How to BBQ Salmon

Prep and Cooking

How to BBQ Salmon

Move over boring burgers and everyday sausages, salmon is the next big thing to hit the barbecue and here at MOWI we totally understand why.

Salmon is a dense, meaty fish, packed with natural oils (and super-healthy Omega 3s, as it happens), which can more than hold its own on a fiery grill.  The nutritious oils mean there’s no drying out, and the combination of firm but melt-in-the-mouth texture and delicate flavour make barbecued salmon a no-brainer – a simple fillet can easily withstand a good sizzle on a BBQ while absorbing all sorts of funky flavours which you can add in the form of marinades, rubs, butters and dressings (more on those later).

It’s also pretty speedy to cook, so if your guests are hungry for more you can throw some salmon on the grill without waiting an age for it to be ready, as is the case with lots of meat options (just saying).

First things first

When it comes to choosing your salmon, MOWI fillets are ideal for barbecuing.  Ours are carefully trimmed which makes for a slightly chunkier shape and shorter length.  This makes the fillets way easier to handle during cooking, plus the consistent thickness ensures even cooking – no straggly bits getting burnt here.

MOWI fillets always come complete with skin and this is absolutely the way to go if you want to get the best out of your salmon.  The skin acts as a brilliant natural barrier, protecting that gorgeous soft salmon from the scorching heat of the grill and, if you get it right (read on to find out how), your skin will end up deliciously crisp and looking fab on the plate.

Our salmon has a great taste of its own because of the careful nurturing process that takes place in Scotland – it’s fresh and tangy which means it can take on strong flavours without being overwhelmed.

Seasoning MOWI salmon before cooking

We’ll come onto all the fun ways you can experiment with your salmon cooking later in this article, but as a bare minimum we recommend you season your fillets with a good sprinkling of sea salt at least 1-2 hours before cooking.  This is a dead simple hack which really works: the salt will absorb into the fish and make the flesh nice and firm before you pop it on the barbie.

Cooking salmon on a BBQ

Barbecuing connoisseurs the world over will debate the merits of gas ‘v’ charcoal until the cows come home but honestly, whichever kind of BBQ you use, the salmon will taste sensational as long as you follow a few golden rules:

  • Sounds obvious but make sure the grill itself is nice and clean. Grubby grill bars will lead to the salmon (or anything else) sticking.
  • Get your flame (if you’re cooking on gas) to a medium hot level, or if you’re using charcoal, make sure the coals have had plenty of time to heat up. Getting the temp right is key – too high and the salmon will burn on the outside and be raw in the middle, but if you’re too cautious and the heat is too low your fish will tend to stick.
  • Lightly oil the grill bars by using tongs to rub an oil-dabbed piece of kitchen roll over the bars. Start at the back of the grill and work forwards – to protect yourself from any flare ups.
  • You may already have marinaded your salmon but if not, you’ll need to brush it with a little olive oil before barbecuing so it’s less likely to stick.

Perfecting the BBQ'd MOWI salmon

  • Place your fillets on the BBQ skin side down (this is the First Golden Rule of barbecuing salmon) and cook about ¾ of the way through BEFORE turning them over. You should be able to see the salmon meat changing to a lighter, more opaque pink colour.

Patience is the key to BBQing salmon

  • Hold your nerve – patience is the key to success. Do NOT be tempted to push the salmon around or even move it slightly for at least 5-10 minutes.  Friends, you are not flipping burgers here.
  • Your implement of choice should be a thin metal pallet knife or spatula. You want to avoid thick plastic spatulas as they make it harder to get between the salmon skin and the bars, while tongs are likely to be a bit heavy handed on your still slightly uncooked fish.

MOWI salmon colour

  • If turning the salmon over is just too nerve-racking (though honestly, it will be fine) and you want to play it totally safe, then all you need to do is close the BBQ lid and cook the salmon through without doing a thing – just take a peek now and then to see how it’s getting on.

How to tell when BBQ salmon is cooked

  • Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of the salmon and the heat of the grill, so best use a thermometer for an accurate reading. If you don’t have one, just gently press the top of the salmon portion with the back of a fork – the salmon is cooked when it feels slightly firm and flakes easily.

BBQ Salmon recipe ideas and inspiration

Flavour hits

Salmon is such a versatile food – as well as giving you a big protein boost and a mega dose of omega 3, it can be dressed up or down depending on your culinary mood.  When barbecuing salmon go for bold flavours like chilli, pungent spices and sharp tangy citrus rather than subtly fragrant green herbs which tend to get overpowered or scorched when you’re cooking on coals (or gas).

We love to use our own BBQ spice mix as a classic pre-grill rub which stars smoked paprika, garlic powder, dried oregano, cayenne and black pepper, salt and cumin.  For an amazing flavour combo try sprinkling Lemon, Fennel and Chilli Salt over your salmon fillets, spread on some zesty garlicky butter or pour over a spiced balsamic glaze featuring star anise.

Saucy suggestions

Although our salmon is beautifully moist and tender enough to eat neat, like all fish it also pairs nicely with a well chosen sauce.  Our MOWI Chef has devised three superb but contrasting accompaniments to go with your barbecued salmon: a cheeky spiced tomato ketchup; a creamy yogurt and cumin dressing and a bright tomato salsa.

Perfect partners

Your trad BBQ accompaniments will work just as well with barbecued salmon as they do with the usual meat classics  , so bring on the crunchy rainbow slaws and potato salads.  For something slightly more sophisticated, try our Orange and Fennel side, or if you wish to impress, have a go at one of our all-time favourites: Grilled marinated salmon with warm potato salad, asparagus, caramelized lemon and basil dressing.

Salmon doesn’t have to be posh

We can’t emphasise this enough. MOWI salmon fillets may be a superior product but that doesn’t mean you have to treat it with kid gloves, especially on a BBQ.  We like nothing more than popping a grilled fillet into a brioche bun with a sweet chilli jam or BBQ glaze.

What’s more, as mentioned earlier, because the MOWI salmon fillet is trimmed restaurant-style, it will fit a similarly sized ciabatta or focaccia roll very nicely indeed.  Or just go for your favourite artisan loaf and cut your bread to fit for a sourdough salmon burger to die for.

The next level . . .

So now you’ve mastered the basics, how can you ramp up your salmon repertoire on the barbecue?  A MOWI salmon fillet will taste delicious simply grilled as outlined above but if you’re feeling adventurous you could try one of these other cooking techniques:

Cook on Sticks

You can use lengths of veg as a flavoursome bed beneath your salmon portions: try using slices of fennel, sticks of lemongrass or thick asparagus spears directly on the grill with the salmon placed on top. It’s a win-win technique – the salmon gets loads of flavour but won’t stick to the grate. And the veg should be cooked too.

Another excellent option is salmon kebabs: thread chunks of salmon onto rosemary twigs or metal or soaked wood skewers for a tasty  alternative to chicken .

Plank Cooking

It may sound somewhat basic, if not downright odd, but cooking on a wooden board is in fact an impressive way to up the stakes (as it were) on the BBQ.  There’s a bit of forward planning required for this as you’ll need to order up some food grade cedar planks online.  Then around 2-4 hours before your BBQ kick off, soak the wood in cold water.  Pre-heat the barbecue and place the plank on the grill for 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the wood, until the plank begins to blacken and lightly smoke.  Turn the plank over and place the salmon (skin side down, of course) on the plank.  Place the lid over the BBQ and cook over a medium heat until it’s cooked through.  That’s right, no need for any fiddly turning over. If you want to push the boat out, you can pre-soak your plank in wine, sake or cider for extra depth to that lovely wood-smoked flavour.

Wrap ‘em up

For an exotic twist wrap salmon fillets in large leaves, such as banana or pandan leaves (both readily available in Asian supermarkets or online).  The leaves protect the salmon and keep it nice and succulent.  At a pinch you could also use tinfoil (this can be handy if you’re cooking with a herb or spice paste) but be warned, the parcel will get very hot, so be careful when taking it off the barbecue and opening. 

So get grillin’!

We hope this MOWI guide has taken the fear out of fish and inspired you to give salmon a go next time you’re firing up the BBQ.  Click on any of the recipe links above for full instructions and keep anyone who loves good food happy the whole summer long.

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