How to Cook Salmon on a Charcoal Grill: Expert Grilling Tips

Published By Kevin Turner

Last Updated Feb 12, 2024 is reader-supported. If you buy something using the links on our site, we might earn an affiliate commission at no added cost to you. This helps us pay our staff to keep making awesome content for you!

grilled salmon
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    Oh, the trials of grilling salmon to achieve that dreamy flaky texture paired with a hit of smoky goodness – it’s not always smooth sailing. I confess, my own grill has witnessed a couple of seafood mishaps.

    But hey, it’s all about the journey, right? So I rolled up my sleeves and set out to conquer charcoal grilling. In this post, we’re going to share some straightforward yet savvy tricks for nailing that ideal grilled salmon over an inviting bed of embers.

    Time to spark up the charcoal – let’s get our grill on!

    Key Takeaways

    • Use a charcoal grill to give salmon a smoky flavor and crispy crust that can’t be achieved with other grills.
    • Prepare the salmon properly by choosing fresh, high – quality cuts and marinating or seasoning for optimal flavor before grilling.
    • Get your grill ready by preheating it, setting up direct or indirect heat zones, and having the right utensils like a spatula, tongs, basting brush, and meat thermometer.
    • Cook salmon at medium-high heat (375-400°F), flipping only once; whole fillets take about 4-6 minutes per side, while individual filets require roughly 3-4 minutes per side until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F.
    • Serve grilled salmon with complementary sides like grilled vegetables or citrus salsa and ensure perfect presentation with fresh herbs and lemon wedges for garnish.


    Why Choose a Charcoal Grill?

    I love using a charcoal grill for cooking salmon because it adds that smoky, charred flavor that you just can’t get from gas grills. The high heat and open flame of a charcoal grill also give the salmon a beautifully caramelized crust while keeping the inside tender and juicy.

    Benefits of using a charcoal grill

    Cooking on a charcoal grill offers a unique experience you can’t get from other methods. The flavors and techniques involved make it stand out from gas or electric grilling. Here are the benefits of using a charcoal grill for your next meal:


    • Charcoal grills impart a smoky flavor to salmon that is unparalleled by other cooking methods. As the fat drips onto the coals, it creates smoke that infuses the fish with a rich taste.
    • These grills reach high temperatures which are ideal for creating a crispy, caramelized exterior on the salmon skin while keeping the inside moist and tender.
    • Using charcoal allows for more temperature control once you get the hang of it. You can create different heat zones by arranging the coals, providing versatility in cooking techniques.
    • Grilled seafood on charcoal inherently involves playing with fire and mastery over it. This adds an element of excitement to your grilling adventure and boosts your skills as an outdoor chef.
    • Cooking fish on a charcoal grill makes for an interactive experience. Friends and family can gather around, watch, and learn as you demonstrate your grilling prowess.
    • Maintaining a charcoal grill is generally less expensive than its gas counterparts because you only need charcoal and lighter fluid versus refilling propane tanks.
    • The simplicity of these grills makes them portable and great for beach trips, camping, or tailgating where electricity or gas might not be readily available.
    • Grilling techniques over charcoal often become treasured family traditions passed down through generations, adding sentimental value to your culinary practices.


    Flavors from cooking over open flame

    After discussing the benefits of using a charcoal grill, let’s delve into the flavors that cooking over an open flame can bring to your salmon. Grilling fish like salmon on a charcoal grill infuses it with a distinct smoky flavor that elevates its taste.

    The direct exposure to the open flame caramelizes the surface of the salmon, creating a delicious char and adding depth to its flavor profile. Additionally, grilling seafood on charcoal imparts a unique earthy essence that simply cannot be replicated by other cooking methods.

    The process of grilling salmon over an open flame also enhances its natural oils, resulting in juicy and tender flesh with a delicate hint of smokiness. This method unlocks rich savory notes within the fish while preserving its moisture, providing you with a delectable and wholesome dining experience.

    Preparing Your Salmon for Grilling

    Before you start grilling your salmon, it’s crucial to prepare it properly. Choosing the right type and cut of salmon, as well as seasoning and marinating it, can make all the difference in achieving a delicious grilled dish.

    Learn more about how to best prepare your salmon for cooking on a charcoal grill in this section.

    Choosing the right type and cut of salmon

    When choosing salmon for grilling, it’s essential to select fresh and high-quality fish. Opt for thick fillets or steaks that are about 1 to 1.5 inches in thickness, as they hold up well on the grill without falling apart.

    Coho, Chinook, or Sockeye salmon are good choices due to their firm texture and rich flavor. These types of salmon are great for grilling and can withstand the heat while still retaining their moisture and tenderness.

    I prefer using skin-on fillets when grilling salmon, as the skin helps hold the fish together and adds extra flavor during cooking. It also protects the delicate flesh from drying out over the heat of a charcoal grill.

    Tips for seasoning and marinating

    To season and marinate your salmon for grilling, start by selecting the type and cut of salmon that suits your taste. Then, follow these expert tips to enhance the flavor:


    1. Use a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and minced garlic as a simple marinade.
    2. Try a seasoning blend of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper for an added kick.
    3. Experiment with fresh herbs like dill, thyme, or rosemary to infuse aromatic flavors.
    4. Combine soy sauce, honey, and ginger for a sweet and savory Asian – inspired marinade.
    5. Consider adding a touch of spice with red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper for a bold flavor profile.


    Getting Your Charcoal Grill Ready

    Before you start grilling your salmon, it’s important to get your charcoal grill ready. Preheat the grill and set it up for direct or indirect heat cooking, depending on the size and cut of your salmon.

    Using the right utensils will also help make the grilling process smoother and more enjoyable.

    Preheating and setting up the grill

    To preheat and set up the grill, first, I prepare the charcoal by arranging them in a pyramid shape at the bottom of the grill. Then, I use lighter fluid to douse the charcoal before lighting it, allowing it to burn until the coals turn ash-gray in color. Next, I spread out the coals using long-handled tongs to create an even layer for cooking. Finally, I place the grate on top of the coals and let it heat up for about 10-15 minutes before placing the salmon on it.

    Using the right utensils

    After preheating and setting up the grill, it’s time to focus on using the right utensils for grilling your salmon. A long-handled spatula and tongs are essential for flipping and handling the fish without damaging it or losing its delicate skin.

    Additionally, a high-quality basting brush will help apply marinades or oils onto the salmon, ensuring a flavorful and moist result.

    It’s crucial to have a meat thermometer on hand to check for doneness without overcooking the salmon. A sturdy grill brush is also necessary for keeping the grates clean and preventing sticking when cooking.

    Grilling the Salmon

    To grill the salmon, it’s important to cook it at the right temperature and for the right amount of time. Whether you’re grilling whole fillets or individual filets, there are techniques to ensure that your salmon turns out perfectly cooked and full of flavor.

    Cooking times and temperatures

    To grill salmon on a charcoal grill, it’s essential to ensure the right cooking times and temperatures for perfect results. Here are some key tips to keep in mind:


    1. Check the heat: Aim for medium-high heat, around 375-400°F, to cook salmon thoroughly while achieving a crispy exterior.
    2. Timing for whole fillets: Grill whole salmon fillets for about 4-6 minutes per side, depending on thickness, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F.
    3. Individual filets cooking time: For individual salmon filets, grill for approximately 3-4 minutes per side until the fish easily flakes with a fork.
    4. Use a meat thermometer: It’s important to use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the salmon reaches the recommended safe level.
    5. Adjusting for skin-on salmon: If grilling skin-on salmon, start by grilling skin-side down for two-thirds of the total cooking time before flipping to finish.


    Techniques for grilling whole fillets or individual filets

    Grilling whole fillets or individual filets requires attention to detail and the right techniques. Here are some expert tips for grilling salmon on a charcoal grill:


    1. Place the fillets directly on the grill grate over medium-high heat, skin-side down, for even searing.
    2. Use a fish spatula to carefully flip the fillets only once during cooking to avoid sticking and maintain their shape.
    3. For whole fillets, use a cedar plank or aluminum foil to create a barrier between the fish and the direct heat.
    4. Brush the fillets with oil before placing them on the grill to prevent sticking and add flavor.
    5. Consider using a fish basket for delicate fillets to prevent them from falling apart while grilling.


    Serving and Enjoying Your Grilled Salmon

    Pair your perfectly grilled salmon with a refreshing cucumber salad and a side of citrusy quinoa for a well-rounded meal. Don’t forget to drizzle some homemade dill sauce over the salmon for an extra burst of flavor.

    Ready to impress your guests with your grilling skills? Read on for more tips on perfecting your grilled salmon game.

    Pairing with delicious sides and sauces

    When grilling salmon on a charcoal grill, I enjoy pairing it with delicious sides and sauces. Here are some of my favorite combinations:


    1. Grilled Vegetables: I love serving grilled asparagus, zucchini, or bell peppers alongside the salmon. The smoky flavor from the charcoal grill complements the vegetables perfectly.
    2. Citrus Salsa: A zesty citrus salsa made with oranges, lemons, and limes adds a refreshing burst of flavor to the grilled salmon.
    3. Herb Butter: A simple herb butter with parsley, dill, and a hint of garlic enhances the natural flavors of the grilled salmon.
    4. Quinoa Salad: A light quinoa salad with fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers provides a wholesome and flavorful accompaniment to the grilled salmon.
    5. Cucumber Yogurt Sauce: A cool and creamy cucumber yogurt sauce balances the smokiness of the salmon while adding a touch of brightness to each bite.
    6. Mango Avocado Salsa: The combination of sweet mangoes and creamy avocados in a salsa adds tropical flair to the grilled salmon.
    7. Lemon Dill Aioli: A tangy lemon dill aioli drizzled over the grilled salmon elevates its flavors with a creamy and aromatic touch.
    8. Garlic Parmesan Roasted Potatoes: Buttery roasted potatoes seasoned with garlic and parmesan make for a satisfying side dish alongside the grilled salmon.
    9. Fresh Garden Salad: A simple garden salad tossed with vinaigrette provides a crisp and refreshing contrast to the rich grilled salmon flavors.
    10. Israeli Couscous Pilaf: Nutty Israeli couscous pilaf cooked with aromatic spices and toasted nuts complements the smoky essence of the grilled salmon perfectly.


    Tips for perfect presentation

    To ensure perfect presentation, I always place the grilled salmon fillets on a clean, attractive serving platter or dish. Then, I garnish the dish with fresh herbs and lemon wedges for an elegant touch.

    This simple yet effective step not only enhances the visual appeal of the dish but also adds a pop of color and freshness that complements the savory flavors of the grilled salmon.

    When it comes to presenting grilled salmon, remember that a little attention to detail goes a long way in elevating your dining experience. By incorporating these presentation tips, you can create an inviting and visually appealing spread that will impress your guests and make your delicious grilled salmon even more enjoyable.

    Grilled salmon FAQS

    When grilling salmon on a charcoal grill, it’s essential to keep the skin on to maintain moisture and prevent sticking. Seasoning the fish with salt and pepper before grilling adds simple but delicious flavor.

    Also, using a fish basket or foil can help prevent the salmon from falling apart and make flipping easier.

    For cooking times, a general rule is 6-8 minutes per side for fillets over medium heat. However, factors like thickness and grill temperature can affect this timing. It’s best to use a thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches at least 145°F for safe consumption.


    Mastering the art of grilling salmon on a charcoal grill requires practice and patience. It’s essential to understand the nuances of this cooking method. Achieving perfectly grilled salmon involves precise preparation, seasoning, and timing.

    With these expert grilling tips, you’ll be able to impress your guests with flavorful and succulent grilled salmon every time!


    1. What is the best way to cook salmon on a charcoal grill?

    The best way to grill salmon on a charcoal grill involves using proper grilling techniques, like cooking it skin-side down first and flipping gently. Seasoning the salmon for grilling before cooking adds flavor.

    2. How long does it take to cook salmon with skin on a charcoal grill?

    Grilling salmon with skin typically takes about 6-8 minutes per side over medium heat, but always check that your grilled salmon reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

    3. Can I use foil when I’m grilling seafood like salmon on a charcoal grill?

    Yes, cooking salmon in foil on the grill keeps it moist and makes cleanup easier! Just wrap your seasoned fish securely in foil and place it directly on the fire.

    4. Do you have any simple marinades for grilling fish like expert chefs do?

    For an easy grilled salmon recipe, mix up flavorful marinades with ingredients such as olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and spices; let your fish soak up these flavors before placing onto the hot gridiron!

    5. Should I be looking at specific recipes or can I experiment when barbecuing seafood?

    Experimenting is great! Start by trying grilled fish recipes designed for charcoal grills and then feel free to adjust seasonings or try new techniques as you become more confident in your barbecue tips for seafood grilling.

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    Kevin Turner
    Hi there, I'm Kevin Turner, Founder and CEO of I started this website to share my passion and knowledge with you. You can leverage my years of experience as a pit master and professional to grill great food!

    About The Grilling Master

    Hi there, I'm Kevin Turner, Founder and CEO of

    My passion has always been grilling, smoking and BBQ delicious meats that satisfy my inner carnivore!

    I started this website to share my passion and knowledge with you, the hungry reader who wants to prepare the perfect meal. 

    You can leverage my years of experience as a pit master and professional. 

    Send me a message and let's connect on Twitter here.

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