Why It Works
- Properly preparing the grill by cleaning and oiling the grill grate reduces the chances the fish will stick to the grill grate.
- Drying and lightly oiling the salmon also helps ensure it doesn't glue itself to the grill grate.
- Using thick center-cut salmon steaks makes it easy to properly sear the outside and get the perfect internal doneness without overcooking.
Perfectly grilled salmon fillets are nicely seared but still juicy and tender in the center. The key is to source fattier salmon (often, that means farmed salmon), and use skin-on pieces that come from the thicker part of the fillet (center-cut is what you should tell your fishmonger). Most of the cooking happens on the skin side, with the skin crisping and acting as an insulator of the delicate flesh, and then a final minute or two on the other side just to finish the fish to your desired temperature. Center-cut pieces are thick enough to give you plenty of time to pull that off with success.
- 4 center-cut skin-on salmon fillets, about 6 to 8 ounces (170 to 225g)
- Vegetable, canola, or other neutral oil, for oiling the steaks
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper (optional; see note)
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals evenly over half of coal grate. Alternatively, set half the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.
Dry salmon filets well with paper towels and lightly brush them all over with oil.
Just before cooking, season salmon all over with salt and, if desired, pepper. Then set skin-side down over hot side of grill. Cook salmon until skin is browned and crispy and releases from the grill easily, about 4 minutes. If the fish sticks, try to gently lift it from below using a thin metal spatula or the tines of a carving fork inserted down between the grill grates.
Gently flip the fish and cook on the flesh side just long enough to reach your desired internal temperature, 110°F (43°C) in the very center for rare, 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare, or 130°F (54°C) for medium. If at any point the fish threatens to burn before reaching its final internal temperature, move it to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. Serve.
Black pepper is a spice and adds a specific flavor to the food you cook; salt, on the other hand, is an essential seasoning, necessary for food to taste its best. While we always use salt, we use black pepper only when we desire its specific flavor and aroma.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Grilled salmon is best enjoyed immediately.