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How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com

The Simplest Way to Make Crispy-Skin Grilled Salmon

Wild salmon is precious. While I’ve known that in the abstract, it’s all hitting home while reading Langdon Cook’s acclaimed new book Upstream.

Generally I’m delighted to find flash-frozen wild salmon at a local grocer. But last week while vacationing on Vashon Island, I indulged in fresh sockeye salmon filleted to order.

Then, when I returned home, the headline on our local newspaper read, “Chinook Salmon Harvest Cancelled this Year.” {That’s the species marketed as “king.”}

Precious has a taste. The fish we ate around the fire that night on Vashon was achingly good. Cooked just to succulent doneness with a crispy skin.

This, in itself, is a rare thing.

Saving Salmon Skin

Have you ever had salmon served with the skin as browned and crisp as a potato chip?

I learned to skin salmon so that customers at a high-end restaurant where I cooked didn’t have to be bothered by food waste at the table. I, too, habitually scraped off or avoided fish skin.

But I haven’t skinned a salmon for my own eating in years.

I’m not sure when it happened. Was it the fact that sushi restaurants were charging for salmon skin rolls? Or that I read about the omega 3s stored in the fishes’ skin?

Or when I cooked a skin-on frozen salmon fillet in a hot pan and then took a bite of the tender flesh with the shattering skin?

Grilled salmon with an extra\-crispy skin and grilled lemon at lynnecurry.com.
A very crispy and deliciously char-grilled skin-on salmon.

However it happened, I became one of the converted. Crispy-skinned salmon is similar to eating fried chicken: two textures, more flavors. Excitement ensues.

Skin-On Grilled Salmon

A few weeks ago, I taught a grilling class for a fun group of women. Among other things, we grilled flat breads, lettucebeef, chicken and shrimp.

But no fish. Fin fish, like halibut and salmon, are more in the intermediate griller’s range. Not because it’s difficult by any means, although most people do overcook it.

It’s more the general uncertainty–when is it done?, people worry. So, I believe it just takes the confidence of a griller with a bit of experience.

But you can’t get any experience if you don’t try. And this method is the simplest because it involves no flipping. That’s right, you won’t have to worry about sticking or fish acrobatics of any kind.

How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com
High-quality fish needs only good seasoning and attentive heat application.

There are only three components required to grill salmon:

  1. Fresh or flash-frozen wild-caught salmon {while others may promote farmed fish, I am firmly committed to preserving sustainable salmon fisheries.}
  2. Seasoning, by which I mean salt. Preferably sea salt. My current favorite is Jacobsen’s kosher salt farmed on the Oregon coast.
  3. Medium-high heat from any source, but a grill–if you have one of any make or kind–is ideal.

Optional extra: That funny spatula in the photo is a fish spatula {also called a “fish turner”}. It is offset with a very thin blade, which makes it very practical for fish and many other uses.

How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com
The white albumin (protein) that appears is an indication of doneness.

A Simple Salmon Supper

As for accompaniments to the salmon, I admit to being a purist. No honey-mustard marinades or mango salsas allowed when the fish is this good. Instead, I reach for one of these simple garnishes:

And of course, eat every bite with some of that crispy skin!

Nettle butter melted onto grilled salmon and a nettle butter recipe at lynnecurry.com.
Grilled salmon fillet served with nettle butter and grilled asparagus.

To make dinner even easier, grill some vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Asparagus, sliced zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, portabella mushrooms, carrots or even lettuce. {Here’s a ranking of the 12 best candidates.} When wild grilled salmon is on the menu, there isn’t much else you need.

Just add some good friends, a chilled bottle of wine and enjoy this easy meal in your own great outdoors. Summer is on.

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How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com
5 from 1 vote
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Crispy Skin Grilled Salmon

This is a basic grilling method for producing just-cooked salmon with a crunchy skin for your eating enjoyment. Or, you can remove the skin easily after grilling for those who choose not to partake. Use this to practice and gain confidence in your own grilling expertise. 

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Author Lynne

Ingredients

  • 1 salmon fillet, skin on wild whenever possible
  • kosher salt
  • 1 medium lemon, sliced

Instructions

  1. Preheat your gas grill or light a medium-hot charcoal fire (350-375 degrees F). When ignited and heated, put the grill cover on for about 15 minutes with the cooking grate. Remove the cover and scrape the grate thoroughly clean.

  2. Remove the fillet from the refrigerator and place it on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the salt evenly all over the fish.

  3. Place the fillet skin side down over the hottest part of the grill. Arrange the lemon slices around the fish. Cook until the bottom of the fish starts to change color, about 5 minutes. Turn the lemon slices to grill the second side and remove to a platter when grill marks appear.

  4. Place the grill cover back on to retain the heat (turning the grill into an oven) and cook the topside of the fish. Check the fish in 3 minutes. Some of the white albumen will begin to appear, but it will still be less cooked at the thickest part. 

  5. At 125 degrees F, the salmon will be medium-rare, which some people prefer. If you are not one of them, return the cover and cook the fish for 2 to 3 minutes more. Don't be shy about using the spatula to cut into the fish if you are at all uncertain.

  6. The flesh will be firm to the touch and there will more of the white albumin visible all over the fish. At 135 degrees F, the fish is completely cooked, but it is best to remove the fish at 130 degrees F--or a minute or two before completely cooked--because the residual heat will finish the cooking off the grill.

  7. At this point the skin will be very crisp, nearly charred in places, and release easily from the grate. Slice a spatula underneath the fillet all around just to check. Then, with a second spatula, lift the fish onto the platter with the lemon slices and serve with your chosen accompaniments. (If using the flavored butter, as pictures, place pats of butter along the filet while it's still hot.)

Recipe Notes

Many people grill salmon with olive oil. I don't find it necessary, except when I want to add that flavor, because the fish is so deliciously fatty on its own. And, sticking is never an issue with this method. That said, go ahead and oil the fish, if you'd like.

Comments

  1. Wow! This is a nice change as we always remove the skin when grilling. Will definitely try to prepare it skin-on. Thank you for the wonderful tip.

    1. Thanks, Sheila. I hope it makes the whole grilling operation more streamlined for you. I’d love to know if you end up liking to *eat* the skin, too.

  2. chris kye

    Thank you for sharing!
    Should the grill cover be on for the first 5 minutes?
    Do you flip the fish over at 5 minutes?
    Thank you, CK

    1. For the first 5 minutes, the grill cover is OFF; then you put the grill cover ON to finish cooking. The fish cooks on the skin side down the whole time. Thanks for your questions, and hope this method works as well for you as it does for me!

  3. Clara Perez


    Best salmon I ever made! Thx for sharing.

    1. Love hearing that, Clara! Thanks for the five-star review.

  4. Don

    Does this also work for two-day pre-salted (Japanese style) fillets?

    1. Yes, it should work so long as the fillet is nice and dry and you watch the timing attentively. Because of the salting process, the texture of the fish does change, so trust your observations for when it’s done to your liking. I’m definitely going to try this method on my next fillet.

  5. Jewels


    I just tried this!!! It was so good and crispy. I oiled my grate before. No sticking at all. Added butter, garlic and green onions on top when it was almost done! Thanks

  6. ENorth


    I used Norwegian salmon and I had to remove the salmon before it was done, as the fat caught fire, and finish it in the pan. It was good and the skin was crispy though… Anyway, everything went according to plan until that moment. What do you suppose went wrong?

    1. Unfortunately, flare ups can happen at any time when cooking over live fire. It’s simply a matter of the fish oils dripping on the fire, and is unpredictable. If it happens again, you just slide the fish to another part of the grill until the flames die down. I’m glad to hear that you still had a good fish with crispy skin!

  7. Shirley

    First time grilling Salmon. I usually use stove top to start to crisp my skin and then finish in the oven. However, that was when I lived in Alaska. Living where it is 100 outside, I wanted to try and grill the salmon. It turned out great. Including crispy skin.

    1. Congratulations, Shirley! So happy to hear that.

  8. Wayne

    At my job the salmon is pre-packaged and seasoned so its still moist and juicy, do you think it would work? This is 1 of the best techniques I’ve read so far by the way.

    1. Yes, this will work. You may want to pat the fish dry with paper towels before grilling. But the heat from the grill will dry out the surface no matter what.

  9. Andrew

    Hi there. I’m going to attempt this tonight and i’m a little new to grilling. But love doing it! At any rate, some basic questions about this method: you recommend pre-heating the grill for 15-20 mins? Seems a little long. Is this just to get the grates very hot in order to clean them? Also, I have a four burner Weber gas grill with a pretty accurate temperature gage. Can you recommend a cooking temperature for this method? Thank you!

    1. Great questions, Andrew. That preheating time may be on the long side for a gas grill, but you are right: it’s to ensure that the grate is hot enough to scrape super clean to prevent sticking. If you gauge that your grill is ready to go sooner, by all means, lay that fish on the grate. The temperature you’re going for is 350-375 degrees F. It’s great to have the general guide of the grill thermometer, just remember that it’s measuring the heat in space below the cover, not at the grill surface. So, just pay attention to the fish and use the internal read temps as your true guide. You’ve got this!

  10. Nowah


    Yep- jet black burned skin after 5 minutes. Thanks!

    1. Hi Nowah. I was sorry to hear about your experience. Yesterday, I grilled a whole skin-on salmon filet just to check that the instructions were spot on for temperature and timing–which is the essential part of cooking any protein. It sounds to me like the temperature of your grill was higher than 350-375 degrees F, which is a simple fix if you want to give it another go sometime.

  11. Cathy Stephens

    Question. When do you melt the butter, etc over the top? While on the grill or after?

    1. The butter is for serving, so yes, it’s after. Thanks for your question! I’ll make sure that it’s clearer in the recipe.

  12. Betsy

    Thanks for sharing – I will try this …

    1. Hope you enjoy it!

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