Although there are several ways to enjoy a delicious salmon steak, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cooking method that perfects the fish as much as placing it on a hot grill. Salmon grilling is something every salmon enthusiast should know how to do, which is why we’ve put together this ultimate guide to making simple grilled salmon for everyone in your family to enjoy.
There’s something about grilling salmon that makes it more flavorful, especially with the right mix of herbs and spices that complement the smoky flavor you get from grilling. Put away the baking sheet, break out the grill, and put your grilling prowess to use on this popular fish.
How to Find the Best Fresh Salmon Steaks for Grilling
First, let’s define what “steak” is when it comes to fish. Many types of fish get cut into steaks, which is somewhat like a fish cutlet. You’ll also hear them referred to as a filet, but filets are different from steaks. While salmon filets are usually boneless and thin, a salmon steak has more meat and can be either boneless or bone-in. In short, a fish steak will often be a thicker cut of fish, making the salmon steak an excellent choice for grilling without getting dry.
You can grill farm-raised or wild-caught salmon; either one tastes delicious on the grill, but you might find wild-caught salmon more flavorful. If you’re going for the lowest fat content, choose wild-caught salmon, which tends to be lower in fat. This is also good news for the hot grill, which can flare up when fat hits the flames and cause your smoky flavor to turn to a burnt taste.
If you’re browsing the grocery store or butcher for your fish, here are a few tips to find the best salmon cuts:
- Press into the middle of the steak with your thumb. Does it bounce back rather than leave your fingerprint intact? If so, that’s one sign that it’s healthy.
- Smell the package. Salmon is fish, so it will smell a little fishy. But you shouldn’t get a strong odor from it that’s pungent and off-putting.
- Check the color. Fresh, healthy salmon has a bright orange-coral color, while older, lower-quality salmon may be paler in color. Usually, wild-caught salmon is more vivid in color than farm-raised.
- For grilled salmon, try to get steaks with the skin on. The skin crisps up nicely on a hot grill!
Can I Grill Frozen Salmon Steaks?
You can purchase frozen salmon steaks for use on the grill, but you can’t grill them in their frozen state. Not only can they cause dangerous grill flare-ups as they thaw and drip liquid, but there’s also a good chance that they won’t cook evenly.
If you do choose to buy frozen salmon steaks, make sure you’re buying quality ones. The steaks should be vacuum-sealed to prevent loss of flavor and moisture, keeping them as close to their original state as possible. They should also be brightly colored, just as you’d see fresh salmon in the butcher’s department.
Follow the package instructions for thawing. Usually, you can thaw it in the refrigerator overnight on a plate away from other foods.
Setting Up Your Grill for Success
Before you’re ready to start grilling, you should know how to prepare your grill to cook the very best salmon it can. You can use either a charcoal or gas grill, but it’s challenging to replicate the smoky flavor you get when you grill salmon on a charcoal grill. Still, it’s your choice.
Before starting, read this article on the most common grilling mistakes to avoid.
Whatever grill you choose, you’ll want to prep the grill by making sure the grates are cleaned well from your last grilling adventure. Then, add some olive oil to the grates to prevent sticking. You can even salt and pepper them for seasoning if you’d like. Then, fire up the grill and allow it to reach at least 450 degrees for a couple of minutes before putting your salmon on the grates.
Some people choose to cook salmon on a wood plank to both get extra flavor infused into the fish and keep it up off the grates to avoid sticking. This isn’t necessary, especially if you season the fish well before cooking and oil your grates and salmon. However, if you have an old grill with worn-down grates that have become nearly impossible to keep clean, it might be best to try a cedar plank salmon or a salmon in foil recipe, both of which we’ll talk more about below.
Salmon Steak Recipe: How to Make the Perfect Grilled Salmon Steak
Not sure how to grill salmon steaks without ruining them? Don’t worry – we’re going to walk you through the process of making salmon on the grill from start to finish. It’s not as complicated as you might think, but knowing the best techniques will help you get that perfect grilled salmon look and flavor.
Preheat the Grill
If there’s one thing you don’t want to forget for salmon grilling, it’s giving your grill plenty of time to heat to a medium-high temperature. Doing so keeps the fish from sticking to the grates and gets it the best, thorough cook. While you wait for the grill to do its thing, you can gather the ingredients for your recipe and your plates, tools, etc. to make sure everything is conveniently at your side.
Prep the Fresh Salmon
Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and place the steaks on paper towels. Use another paper towel to dry the top of each steak off. Then, brush each steak with a bit of olive oil or unsalted butter to keep it from sticking on the grill. Now is the time to toss some salt, pepper, and your other choices of seasoning onto both sides of each salmon steak.
Grill the Salmon
Place the salmon on the grill a few inches apart from each other to leave plenty of room for flipping with a spatula. If you chose salmon with its skin on, grill that side first. It keeps the fish held together nicely while it cooks. Close the lid as you prepare your salmon to help it cook through all the way.
Time and Temp It
Salmon doesn’t take much time on the grill – about 6 to 10 minutes total. When your timer reaches 4 to 6 minutes, check the grilled salmon steaks. When salmon’s ready to flip, it should hold together well. Flip it to the other side, cook for another 2 to 4 minutes, and set aside on a plate. The fish should reach 125 to 135 degrees on a digital meat thermometer. It will continue cooking for about five minutes off the grill before reaching a final temperature of at least 145 degrees.
When Do I Know My Salmon is Ready to Come Off the Grill?
Your salmon steaks should be pink and somewhat translucent before you attempt to take them off the grill. You can also put a spatula underneath one steak and lift it slightly. Is it holding itself together well? If so, it’s a sign that it’s ready to come off. If the fish is still falling apart, then it’s probably not cooked enough yet.
Salmon will continue cooking for a few minutes after you pull it from the grill, just like steak does. You’ll want to take it off the grill before it’s completely done to avoid cooking it too much. The final cooked temperature of salmon and other fish, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. So, you should remove the grilled salmon when it reaches about 125-130-degrees. Allow it to rest for another five minutes before rechecking the temperature with a digital meat thermometer to see if it reaches 145 degrees.
Helpful Tips for Grilling Salmon Fillets
We’ve talked about how to grill salmon steaks, but we also want to give you some pointers to help you make the perfect grilled salmon steak every time:
- Choose salmon with its skin on, if possible. The skin is an extra layer between your grill and salmon, which gives you additional protection from having the salmon stick to the grill. The heat of the grill will also crisp the skin beautifully when you drizzle a little olive oil or unsalted butter on the grates and salmon.
- If you buy packaged salmon, choose some with no liquid. Air-tight packaging is best for salmon you’ll cook on the grill. Salmon covered in liquid will get mushy instead of browning nicely on the grill. If your salmon does come packaged with some liquid, be sure to dry each steak with paper towels before cooking.
- Don’t grill salmon directly over heat. Salmon, like most fish, cooks quickly, so you don’t want it directly over heat where it might cook too rapidly and possibly burn.
- Use indirect heat and the grill lid. Take advantage of the grill’s lid while your salmon cooks. The cover keeps the heat inside the grill instead of releasing it into the air, helping it cook thoroughly and lock in natural juices.
Herbs and Spices That Pair Well with Grilled Salmon
Salmon has a flavor all its own that’s intensified on the grill. Still, tossing on a few herbs and spices can never hurt! Like most meats, grilled salmon gets even more flavorful with a little black pepper and salt added to both sides. Minced fresh ginger and garlic are also delicious choices depending on your recipe.
What other tasty additions can you sprinkle on salmon before you cook it? Try:
- Lemon pepper
- Mustard powder
- Sea salt
- Lemon zest
Sauce and Other Ingredients That Pair Well with Grilled Salmon
When it comes to a sauce for salmon, light and buttery is usually best. While a rich, creamy sauce can overwhelm your dish, a buttery, thin sauce can elevate it just enough for delicious flavor without outshining the salmon.
Think unsalted butter mixed with a little minced garlic or a sweet brown sugar and honey sauce drizzled over your salmon steaks. Honey mustard drizzle, lemon butter sauce, or a spicy lime chipotle sauce are perfect choices for grilled salmon steak.
Grilled Salmon Steak Recipe Ideas
Now that you know how to make flavorful grilled salmon like a pro, let’s dig into some recipe ideas for grilled salmon that are sure to become a hit for you and your household. You’ll be serving up some new lunch and dinner favorites in no time!
There are plenty of recipe ideas for marinated salmon, depending on the flavors for which you’re going. You can try an Asian-inspired recipe with soy sauce and brown sugar, a savory garlic and herb marinade, or a spicy recipe with cayenne pepper, chili sauce, and your favorite hot sauce. A marinade can make your salmon even more flavorful and help it crisp up on the grill.
Cedar Plank Salmon
Cedar plank salmon is popular with folks who love the deep, intense flavors they get with wood plank grilling. You place salmon steaks seasoned with salt and pepper on top of a cedar plank that sits on the grill after it begins smoking. Allow the salmon to grill slowly as it soaks up the flavors of the wood. Yum!
Grilled Salmon in Foil
Foil packet grilling is the perfect way to infuse flavors, help salmon cook evenly, and keep its juices locked in, especially when you don’t want to lose the taste of unsalted butter or lemon that you drizzle on top. You can also add some fresh lemon slices to the foil packets for a bright, citrusy finish.
Grilled Salmon Salad
Freshly grilled salmon is a perfect addition to a healthy steak – and there are so many options when it comes to a salad! Make a Mexican-style salad by seasoning your salmon steak with paprika, cumin, and chili powder and adding some fresh lime juice, avocado, and corn to the salmon-topped salad. Or, go a more traditional route by using your favorite salad additions and tossing in grilled salmon for a healthy protein boost.
Italian-Style Grilled Salmon Steaks
You might not think of salmon as an Italian dish, but it can be when you use delicious Italian seasoning to create an even more savory flavor. Add some rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper, and you have yourself a robust, Italian-style salmon. You can also marinate salmon steaks in Italian dressing for a tangy twist on the fish classic.
What Side Dishes Pair Well with Grilled Salmon?
Need the perfect side dish to go with grilled salmon? Try some of these tasty options that can round out your meal.
Salmon works well in salads, but salads are also excellent pairings for your grilled salmon meal. And feel free to experiment with all kinds of salads, from those that use quinoa, chickpeas, or farro as the primary ingredient to those focused on leafy greens. You can also try a homemade coleslaw recipe to go with your salmon.
Bread is great for a side dish or used as a base for sliced grilled salmon. Use a crispy, whole wheat artisan bread on which to spread cream cheese and top with thin slices of salmon. Add salmon to a pita or a wrap. Or, for a whole new flavor that’s sure to delight spice lovers, pair your salmon with this jalapeno cheddar cornbread recipe.
There’s nothing better to pair with salmon than fresh vegetables. The best part? You can grill many of them, too, giving them an excellent smoky flavor just like you gave to the salmon. Try brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes, or asparagus on the grill. Mashed potatoes, beans, and parmesan broccoli are also delicious options.
Heavy pasta side dishes can overwhelm salmon, so think of lighter ways you can enjoy pasta with your meal. For example, linguine or spaghetti pasta tossed with a little pesto can brighten up your dish while keeping it light. You can also try rice dishes like fried rice, herbed basmati rice, or rice pilaf with some fresh veggies tossed in.
Can I Reheat Grilled Salmon Steak?
Sure! Grilled salmon is safe to reheat – if you use safe reheating measures, of course. Like most meat and fish, it’s necessary to use a safe reheating method, whether that’s heating it up in the oven or microwave and checking the temperature to make sure it’s fully heated through. Your salmon should reach at least the same temperature it needs to be when you cook it for the first time, or 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best way to reheat salmon for a meal, in our opinion, is to bake it. Putting it on the grill again can dry it out, and it’s a time-consuming process to fire up a grill just to reheat food.
Instead, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Wrap the salmon in aluminum foil loosely to allow hot air to circulate while keeping the juices intact. Then, place the steaks on a baking sheet. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until it reaches 125 to 130 degrees and allow them to rest for five minutes before checking to see that the temperature comes up to 145 degrees.
Cook a Grilled Salmon Steak Successfully Every Time!
Grilling salmon isn’t tough once you’ve done it a few times. We hope this guide leads you to learning to cook flavorful, restaurant-quality salmon on the grill every time.
If you want salmon with unbeatable taste and quality, try Wild Caught Salmon from Chicago Steak Company. This delicacy is bred naturally in the wild, sourced from high-quality farms, individually wrapped and vacuum-sealed, and then flash-frozen to deliver to your door. Thaw them out and pop them on the grill for an effortless grilled salmon dinner everyone in the family will love.