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How to Grill Salmon

If you want to grill salmon, you should meet my beloved. Well, since you can’t do that, the next best thing is to get his tips here.

When I married him, my beloved had just a few “tried and true” recipes. Linguini and clam sauce, burritos, and scrambled eggs were his mainstays.  He has expanded his repertoire a bit in the decades since, thanks mainly to our Weber kettle grill. The imperial “we” use the barbecue year round, even in the rain and occasionally when it is snowing. 

Although his burgers are amazing, my absolute favorite husband-prepared dinner is grilled fish and vegetables. When it comes to grilling at our house, I am the sous-chef. Scampering around to find ingredients or to fetch the right size plate, I watch with admiration as he moves the coals, places the food on the grill, and watches over it.

Recently I asked the grill-master to distill his techniques for making perfect salmon filets into some useful tips for a beginner. The result is this 5-step guide on how to grill salmon.  Although I can’t promise that your salmon will taste as good as his, you’ll have a good start toward making an incredible and healthy grilled dinner.

How to grill salmon - tips for perfect salmon every time.

5-Steps to Incredible Grilled Salmon

  • Start with good quality salmon filet. A filet is a long, thin piece from one side of the salmon that has the skin left on its outer side. It has no bone, unlike thicker individual salmon steaks that are cut through the fish horizontally. We prefer wild-caught (as opposed to farm-raised) salmon, for environmental and health reasons, but cook ethically farm-raised fish when wild salmon is not available. The most common types we find are Sock-eye, Coho, and King or Chinook salmon – I like them all. Check this description of the various salmon varieties. We buy our filets at Costco and find that store’s quality and price to be unbeatable in our neighborhood. Whole Foods and our local fish market also have good quality salmon filets, but their prices tend to be higher, so it’s worth the trip to Costco. Although it may be heresy, we do sometimes cut and freeze a portion of a large filet and find the quality of the defrosted filet, grilled later, to be fine.

  • Preparing the fish. Oil the skin of the filet by putting 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on a long plate and laying the filet on the oiled plate, skin side down. If the filet is too long for the barbecue, cut it in half, so that each piece can lay flat (skin side down) on the grill. All that you need to put on the top side of the fish while it is on the plate are salt, pepper and chopped fresh dill. (If you can’t get fresh dill, sprinkle the top with dried dill, but it’s not nearly as good as fresh.) Move the filet around a bit, so the skin is fully oiled.

  • The grill. These tips are for a charcoal grill with a top such as this Weber kettle. They probably work with a gas grill, but you will have to adjust the timing and make sure that the grill does not get too hot. This grill method will not work without a top.  For a charcoal grill, after lighting, let the coals get white hot.  Then cut off almost all the air at the bottom by closing almost fully the air vent underneath the coals. Notice that you don’t need a fancy, expensive grill to make great food.

  • Beginning the grilling process. Slide the filet(s) onto the grill skin side down. Do not move or flip the filets. If there is oil left on the plate, drizzle it over the top of the filet(s). Immediately cover the grill, with the air vent on the cover left open. (If you close off all the air to the fire, it will go out.)

  • Cooking the fish. The filet should take about 5-10 minutes to cook once you cover the grill. You may need to check it once or twice, and definitely don’t go too far away from the grill while the fish is cooking. The filet is done when a small piece will flake off if you flick it with a fork. Slide the fully grilled fish onto a clean plate and serve with lemon.

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