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Barbecuing a Whole Salmon

Paul is a barbecue enthusiast. He is currently grilling and smoking on a Komodo Kamado Ultimate 23.

Whole, Grilled Salmon

Whole, Grilled Salmon

Grilling an Entire Salmon

Grilling an entire salmon is easy and will feed a large dinner party. A whole salmon is the entire fish in one piece that has been cleaned. It usually comes with the head removed, but some fish markets sell it with the head. The ideal size for barbecuing is between eight to twelve pounds.

If you are interested in smoked salmon, I would try this recipe.

Rate the Whole Salmon Recipe

What Type of Salmon Is the Best to Grill?

In this recipe, we grilled a Copper River salmon that was a little under eight pounds. Wild-caught salmon from Alaska is the "Best Choice," according to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program and the Marine Stewardship Council. Alaskan Pacific salmon is managed very well; officials keep a close watch on the salmon ecosystems as well as the fisheries. Look for Alaskan, wild salmon with the following names: Chinook, Coho, Chum, Keta, King, Pink, Red, Silver & Sockeye Salmon, and Sake.

If possible, don't choose farmed Atlantic salmon; it is under the "avoid" category.

Cook Time for Barbecued Whole Salmon

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

45 min

1 hour 5 min

An 8 lb. salmon serves 16 adults


  • 8 to 12 lbs whole, wild-caught, Alaskan salmon
  • 4 tablespoon course salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch dill
The first step is washing the salmon under cold water and patting it dry on the inside and outside with paper towels

The first step is washing the salmon under cold water and patting it dry on the inside and outside with paper towels

Washing the Salmon

Run the entire salmon under cold water and thoroughly rinse the inside and outside of the fish. Pat it dry on the inside and outside with paper towels. Dispose of the paper towels once the fish is dry.

Slice slits in Salmon

Slice slits in Salmon

Slice Slits in the Outside of the Salmon

Once the fish is dry, using a very sharp knife, slice 3/4 of an inch deep slits that run about three inches long as shown in the photo. Create three to four slits on each side of the salmon.

The slits are used to create an opening from the outside of the fish to get seasoning and basting juices into the meat.

Salt and pepper the inside of the salmon

Salt and pepper the inside of the salmon

Add Salt and Pepper to the Inside of the Salmon

Using the salt and pepper, season the inside of the salmon. It's important that the salt and pepper are the first seasonings added to the fish. This helps the meat absorb the flavors of the other seasonings added later.

Lemon and dill on the inside of the salmon

Lemon and dill on the inside of the salmon

Add the Dill and the Lemon to the Salmon

Laying the fish down, put down a layer of dill on the inside of the salmon. Next, take lemon slices and create a layer of lemon. To create a richer flavor, add a few pads of butter on top of the lemon slices. Add another layer of dill over the lemons and close the salmon.

Slits filled with salt and pepper, dill and lemon

Slits filled with salt and pepper, dill and lemon

Fill the Slits with Seasoning

With the salmon closed, add the following to the slits on the outside of the salmon:

  • Salt and pepper
  • A little dill
  • Lemon slices

Repeat these steps on both sides of the salmon.

Whole salmon on the grill

Whole salmon on the grill

Put the Salmon on the Grill

Preheat the barbecue to 300 degrees. This recipe was tested on gas grills, charcoal grills, and Kamados (including a Big Green Egg). Unlike other barbecue recipes, this barbecued salmon works well on all grill types because the salmon meat is very lean and has minimal drippings.

You can either place the entire salmon on the grill or add a baking fish tray to hold the salmon.

Tinfoil covered paddles for flipping the salmon

Tinfoil covered paddles for flipping the salmon

Baste and Flip the Salmon Every 15 Minutes

To make the basting sauce:

  1. Melt 1/2 of a cube of salted butter in a pan
  2. Add 1/2 tablespoon of salt
  3. Add a 1/4 can of beer (3 ounces)

Every 15 minutes brush basting sauce on the salmon and flip the fish.

Flipping an entire salmon is a bit tricky. Use two cardboard paddles that are about 12 inches long and 6 inches wide covered in tinfoil. As shown in the photo, slide one of the paddles under the salmon and use the other paddle to flip the salmon gently over. Be as gentle as possible; salmon can be flaky and easily fall apart.

Grilled whole salmon

Grilled whole salmon

Serving Grilled Whole Salmon

A whole salmon will take about 45 minutes to one hour to grill. It's done when it's pink on the inside, with the edges cooked (usually looks lighter in color) and the skin is crisp. On an instant-read thermometer, it should be pulled from the grill between 120 degrees for rare salmon and 130 degrees for medium. Let the salmon sit for ten minutes and then serve.

How to Cut a Whole Salmon for Serving:

  • To create fillets, take a very sharp knife and, starting at the end of the fish, slice the meat away from the bone in one large sheet. Start at the head and move the knife to the tail. The knife must be very sharp.
  • To create steaks, take a large sharp knife and slice all the way through the fish across the width about every 1/2 inch.
whole salmon barbecue dinner

whole salmon barbecue dinner

The Whole Salmon Barbecued Dinner

An entire salmon that is eight to twelve pounds will serve a group of 12 to 20 good eaters. Recommended side dishes include:


Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on May 14, 2018:

Many people prefer the head cut off the fish when it's served If folks won't appreciate the fish head, go ahead and cut it off.

Mjbythebay on May 14, 2018:

We got a whole salmon from the fishing pier at Half Moon Bay and froze it. (Not ideal.) Do you think I should cut the head off before grilling this weekend? Thx!

suziann50 on May 09, 2017:

I cannot wait to try this recipe. Thank you for the amazing information on how to achieve the perfect Salmon dinner.

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on August 22, 2014:

Next time you throw a salmon on the BBQ, let me know. I'll be over on the first plane

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on August 18, 2014:

This page made me hungry, LOL. I haven't had a whole BBQ'd salmon for years...

LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on January 21, 2014:


Carl Junior on June 30, 2013:

That salmon looks extra delicious, great job :)

Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on May 23, 2013:

Try reducing the heat and using a stone (similar to a pizza stone) to shield the direct heat. Putting a little oil down on the stone will also help. Then grill the fish on the stone. Many barbecuers only grill fish this way.

portables on May 22, 2013:

I've found it really hard to keep the temp. down enough so that it doesn't burn on the outside but stay raw in the middle!

Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on March 23, 2013:

I've done trout wrapped in foil, but not salmon. I'll give it a shot.

Jamesm1968 from UK on March 23, 2013:

Looks mouth-watering. As an alternative, have you tried the 'back-woods' method ?. Prep the fish as in your hub, but instead of grilling, wrap fish in wet newspaper (or tin foil) and place on a fire. This will steam the fish in it's own juices.

Before anyone asks, the newspaper needs to be wet to stop it burning.

Pooja S from Toronto on March 22, 2013:

Really need to try this summer...

newusedcarssacram from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A on March 21, 2013:

Grilling a whole Salmon, sounds amazing…

Sonia Sood from Mumbai on March 21, 2013:

Never tried this... But would love to. Pinning this Hub for reference.

Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on March 20, 2013:

Oh my goodness. Everything about this, from the language to the images to the directions -- all pretty incredible. Can't wait to make this!

CZCZCZ from Oregon on March 20, 2013:

Just delicious. We love to cook a whole salmon for a group of friends and family after an awesome weekend of fishing. This is a wonderful way to do it and have an impressive presentation.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on March 20, 2013:

This is a simple yet elegant idea for feeding a crowd. I like the step-by-step photos since handling and cooking a whole fish can be overwhelming for those who don't have experience with it. Salmon is my favorite fish, so I personally would love to try this! Voted up and shared.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on March 18, 2013:

This is surely to be delicious! I love barbecues but I haven't tried grilling a salmon nor eaten a grilled salmon, but it's a nice idea you have. Thanks for posting. :)

John Paolo B.Magdaluyo from Philippine on March 18, 2013:

Wow! staring at your pictures made me hungry. Great hub, voted up! looking forward trying it sometimes.

Gordon Hamilton from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on July 07, 2011:

I love the idea of grilled salmon, Paul, though I have never tasted it, as we quite simply don't get the weather here in Scotland to arrange outdoor grilling. Where it is done, it's always as a last minute arrangement, with fresh salmon not always available. I agree with you absolutely that it should never be frozen.

I hope you don't mind me asking but I am curious as to why you removed the head from the salmon prior to cooking it, or did you perhaps buy it that way? I would usually cook any whole fish with both the head and tail intact, to help the fish keep its shape. There is also an incredibly tasty little bit on trout and salmon that not a lot of people know about and which must be classed as a chef's privilege. It is right on the top of the snout/nose and is plucked off after cooking between the thumb and forefinger. An old gamekeeper once told me the name for it but I'm afraid I can't remember. Feel for it and you'll find it.

Have you ever tried salmon cooked in a fish kettle/poacher? Due to the nature of the cooking process, the salmon is eaten cold but it is so moist, so tender and so delicious that the wait is more than worthwhile. I used to have an old friend who fished the Tay and the Tweed rivers here for salmon and gave me them fresh, as I only do saltwater fishing these days. This was the way I used to cook them.

I look forward to reading about how your frozen salmon turns out.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on June 25, 2011:

This looks absolutely delicious. Have added a salmon to my list today do grill later this week.

India Arnold from Northern, California on June 19, 2011:

Great food pictures! They make us want to get that Salmond on the grill tonight! Thanks for sharing your grilled salmon secrets Paul.


Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on June 17, 2011:

I know Jonathon put one whole salmon in the freezer so he should be ready for guests. I have to say, I never freeze fish. It tastes so much better fresh:)

MyMastiffPuppies on June 17, 2011:

Sounds and looks delicious! What time should we be there to eat? Voted up, useful and awesome...

Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on June 09, 2011:

It's coming soon. Jonathon shot it in one take. Natural.

Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on June 08, 2011:

Dude, it's coming. Jonathon did it in one shot. He's a natural:)

jamestedmondson from San Francisco on June 08, 2011:

I would like to see the video of which you speak.

AC Witschorik from Victoria, Mn. on June 07, 2011:

Great hub, love to BBQ and love Salmon, I'm going to give your recipe a try

Hello, hello, from London, UK on June 06, 2011:

That sounds great and so well detailed how to do it. Super hub. Thank you.

Chris on June 06, 2011:

It looks amazing!!! I love salmon prepared that way.

bfeaver from Central California on June 06, 2011:

Liked your pictures and recipe for cooking the salmon. I wrap in foil. I squeeze lemon juice and sprinkle brown sugar over the fish and then cook in the BBQ for about tweny minutes. It is very good...I want to try your method...looks great!

HunterGiftBaskets from Newcastle, Hunter Valley, Australia on June 05, 2011:

Great to see and am savoring my next attempt! Like gavlax and smoking this is just another string to the bow.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on June 05, 2011:

I live in Pismo Beach and have a cabin cruiser at Port San Luis, Avila Beach. As you know, salmon "season" is here... Good ideas and gbreat timing! Voted up and awesome!

Sinea Pies from Northeastern United States on June 04, 2011:

Great pictorial! And that table looks so nice.

kakashi on June 04, 2011:

Looks so delicious!

rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on June 04, 2011:

Yum! Love the pics. It looks and sound delicious, as well as your side dishes. Thanks for sharing!

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on June 04, 2011:

i think you have a slightly bigger barbie than we have- still it looks very appetizing

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on June 04, 2011:

I must say I was a little bit skeptical at first. Salmon isn't very popular here in Jamaica, only the imported fillet. I love dill, so that really got my attention. I guess you can do any large fish this way, I'll have to try it.

Beth100 from Canada on June 03, 2011:

I'm sooo hungry now!!! Your photos grabbed my stomach, and it still hasn't let go! Could you please pass me the salmon?? :)

Paul Edmondson (author) from Burlingame, CA on June 03, 2011:

We definitely went through some wine with the salmon. Mainly Pinot Noir.

Druid Dude from West Coast on June 03, 2011:

Excellent! Mmmm. Good chefing. I simply never have the occasion. Done a lot of deep pit work in the past. A tasty chablis from the Willamette Valley ...and BAM!

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