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Barbecuing a Whole Salmon

Whole, grilled salmon

Whole, grilled salmon

BBQ Whole Salmon

Grilling an entire salmon is easy and will feed a large dinner party. A whole salmon means 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.

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 and Sockeye Salmon, and Sake.

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

Cook Time

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


Step 1: 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

Step 2: 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

Step 3: 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

Step 4: 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

Step 5: 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

Step 6: Put the Salmon on the Grill

Preheat the barbecue to 300 degrees. This recipe was tested on gas grills and charcoal grills (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

Step 7: 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 the 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 and 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: