Guide to Perfect Salmon on the Grill

Guide to Perfect Salmon on the Grill

Photo by Katie Seldon for MLive.com.

Step-by-step instructions to help anyone grill like a professional.

Salmon filets are ideal for grilling. This guide from our grillmasters should help you achieve great results every time.

Step One: Salmon Filet Selection

Different people prefer the taste of different salmons. Copper River Salmon has a fanatical following and is quite delicious when available. Tasmanian Salmon can be flown in fresh overnight from Hawaii. Coho Salmon has its own distinctive flavor. Atlantic salmon has the most melow flavor and buttery texture, but that is largely because it has been farm raised. The bottom line is... If you know what you like, stick with it. If you don't, experiment.

Select skin-on salmon filets from the head end of the fish. Good, thick filets are best. You can also take advantage of the tapered nature of filets to suit the tastes of your guests. Cook the thick cuts and thinner cuts for the same amount of time, serving the thinner filets to your guests who want their fish "cooked all the way" and the thicker cuts to the salmon lovers who want their fish cooked to medium.

Try to avoid buying the tail-end filets as they are often too thin to grill well.

Step Two: Preparing the Salmon

Leave the skin on and pull out any obvious bones. Rinse the filets under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Cut the salmon into serving-size pieces at this point.

Place the filets skin-side down on a work surface or platter. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the salmon. Brush lightly with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

The salmon filets should be brought to room temperature before grilling. Let them sit, seasoned, for about twenty minutes before the grill is ready.

Step Three: Grilling the Salmon

Prepare the grill for direct grilling at 500ºF. once hot, clean the grill surface with a sturdy grill brush.

For filets that are 1-inch thick, we grill the salmon for a total of about 8 minutes over a 500ºF fire. This should result in fish that is cooked medium to medium-well.

Place each filet on the grill grate directly over the fire with the skin-side up. After about 5 minutes, the edges of the meat should begin to pull away from the grill. The salmon will release from the grill when it is ready to turn over. A few exploratory lifts at the edges should tell you whether or not it is ready. If you start with a hot grill and room temperature fish with a little oil, the fish should not stick to the grate. If it is sticking, then it likely isn't ready to flip over.

Use a thin-bladed turner to flip the fish over at the appropriate time. After grilling the second side for about 3 minutes, the fish should be cooked to medium-well. The meat will flake easily under gentle pressure from your finger when it is done. Slide the turner between the skin and the meat, separating the fish from the skin. Remove the fish from the grill leaving the skin behind.

The salmon should be opaque and flaky with a nice crispy layer on the outside.

Grilling Salmon on a Kalamazoo Hybrid Grill

Salmon and other fish filets can taste great off a gas grill, but they are even better when cooked over a wood or charcoal fire. Charcoal provides a drier heat than a gas flame, so you get a better Maillard reaction on the surface — amazing texture and flavor from the caramelized proteins and amino acids. A wood fire is perfect for fish because the meat can quickly pick up a subtle, smoky flavor.

Salmon filet does not cook for very long, so you don't need a mature fire or much fuel to do the job. Place a thin load of charcoal in the Hybrid Fire Grilling Drawer or a hardwood tree limb (or thin slpit log) in each slot of the drawer. Fire up the Dragon Burners below the drawer and preheat the grill while starting the charcoal or wood fire. For charcoal, wait until the coals are glowing, and then turn the burners down to LOW. For wood, wait until the flames are small and you can see ash beginning to form. Turn the burners to LOW to supplement the heat of the small wood fire. Follow the instructions (at left)  to cook the fish over the fire.

A Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill makes it easy to add wood flavor and charcoal heat characteristics while still enjoying the convenience of a gas grill.