Buckley’s BBQ’d salmon

This was easily the best salmon I’ve ever made. I did it on a hot (hot!) Weber Genesis grill. Finally, at long last, I cooked salmon on a grill without completely destroying it. Here’s the story and the technique.

In the past, my fish cooking had been limited to floured cod. That was the only way I could find to get fish to cook on my cast iron pan without sticking. It’s also how my grandpa used to cook fresh trout up at Pinecrest. Since moving to the suburbs, and getting the grill I’d been salivating over for years, I stopped cooking fish. There was so much else I wanted to put on this thing, but I was also scared.

How in the bloody hell do you barbecue fish?

Where the grilling happens

My first attempts came out bad. I tried to cook it like I’d cook chicken. 350 degrees, mostly indirect heat. And that’s where things would fall apart… literally. I couldn’t get the salmon off the grill without tearing it to pieces. It made me sad.

I learned, after some googling, that proper salmon grilling requires a hot grill. Hotter than I’m comfortable with. I’m used to grilling rib eyes over direct heat for a bit to get the sear, but those are tough, bone-in steaks. Salmon filets seemed too delicate to put on a 450 degree grill.

Boy, was I wrong! It took three attempts before I learned how tough salmon is (and how tender it becomes) when you grill it right. Here’s the trick.

  1. Buy good salmon. I said it before in my rib eye story. If you’re gonna do it, get the good stuff. I’ve been very happy with Whole Foods salmon, and very, VERY unhappy with the Safeway crap. Thicker the better.
  2. Pre-heat the grill with burners on full blast. Get it up to 450–500 degrees with the lid closed.
  3. Baste the salmon with olive oil and salt. Don’t be shy with the salt. That’s it!
  4. Put down the salmon, flesh-side down, for at least 7 minutes. If flare-ups happen, don’t freak out and move it! I learned this the hard way. Resist the temptation. Maybe turn the burners under the fish down if it really gets hot and starts to smoke. But don’t move it early. It’ll wreck it.
  5. After about 7 minutes, give her a nudge. The salmon will probably still stick. That’s ok. Give it another 2 minutes, and then check every minute or so. Lid down in the meantime.
  6. It will break free at some point. Then use the spatula to flip it over. Grill for another 2–3 minutes skin-side down depending on thickness and how done you want it to be. (I’m okay with some soft pinkness, especially from Whole Foods.)
  7. Enjoy!

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