Whole Salmon on the Grill

Use remarkable sales at your market to make feasts for as low as $4.11 per person!

Take advantage of a deal!  My local Albertson’s recently had whole wild Alaskan salmon on sale for $1.99 a pound. Two bucks a pound for wild salmon?! Yes, please.

Did I have any idea how to cook an entire salmon? No. Not a clue. Luckily we live in a new science-fiction era where we have the internet at our fingertips! Or, if you haven’t joined the smart phone revolution yet (like me) at least you can use you cell phone and call someone who does have the internet at their fingertips.

So while I didn’t know the best way to cook the whole salmon, I was able to call Jodie and get a few ideas of what I might need to make the fish taste delicious.

I bought myself a five-pound fish and decided to risk it. It was only ten dollars and I had 6 mouths to feed. I found that fresh herbs, rock salt and wood chips were essential if I wanted to grill the fish. Which I did. I mean, how cool is it to be the guy or gal with a whole fish on the grill? Pretty. Darn. Cool.

I knew I had plenty of herbs in my herb garden, so I only picked up some dill for a mustard dill sauce I had heard went well with grilled salmon. This was largely just in case I over-cooked the salmon, at least we’d have a sauce to dip it in. (I got lucky and did NOT overcook the salmon.) I also picked up some hickory wood chips for 3 dollars to give the salmon a smoky flavor.

Since I’d be soaking wood-chips anyway, I picked up some fresh ears of corn (if you cook ‘em in the husks like I do, they need to be soaked before grilling) and some French bread to make a grilled garlic bread and headed home.

At home I consulted the internet myself, as well as all my cookbooks.  I didn’t find any one recipe I loved, so I just used the technique to grill the fish I found and then used parts of other recipes to get the flavors that I desired.

Many recipes said to wrap the fish in aluminum foil and cook it wrapped on the grill. That’s the easy way. That’s all well and good, but if I’m going to that, why not just throw it in the oven? I wanted this beautiful fish thrown directly on the grill. I knew it was more risky, but if I could pull it off I thought I would have a much more tasty meal.

The trick, I read from several sources, is oil. Lots of oil. Not necessarily on the fish, but on the grill. Make sure that your grill is well rubbed down with oil before setting your fish on the grill and again before you flip (or really roll) your fish over. (there’s a your mom joke in there somewhere)

Did my fish come off the grill looking perfect? No. Most of the skin came off during the flipping process. But because of my care to oil the grill and cook the fish on indirect heat, I lost very minimal meat.  And, with practice (and maybe a fish flipping partner,) I hope to get better and better at this process. (I want some of that crispy fish skin next time.)

The meal was a hit! The fish was flakey and came right off the bone and we were able to serve everyone a large portion straight off the fish presented in the middle of the table. And the best part is we only ate one side of the salmon! I had a whole extra half to make salmon salads the next day. The dill sauce made a wonderful dressing, too.

What a shame it would have been if I had been too intimidated to try cooking the salmon.

Take the risks. You’ll be glad you did. And if you do screw up, you still learned a lot and the price was only ten dollars. (Well, and maybe the price of pizza delivery.)

Whole Grilled Salmon

1 three to six pound WILD salmon (Do not get farmed salmon. If you do, you may not use the recipe below. I revoke my permission to all farmed salmon eaters)

3 to 6 sprigs of your choice of herbs (I used thyme, rosemary, and dill)

sea salt (preferably large crystal rock salt, but regular sea salt will do)


1 to 1 ½ cups olive oil or canola oil

½ of a small bag of Wood Chips (hickory, cedar, or any other fragrant wood)

  1. Soak the wood chips in water 1 hour before cooking.
  2. Drain the wood chips and place them in a disposable aluminum tray and place them underneath your grill slats in either a gas or charcoal grill.
  3. 30 minutes before cooking, remove the fish from the refrigerator or ice and allow it to come to room temperature.  Rub the inside cavity and outside skin with oil and rock salt. Be liberal with the salt on the skin, as it will provide lots of flavor, but the salt will all peel off with the skin.  (If using regular table salt, be a tad less generous.) Also, add pepper to the cavity of the fish as well as the herb sprigs.
  4. Preheat the grill for 15 minutes. Particularly important to not skip this step when cooking salmon.
  5. After the grill is preheated, turn off the side of the grill with the wood chips (or move your charcoal to one side), leaving the other half of the grill on medium heat. Using a paper towel and tongs, dip the towel in oil and liberally brush the grill with the oiled towel where you plan on placing the fish.
  6. Place the salmon on the indirect heat directly over the wood chips. Cover the grill.
  7. Total cooking time for the fish will be about 12 minutes per pound. (My 5 pound salmon took just under an hour.) After half this cooking time, it’s time to flip your fish. By flip, I mean roll over.  First, oil the grill where the fish will end up. Using a spatula and some sturdy tongs, loosen the fish from the grill and then roll it onto it other side, hopefully not losing any meat in the process. (If you have a buddy, it can’t hurt to have another pair of hand for this process.)
  8. Cook, covered, for the remaining total time.
  9. Remove from the flame onto a large platter. Serve with mustard dill sauce, lemons, or salsa verde.

Mustard Dill Sauce

Modified version of Steven Raichlen’s Mustard Dill Glaze.

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup grainy mustard

¼ cup deli or yellow mustard (or use ½ cup of whatever mustard you have.)

3 to 4 Tablespoons chopped dill

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

salt and pepper

  1. Whisk all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste and adjust flavors.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

1 ear of corn per person

1 to 2 Tablespoons of butter per person

  1. Pull the husks of the corn down and remove as much corn “silk” as possible. (That’s the golden hairy stuff.) Pull the husks back up around the corn.
  2. Soak the corn in the husks for at least a half hour prior to grilling. (This is to prevent the husks from catching a-fire.)
  3. Grill the corn in the husks over direct medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Using an oven mitt and tongs pull the husks down off the corn and place the corn directly on the grill to get some charring. Cook for 5 more minutes, turning occasionally.
  5. Serve immediately with room temperature butter.

Grilled Garlic Bread

1 loaf of French bread

3-5 cloves of garlic

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup butter

  1. Cut the loaf in half lengthwise.
  2. Place the loaves face down on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes or until toasted.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter into the olive oil. As it is finishing melting, using a garlic press and press the garlic cloves into the oil and butter mixture. Let this continue to cook for 30 more seconds, then remove from heat.
  4. Flip the bread over, now crust side down, and brush the bread with garlic butter. Cover the grill and cook for 5 more minutes.
Accounting: Whole five pound salmon $10.17 + 1/2 bag hickory chips (@$3.00) $1.50 + dill $1.99 + 6 ears of corn (on sale 2 for $1.00) $3.00 + French Baguette $1.99 + 2 cups olive oil approx. $1.50 + 1 stick of butter $.50 + Rosemary (from herb garden) $0 + thyme (from herb garden) $0 + 1/2 container grainy mustard approx. $2.00 + 1 bottle of Charles Shaw Chardonnay = $24.65
divided by 6 people
Comes to 4.11 per person!
I included olive oil AND butter in the accounting despite usually being a kitchen basic because such large amount were used for these recipes.

2 responses to “Whole Salmon on the Grill

  1. I really must stop reading your blogs when I’m hungry. Everything looks and sounds so delicious, I can’t help but salivate! Please keep the terrific tips coming!!

  2. Pingback: What to Grill on Labor Day: Ribs, Burgers and more. « 5iveDollarFeasts·

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