How to cook salmon on a BBQ

Everything you need to know about grilling salmon on the BBQ. From prep to temperature, from how long to flipping...

Cooking fish on the BBQ can be daunting, but it's easier than you think. Read on to discover our top tips for cooking salmon on the BBQ.

Salmon is a fantastic fish which lends itself to the smoky flavour that the BBQ imparts. A whole side of salmon makes for a gorgeous presentation and is ideal for larger crowds. Whereas salmon steaks and fillets are quick and easy to cook and make a great light summer BBQ option. Why not try switching your beef patty for a salmon fillet and make salmon burgers?

Or elevate a simple fillet by utilising marinades and rubs. Good To Know Food Director Elisa Roche sings the praises of a salmon fillet marinated in white miso paste.

How long do you cook salmon on a BBQ and at what temperature?

Salmon is best cooked at a medium-high temperature. If the grill is too hot the salmon will burn. However, if the temperature is too low the salmon is likely to stick to the grill. A salmon fillet cooked directly on the metal BBQ grill will require about 3 mins cooking time on each side, so 6 mins in total.An 850g side of salmon will require cooking for about 20 mins. The BBQ must reach the desired temperature before putting the fish onto the grill.

If the temperature continues to climb the fish is likely to stick. Brush the fish with oil to reduce the likelihood of it sticking to the grill. Salmon is a robust fish that can withstand the intense heat from a BBQ. The cooking time will vary based on the thickness and size of the piece of salmon that you are BBQing, as well at the heat of the BBQ. A whole side of salmon can be ungainly and tricky to flip. So when cooking a whole side of salmon we recommend cooked en papillote (wrapped in paper or foil) or using a fish basket.

How to test when the salmon is cooked?

To test the doneness of meat and fish a digital probe thermometer is an extremely useful tool. Check the internal temperature by inserting the probe into the centre of the thickest part of the salmon. The salmon will be perfectly cooked when the internal temperature reaches 50C.

To test if the salmon is cooked through, without using a thermometer, slide a small knife into the centre of the thickest part. Remove the knife and press it to your lip. If the knife is hot then the salmon is cooked through.

Grilled salmon with asparagus and lime

Which side of salmon do you cook first?

When cooking salmon we recommend you place the fillet skin side down into the pan or onto the grill. The BBQ is no exception. Cooking the skin side first helps to ensure that the salmon cooks gently, and doesn’t overcook.The skin side of the salmon will take longer to cook than the ‘naked’ side. This is because the heat takes longer to penetrate the skin. The skin side is also more forgiving if the temperature of the grill temperature is too high or low. It will protect the fish from burning if the grill is too hot and less likely to stick if the temperature is too low. So cooking the skin side first will allow you time to adjust the temperature of the BBQ.

Cooking the skin side first will allow you to cook the skin to your preferred crispness. For a lovely crispy skin start by patting the skin dry and then rub with oil salt.

Elisa Roche, GoodtoKnow Food Director, points out that “People often wrongly assume that salmon without the skin is healthier. However, the skin is useful in keeping the salmon firm and together when cooking.”

Do you flip salmon on the grill?

If you are cooking the salmon en papillote it is not necessary to flip the salmon as the steam inside the parcel cooks the salmon. However, if you are simply grilling the salmon on the BBQ then you will need to flip it halfway through the cooking time so it cooks evenly.

To flip the salmon slip a metal or heatproof spatula under the salmon and quickly flip it over. A large piece of salmon may be tricky to flip without breaking. So we suggest cooking larger pieces of salmon in a fish basket. A fish basket is a flat metal cage that you can cook fish in. The advantage of cooking fish in a fish basket is that you can also put other ingredients into the basket, such as lemon or fennel, that will flavour the fish.

TOP TIP: Wondering when you should you flip salmon on the BBQ? If you keep a close eye on the salmon as it cooks, you will notice that the colour changes. As the salmon cooks, it turns a lighter opaque pink. Flip the salmon over when you notice the opaque pink has spread halfway up the side of the fillet. This will be about halfway through the cooking time.

Salmon in the BBQ

How do you cook salmon on a BBQ without skin?

Salmon without skin can be fiddly to cook on the BBQ as it is more partial to breaking. This is particularly frustrating when cooking on a BBQ as bits can fall through the grill. If you would like to cook salmon without the skin we suggest either cooking the salmon wrapped in foil or paper or using a cast-iron skillet that can sit on top of the grill. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, another solution is to cook the delicate pieces of salmon on top of something else, such as asparagus. Rolling the salmon fillets up and putting a kebab stick through the centre makes salmon without skin easier to handle.

Salmon without skin cooks more quickly than salmon with skin, so be extra cautious not to overcook it. One the fish is cooked it should naturally release itself from the grill. Avoid moving the salmon until then or you risk breaking it. Brushing or rubbing the fillet with a little oil will stop it from sticking.

How do you grill salmon in foil on a BBQ?

Cooking fish en papillote in a paper or foil parcel is a practical and tasty way to cook any type of fish on the BBQ.

As the steam stays inside the parcel the fish remains moist. You can also add other ingredients to the parcel, and the flavours will infuse.

Not all foil is suitable for use on the BBQ. This is because if aluminium foil gets too hot the aluminium can seep into the food, causing a potential health risk. When using foil on a BBQ be extra cautious not to allow the flames to lick the foil. If using foil only add to the BBQ once the flames have fully died down.

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Alternatives to foil to use on the BBQ

As foil can be dangerous here are some alternatives will work just as well:

  • A double layer of baking parchment is a good option as long as the temperature of the grill is not too high and there are no flames. Unlike meat that is best cooked hot, fish is better cooked at a medium temperature. So using paper instead of foil is a good option when cooking fish on the BBQ. Fold the paper tightly so you don't risk losing the tasty juices to the coals.
  • If baking parchment is not an option placing the salmon on a small oven tray and covering the top with foil creates a similar effect with less risk of the foil contaminating the food.

BBQ salmon recipes

For a little inspiration and more guidance have a look at these delicious BBQ salmon recipes...

Salmon fillet recipes, BBQ Salmon

BBQ salmon with quick tomato salsa recipe

This BBQ salmon with salsa puts a tropical twist on your standard barbecue fare and is a great chance to how you might normally cook salmon. Salmon always taste great when cooked on a barbecue – and this cucumber, sour cream and chive salad adds a refreshing twist

Get the recipe: BBQ salmon with quick tomato salsa recipe

Barbecued salmon with creamy cucumber, sour cream and chive salad

Salmon always taste great when cooked on a barbecue – and this cucumber, sour cream and chive salad adds a refreshing twist

Get the recipe: BBQ salmon with creamy cucumber salad

High protein foods: Fish

Grilled salmon with white beans and bacon recipe

Simple fresh flavours of lettuce and beans enhanced with smoked crisp bacon make the perfect accompaniment for grilled salmon.

Get the recipe: Grilled salmon with white beans and bacon recipe

So fire up the coals and let's get cooking!

Rose Fooks
Deputy Food Editor

Rose Fooks is Deputy Food Editor at Future Publishing, creating recipes, reviewing products and writing food features for a range of lifestyle and home titles including GoodTo and Woman&Home. Before joining the team, Rose obtained a Diplome de Patisserie and Culinary Management at London’s Le Cordon Bleu. Going on to work in professional kitchens at The Delaunay and Zedel.