Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Why hover over the stove when grilling offers the perfect opportunity to play with fire. Take your cooking outdoors to fire up a bounty of proteins that have sizzling flavor and the nutritive chops needed to keep you lean. And what’s better suited to the grill than fish fillets, especially salmon? Salmon’s natural fat content helps prevent it from drying out in the high heat of a grill. The firm texture of salmon fillets prevents them from falling apart as they cook. As a nutritional bonus, salmon provides a boatload of the ultra-healthy omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, shown to help improve physique gains and shore up heart health.
Reel It In!
Fish is the perfect diet food because it’s high in protein and because it provides heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as well as disease-fighting vitamin D and selenium, and salmon is among the fish and seafood that’s lowest in mercury (others include pollock, tilapia and shrimp).
Here are a few helpful tips for great grilling:
- In choosing fish, opt for fillets with the skin still intact to make life easier — you won’t have to flip them on the grill. Skin also equals more flavor.
- Rinse the salmon fillets under cold water, then pat dry. Coat all sides with a bit of olive or canola oil before cooking to prevent sticking. Add a rub (a mixture of seasonings) or see the toppers listed here.
- To prep a gas grill, preheat for 15 minutes at the specified heat level with the lid closed. The salmon is less likely to stick to a very hot grate.
- If using an old-school grill powered by coals, wait until the coals are completely covered with gray ash, then hold your hand about five inches above the grill grate. Count how many seconds you can comfortably leave it there: One to two seconds is high heat, three to four seconds is medium heat and five to six seconds is low heat.
- The best time to scrub the grate free of any crusty gunk is after preheating. Use a long-handled brush. A clean grate is one of the best lines of defense against food sticking. If you use a bristle brush, inspect the grating — you don’t want any bristles or wires getting into your food.
- When the grill is preheated to medium-high, cook the fish on high heat for five to 10 minutes for a ½- to 1-inch fillet. Allow caramelization to develop between the fish and the grate for easy removal.
- Season the salmon with salt and pepper and lightly oil the skin sides. Cook the fillets skin side down with the barbecue grill lid closed, just until almost opaque throughout and skin is crackling crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes total.
- Grill the first side longer to develop a crust and those eye-pleasing grill marks on top. Add a pinch of dill and sea salt.
- If the skin starts to burn before the flesh is finished cooking, slide the fish onto aluminum foil and finish cooking. Four skin-on fillets of about six ounces will serve four people.
- One common mistake is flipping too often. Keep the lid down and turn the fish only once to a clean area of the grill.
Spice Is Nice
It may be hard to make unhealthy food on a grill, but it’s frighteningly easy to make bland barbecue. To avoid that ugly fate, we provide a few toppers for your salmon. Our only other tip: For faster fat loss, go easy with coatings and condiments.
Ancho Honey Glaze
Place two dried ancho chili peppers in a bowl and pour hot water over them — enough to cover them. Let soak for 15 minutes or until soft. Slice off the stems and pour out most of the seeds. Place the chilies, ⅓ cup water, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon orange zest and juice of ½ orange in a blender container and process until smooth. Remove half the glaze and set aside. Brush salmon fillets with glaze when there’s about five minutes left in cooking time. Remove salmon from grill and brush with reserved glaze.
Pat six pineapple rings dry with a paper towel and brush both sides with a light coating of oil. Grill pineapple rings for two minutes per side or until they have developed grill marks. Let cool, chop and combine with one diced avocado, one diced red bell pepper, ½ cup finely diced red onion, one seeded and minced serrano chili pepper, ⅓ cup chopped cilantro, juice of ½ lemon and ¼ teaspoon salt. Serve over salmon fillets.
Place one packed cup fresh basil, ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons water and ¼ teaspoon salt to taste in a blender container and blend until smooth. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and press down with a spatula to extract as much oil as possible. Discard solids. Serve salmon with oil drizzled over top.