Grilling Salmon with Skin: Benefits, Preparing & Techniques

by Ella

Grilling salmon with its skin on is a delicious and healthy way to enjoy this popular fish. The skin helps to keep the salmon moist, adds a delightful crispness, and makes handling the fish on the grill much easier. Whether you’re a novice griller or a seasoned barbecue enthusiast, this comprehensive guide will provide you with all the knowledge and techniques you need to perfect the art of grilling salmon with skin.

Benefits of Grilling Salmon with Skin

Grilling salmon with the skin on offers several advantages that enhance both the cooking process and the overall dining experience.


Moisture Retention

Barrier Against Dryness: The skin acts as a barrier that helps retain the salmon’s natural moisture, preventing it from drying out during grilling.


Flavor Preservation: The skin locks in the natural oils and flavors, ensuring a rich and succulent taste.


Ease of Handling

Structural Integrity: The skin helps keep the delicate flesh intact, making it easier to handle the fish on the grill without it falling apart.


Crispy Texture: Grilling with the skin on creates a delightful crispy texture that contrasts beautifully with the tender flesh.

Nutritional Benefits

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health, brain function, and reducing inflammation.

Vitamins and Minerals: The skin contains additional nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, and selenium, which contribute to overall health.

Choosing the Right Salmon

The quality of your grilled salmon begins with selecting the right fish. Here are some tips to help you choose the best salmon for grilling.


Check the Smell: Fresh salmon should have a mild, ocean-like smell. Avoid fish with a strong, fishy odor.

Look for Firmness: The flesh should be firm and resilient to the touch. Avoid salmon with soft or mushy spots.

Inspect the Color: Fresh salmon should have a vibrant color, ranging from deep red to pink, depending on the variety.

Types of Salmon

Atlantic Salmon: Known for its mild flavor and tender texture, Atlantic salmon is widely available and a popular choice for grilling.

Sockeye Salmon: With its deep red flesh and robust flavor, sockeye salmon is a favorite among those who prefer a richer taste.

Coho Salmon: Coho salmon offers a balance between flavor and texture, making it a versatile option for grilling.

King Salmon: Also known as Chinook, king salmon is prized for its high-fat content and buttery texture, making it ideal for grilling.

Sustainable Choices

Wild-Caught vs. Farmed: Opt for wild-caught salmon for its superior flavor and sustainability. However, responsibly farmed salmon can also be a good choice.

Sustainability Certifications: Look for certifications such as MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) to ensure the salmon is sourced sustainably.

Preparing Salmon for Grilling

Proper preparation is key to achieving perfectly grilled salmon with crispy skin and tender flesh.

Cleaning and Patting Dry

Rinse Gently: Rinse the salmon fillets under cold water to remove any scales or debris. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Remove Pin Bones: Use a pair of fish tweezers or needle-nose pliers to remove any pin bones from the fillets.


Basic Seasoning: A simple seasoning of salt and pepper enhances the natural flavors of the salmon. Apply the seasoning evenly on both sides of the fillet.

Marinades: Marinating salmon adds extra flavor and tenderness. Popular marinades include combinations of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spices. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 2 hours to prevent the fish from becoming too soft.

Dry Rubs: For a bolder flavor, use a dry rub made from a mix of spices such as paprika, cumin, coriander, and brown sugar. Apply the rub generously to the flesh side of the salmon.

Bringing Salmon to Room Temperature

Preventing Curling: Allow the salmon to sit at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes before grilling. This helps ensure even cooking and prevents the skin from curling up.

Grilling Techniques

Mastering the right grilling techniques is essential to achieve perfectly cooked salmon with crispy skin.

Preparing the Grill

Clean the Grill: Start with a clean grill to prevent sticking. Use a grill brush to remove any residue from previous grilling sessions.

Oil the Grates: Dip a folded paper towel in vegetable oil and use tongs to rub it over the grill grates. This helps prevent the salmon from sticking.

Preheat the Grill: Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (about 375-400°F) for at least 10-15 minutes. This ensures even cooking and helps achieve a crispy skin.

Direct vs. Indirect Heat

Direct Heat: Place the salmon directly over the heat source for a crispier skin. This method is suitable for thinner fillets and cooking times of 6-8 minutes per side.

Indirect Heat: For thicker fillets, start by searing the skin side over direct heat for 2-3 minutes, then move the salmon to indirect heat to finish cooking. This method prevents burning and ensures even cooking.

Grilling with Skin Side Down

Skin Side Down First: Always start grilling with the skin side down. This allows the skin to crisp up while protecting the delicate flesh from direct heat.

Avoid Flipping Too Soon: Let the salmon cook for about 70% of the total cooking time with the skin side down before flipping. This helps develop a crispy skin and makes flipping easier.

Using a Grill Basket or Cedar Plank

Grill Basket: A grill basket is a handy tool that makes flipping and handling salmon easier. It also helps prevent the fish from sticking to the grill grates.

Cedar Plank: Soak a cedar plank in water for at least 1 hour before grilling. Place the salmon on the soaked plank and grill over direct heat. The plank imparts a subtle smoky flavor and keeps the fish moist.

Cooking Times and Temperatures

Understanding cooking times and temperatures is crucial to avoid overcooking or undercooking salmon.

Thickness of Fillet

Thin Fillets: For fillets that are about 1 inch thick, grill for 6-8 minutes per side.

Thick Fillets: For fillets that are 1.5-2 inches thick, grill for 8-10 minutes per side. Use indirect heat after the initial sear.

Internal Temperature

Medium-Rare: The internal temperature should reach 125°F. The flesh will be slightly translucent in the center.

Medium: The internal temperature should reach 130-135°F. The flesh will be opaque but still moist.

Well-Done: The internal temperature should reach 140°F. The flesh will be fully opaque and firm.

Visual Cues

Opaque Flesh: The flesh should be opaque and easily flake with a fork.

Crispy Skin: The skin should be golden brown and crispy.

Enhancing Flavor with Additional Ingredients

Adding complementary flavors and ingredients can elevate your grilled salmon to new heights.

Lemon and Herbs

Lemon Slices: Place lemon slices on top of the salmon fillets before grilling to add a fresh, citrusy flavor.

Fresh Herbs: Add sprigs of fresh herbs such as dill, thyme, or rosemary on top of the salmon or in the cavity if grilling a whole fish.

Glazes and Sauces

Honey Glaze: Brush a mixture of honey, soy sauce, and garlic on the salmon during the last few minutes of grilling for a sweet and savory finish.

Teriyaki Sauce: Marinate the salmon in teriyaki sauce before grilling and brush additional sauce on during grilling for a rich, umami flavor.

Pesto: Serve grilled salmon with a dollop of homemade or store-bought pesto for a burst of fresh, herbal flavor.

Toppings and Garnishes

Avocado Salsa: Top the grilled salmon with a fresh avocado salsa made with diced avocado, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice.

Mango Chutney: A sweet and tangy mango chutney pairs beautifully with the rich flavor of grilled salmon.

Toasted Nuts: Sprinkle toasted almonds, pine nuts, or walnuts over the salmon for added texture and flavor.

Serving Suggestions

Pairing grilled salmon with complementary sides and beverages can enhance the overall dining experience.

Side Dishes

Grilled Vegetables: Serve the salmon with a medley of grilled vegetables such as asparagus, bell peppers, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes.

Quinoa Salad: A light and refreshing quinoa salad with cucumber, feta, and a lemon vinaigrette makes a perfect accompaniment.

Rice Pilaf: A flavorful rice pilaf with herbs and toasted nuts adds a comforting touch to the meal.


White Wine: Pair grilled salmon with a crisp white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Pinot Grigio.

Light Beer: A light beer such as a pilsner or wheat beer complements the rich flavor of salmon without overpowering it.

Sparkling Water: For a non-alcoholic option, serve sparkling water with a splash of lemon or lime for a refreshing beverage.

Tips for Perfect Grilled Salmon

Here are some additional tips to ensure your grilled salmon turns out perfectly every time.

Avoid Overcrowding the Grill

Space Between Fillets: Leave enough space between salmon fillets to ensure even cooking and to make flipping easier.

Grill in Batches: If grilling for a large group, cook the salmon in batches to maintain control over the cooking process.

Use a Meat Thermometer

Accurate Temperature: Use a meat thermometer to accurately gauge the internal temperature of the salmon, ensuring it is cooked to your desired doneness.

Avoid Guesswork: A thermometer eliminates the guesswork and reduces the risk of overcooking.

Let the Salmon Rest

Resting Time: Allow the grilled salmon to rest for a few minutes after removing it from the grill. This helps the juices redistribute throughout the fish, resulting in a more flavorful and moist final product.

Cover with Foil: Lightly cover the salmon with aluminum foil while it rests to keep it warm.

Experiment with Flavors

Creative Marinades: Experiment with different marinades and rubs to discover new flavor combinations that complement the natural taste of salmon.

Seasonal Ingredients: Incorporate seasonal ingredients such as fresh herbs, citrus fruits, and locally sourced produce to enhance the freshness and flavor of your dish.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these common pitfalls to ensure your grilled salmon turns out perfectly every time.


Monitor Temperature: Use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature and prevent overcooking.

Visual Cues: Pay attention to visual cues such as opaque flesh and easy flaking to determine doneness.

Sticking to the Grill

Preheat and Oil: Preheat the grill thoroughly and oil the grates to prevent the salmon from sticking.

Skin Side Down: Start with the skin side down to create a barrier that prevents sticking.

Uneven Cooking

Even Thickness: Choose salmon fillets that are evenly thick to ensure even cooking.

Indirect Heat: Use indirect heat for thicker fillets to cook them evenly without burning the outside.

See Also: Salmon Recipes in the Oven: Techniques, Tips & Top Recipes


Grilling salmon with the skin on is a rewarding culinary technique that results in a delicious and healthy meal. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you can achieve perfectly grilled salmon with crispy skin and tender, flavorful flesh. From selecting the right salmon and preparing it for the grill to mastering cooking times and enhancing flavors, every step is designed to help you create a memorable dining experience. Experiment with different marinades, glazes, and side dishes to discover your favorite combinations and enjoy the versatility and taste of grilled salmon.



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