Grilled Whole Salmon

The look of a grilled whole salmon on a platter is actually quite impressive. It's not easy to pull off, but when everything goes right you've got a real showstopper! Besides the visual appeal, a whole salmon from the grill has terrific flavor.

Most chefs agree that fish cooked bone-in has more flavor. And leaving the skin intact helps hold in the flavorful and healthy omega oils that are a part of salmon's fame. Add the flavors of herbs and spices to the fish, and you have awesome eating.




Putting It Together

Here's a list of the tools you'll need to prepare your grilled whole salmon:

  • Charcoal or gas grill
  • Large, sturdy spatulas
  • Cookie sheet
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Remote thermometer


And these are the ingredients needed:

  • Whole dressed salmon, with head and skin on
  • Fresh rosemary, 1 bunch
  • Fresh sage, 1 bunch
  • Bay leaves, 6 large
  • Whole garlic cloves, 8
  • Vegetable or olive oil, 1 cup
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • White pepper, 1 teaspoon


Choosing a Whole Salmon

The first step is the most important: find a great salmon. There are several types of salmon available. The quantity of oil in the salmon determines its quality - the more oil, the better the fish. Look for bright, clear eyes and bright red gills. The fish should packed in ice, or at least on top of ice in the display.

After a visual check, smell the fish. It should give off very little odor, and smell more of the ocean than like a fish. Fishy smell means the fish isn't fresh. As a final check, press your fingertip into the fleshy side of the fish. The depression should spring back immediately. If your finger leaves a crater that stays, leave that fish and find another one.

What size of salmon do you choose? There are a couple of considerations. The first is "have you ever grilled a whole salmon before?". If not, a smaller fish will be much easier to handle while you're getting the knack of the process. The second, consider the number of guests you'll be feeding. Figure on 1/2 to 1 pound fresh weight per person served.

Preparing the Salmon For The Grill

After finding the perfect salmon, keep it on ice until it's time to prep it for the grill. At that time, look the salmon over, trimming off any loose, dangling pieces of skin and flesh. Rinse the fish in cold water then dry it inside and out with a clean towel.

Brush a generous amount of oil into the body cavity, then season with half of the salt and pepper. Place the rosemary, sage, garlic cloves and bay leaves inside the salmon. Using a few water-soaked bamboo skewers, sew the body cavity together, sealing in the herbs and garlic. Just before grilling, brush the outside of the salmon with oil and season it with the remaining salt and pepper.




Prepare the Grill For the Salmon

Clean the food grate until it's spotless. Use a wire brush to take off any charred crust. Preheat your grill to medium-low. If you're using a charcoal grill, make sure the charcoal is well ashed over before putting on the fish. Coat the grate with vegetable oil.




Cooking the Grilled Whole Salmon

Place the salmon near the front of the grill, with its belly facing the front. Consider this: when turning a whole salmon, it's rolled onto its back and to the other side. Leave plenty of room to roll your salmon on the grill. Close your cooker and leave the grilling salmon undisturbed for ten minutes.

Time to roll! Loosen the fish's skin from the grate with the spatulas and roll the whole salmon over toward the back of the grill. If you're lucky the skin remains intact on the fish. If not, no biggie. It'll still taste great! Close up the grill again and continue cooking.




How Long to Grill a Whole Salmon

Grilling time is determined by the thickness of the fish, not its weight. As a general rule figure on grilling a salmon 10 minutes per pound. A lot of variables come into play here. Outdoor temperature, grill temperature and wind can all shorten or lengthen that time. Use your judgement and watch the surface of the fish for burning. Lower the temperature of the grill if the outside of the fish seems to be cooking too fast. And if in doubt, use a good remote thermometer. Remove the salmon at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover it with foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes.




Removing a Whole Salmon From the Grill

Remember that rolling trick? Use the same method to get the salmon onto the cookie sheet. You might need a little help here, especially with a bigger fish. Slip the spatulas under the fish. Lay the cookie sheet on the grill, against the salmon's back. Carefully roll the salmon onto the cookie sheet.

Now you can carefully slide the grilled whole salmon onto a nice serving platter covered with greens and colorful veggies. Add a few slices of lemon for squeezing, and you're done!

Return to Top: Grilled Whole Salmon