Grilling A Perfect Salmon Fillet

This is a simple step by step guide to grilling a perfect salmon fillet. Written with basic techniques and timing guidelines, even a beginner can succeed without stressing.

Cooking on an open fire can be a rewarding and surprisingly easy task. For the first timer, or for those of us who just don't have the confidence, I can help you put aside your fears of failure and talk you through preparing a fabulous meal that will impress anyone, from a special date to your mother-in-law.

Salmon is my fish of choice for a number of reasons, including its ability to quickly take on the flavors of any marinade as well as the subtle smokey influence of the charcoal grill. It cooks quickly, reducing the time you need to worry about timing your meal. Salmon also tends to remain wonderfully moist and flakey due to the natural oils inherent in this fish. Fresh fish is always better of course, but frozen is perfectly good and sometimes remarkably just as good.

You can choose between salmon steaks, with the bones, or a fillet with skin on one side. My preference is a 1" thick fillet and I've found that the skin is a perfect buffer for the initial searing of the fish on the hot grill. I'll explain that in a minute.

Next, you need to decide on a marinade. My all time favorite and always delicious choice is teriyaki sauce, and I usually have a bottle of Kikkoman's on hand. There are many delicious bottled teriyaki sauces on the market, but for marinating, the Kikkoman is perfect as it does not have too much sweetener, which has a tendency to burn. You can always serve a sweeter sauce on the side if you like. For some options, you can add crushed garlic or minced fresh ginger to the marinade for more flavor.

Now for the cooking part. Let's say you just bought yourself a little hibachi or, my favorite, a baby Weber. You will need a good quality charcoal, a bag of wood chips (preferably mesquite), lighter fluid and some matches. Pile your charcoal in a heap at the bottom of the cooker, squirt some lighter fluid on it, and wait a few minutes for it to saturate the coals. When you apply your match you should see flames begin to engulf the coals and eventually spread throughout them. DO NOT squirt more lighter fluid on burning coals! That is just asking the fire department and paramedics to come visiting, and they won't be enjoying your lovely meal. The flames will die and out and a light ash will begin to cover the coals. Be sure to leave the cover off the grill while the coals are getting hot. You can expect the coals to take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to reach peak heat, and you will know they are ready when they are all totally grey with ash and glowing hot.

While you are waiting for the coals to get hot, you need to soak your wood chips in water for at least half an hour. Generally, 1/2 cup of chips will be adequate for 2-3 portions of fish, and up to 2 cups for larger portions and for cooking beef. I've found that fish tastes better with just a subtle flavoring from wood chips, but beef can stand up to the stronger flavors. When the coals are ready, spread them out from their pile into an even layer and add the wood chips (after you have squeezed out most of the water), place the grill on top and cover. Wait a few minutes for the grill to heat up you can now put the fish on the grill.

Be sure to place the fish skin side down and make a note of the time. Close the cover and go check on your salad, vegetables, and whatever else you will be serving. My favorite side dish with salmon is rice pilaf (conveniently packaged for quick and easy cooking). Add a fresh green salad with sliced tomatoes and a bottle of chilled sauvignon blanc or chardonnnay, and this is a wonderful and healthy meal.

In exactly 7 minutes, return to the grill with a metal spatula, preferably a thin

one. Now, slide the spatula underneath the fish to totally loosen the skin from the grill. When you are sure that it is totally disconnected from the grill, flip the salmon over and close the lid. Give it 3 to 4 minutes and remove it to a plate. Again, be sure when you slide the spatula underneath the fish that you loosen it completely from the grill. This skinless side of the fish will have a tendency to stick and fall apart, so make sure you have all of the fish on your spatula. Ideally, the fish should be moist and pink and only slightly undercooked.

Serve the salmon skin side down. It is delicious served with ginger teriyaki sauce, a slice of lime, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, or just a touch of salt. The wood smoke flavor will impart a delicate mystery and your dinner guests are certain to be impressed with your cooking expertise. It's really simple, just don't admit it. Next time you'll be brave enough to try a nice T-bone steak.

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