Fish is a delicate protein and prone to overcooking over the dry heat of a grill.
Follow these 5 Best Fish Grilling Tips for greater success when cooking fish with fire.
We include recommended equipment too!
Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Basil Butter Sauce is a combination of two of our grill class recipes. I created the Grilled Tomato-Basil Compound Butter for Grilled Herb-Buttermilk Chicken and with a splash of dry white wine, it finishes this salmon just as beautifully.
Versatility is one of the things I love about having compound butter in my freezer for any flavorful whim (or wild hair, as my mom would say). It is a staple in my kitchen and is easy to make ahead to quickly dress up any roasted, pan seared, grilled meat or fish.
Need an instant sauce for your grilled salmon?
- Create a simple sauce by adding a splash of wine, lemon juice or red wine vinegar to melted compound butter. This is a quick way to thin and balance the richness of the butter.
- Include homemade chicken stock along with any of these acids (use a combination of chicken stock and lemon juice as a sub for wine) to stretch it to cover more servings.
How much you’ll need will be determined by your own taste.
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5 Best Tips for Grilling Fish
Fish is a delicate protein and prone to overcooking quickly. Following these tips will provide greater success when cooking fish with fire.
- Start with a clean, oiled grill grates. The best way to clean grill grates is high heat for at least 15 minutes to burn off any residue and follow up with a good grill brush. Fish is easier to turn and keep intact if it doesn’t stick. Neat Trick: Trim 1/2-inch off the bottom of an onion, stab with a fork to create a handle, dip the sliced side in oil and use it to spread the oil over the grates.
- Brine the fish before it hits the grill. Brining the salmon enhances its natural flavor, helps keep it moist, and diminishes the white albumin film that forms as it cooks. Use care when adding acids like lemon juice so it doesn’t “cook” the fish before it gets to the grill.
- Protect the fish with a barrier between it and the fire with wood planks, sliced citrus, or skin-on cuts. These barriers also add flavor and enhance finished presentation.
- Watch it closely (don’t leave the grill). Fish goes from perfectly tender and moist to dry and overcooked in less than a minute. It is so easy to get distracted or try to do too much at once. NOTE: It’s best to get side dishes or sauces ready before it meets the heat.
- Use a timer and an instant read thermometer for accurate doneness. A rule of thumb is 10 minutes of cooking time for every inch of thickness. You can pierce the flesh with a sharp knife to peek inside to make sure it’s barely translucent, but a thermometer is faster and more reliable.
The Best Tools for Grilling Fish
- A wide spatula with a thin, tapered edge like a fish turner is the only special equipment you will need to make grilling fish a breeze. Fancy fish baskets might make it slightly easier to turn the fish but they don’t prevent sticking and are a mess to clean.
- Cedar planks placed directly on the grill grates under the fish form a barrier for the fish provides protection and adds flavor as it cooks.
- An instant-read thermometer is the ONLY way to really know when the fish is done and prevent over-cooking.
- Glass dish with lid for brining.
Get More Smoke Flavor When Grilling Fish
Not long ago, I discovered Mo’s Smoking Pouch Kit with Natural Wood Chips Smoking Pouch Kit with Natural Wood Chips and it’s been worth every penny. I’m not big on cooking or grilling gadgets, but this has proved to be the real deal.
It’s a stainless steel pouch you can throw on any charcoal or gas grill for added smoke without risking flare-ups like you can get with bare wood chips.
The pouch is small, producing smoke for 15-20 minutes, so it’s ideal for quick-cooking foods like steak, chops, fish, burgers, and vegetables.
Now you’re ready to make this Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Basil Butter Sauce Recipe!
Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Basil Butter Sauce
For the Grilled Tomato-Basil Compound Butter Sauce:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil -- plus 1 tablespoon for grilling , plus 1 tablespoon for grilling
- 6 ounces grape tomatoes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
- Pinch sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
For the Salmon:
- 4 salmon fillets or steaks
- 4 cups water
- 4 tablespoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the Compound Butter Sauce:
- Heat the grill to 400°F. Toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the oil to coat and place on skewers, or use a vegetable grill pan. If using a grill pan, place on the grill while preheating so it is hot when the tomatoes go on it.
- Grill the tomatoes until blistered and charred in places, about 8 minutes. Remove from grill and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and coarsely chop (careful, they can squirt a little).
- Transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Combine with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, basil, and softened butter until well mixed. Spoon compound butter onto a piece of wax paper in a long, narrow shape, about 2 inches wide by 9 inches long.
- Carefully fold the wax paper over the butter to create a somewhat rounded cylinder shape--this will make it easy to cut slices off of when ready. Gently place the butter on a flat surface in the freezer.
- The butter can also be made well in advance and kept in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. Once the butter is firm, it can be sliced and used to top the salmon, or added to a skillet with wine or chicken broth to create a sauce.
- To make the sauce, place approximately 4 tablespoons of the compound butter in a small, non-reactive skillet over medium heat. Once the butter starts to bubble, whisk in the wine to create a simple sauce. Taste, and add more wine or compound butter, as desired. Remove from heat and set aside while preparing the salmon.
For the Salmon:
- Heat the grill to 400°F. While the grill is heating, mix 4 cups of water with 4 tablespoons sea salt and stir to dissolve salt. Place salmon in the brine in a container just big enough to allow the brine to cover the salmon in a single layer (don't stack the salmon)--brine for 10 minutes.
- (If not using the brine, salmon with salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil.)
- Once the grill reaches temperature, reduce heat and oil grates where salmon will rest or use sliced lemon under salmon to protect it from sticking. Remove the salmon from the brine and dry with paper towels. Brush with olive oil on both sides. Place the salmon on the grill over med-high heat (about 375°F), skin-side up. Cook for 4 minutes and gently turn over to finish cooking skin-side down, about 6 more minutes.
- At 4 minutes after turning, check the temperature and remove from the grill when the thickest part of the salmon is between 120-125 degrees. Note: If you've used cedar plank or lemon slices under the salmon, transfer it lay directly on the grill grates the last minute or so of cooking to produce grill marks.Tent the salmon with foil and return the sauce to the stove to reheat. Spoon sauce over the salmon to serve.
More Grilling Recipes You’ll Love:
Cedar Plank Grilled Chicken
14 Go-To Grilling Recipes To Get Fired Up for Summer
Grilled Steak and Shrimp Scampi for Two: Surf & Turf Date Night Dinner
Grilled Tri-Tip Roast Recipe for a Charcoal or Gas Grill
Great tips! I will definitely try brining the fish and put a layer of citrus in between next time.
Jenni LeBaron says
The barrier is so important. I always leave my the skin on, but I think it’s also really lovely on a cedar plank or even a salt block. These are really fantastic tips!
Wow! This is so pretty! I can taste all the yummy flavor from here.
Great tips thank you! This salmon looks like it is cooked perfectly. That tomato basil butter sounds delicious, I can imagine it would go well with a variety of fish.
I just bought my first gas grill. Grilling fish is always a little intimidating so thank you so much for all the info. And that butter! Oh, the butter. Yum.
I actually never grilled salmon before which is crazy! You are inspiring me to try it soon, especially with that sauce, yum.
Raia Todd says
I looooove grilled salmon! Thanks for the tips!
Joni Gomes says
I’m a huge fan of grape tomatoes and salmon! Great recipe thank you!
Very nice recipe, and very solid fish grilling tips. So many people “cook” their fish with citrus!
Kari - Get Inspired Everyday! says
I never get enough of the tomato basil combo during the summer, so this is going on the ‘must make’ list!
Tessa Simpson says
A perfect blend of flavors, and so easy! Thanks for a great recipe!
Renee D Kohley says
That compound butter is such a fantastic idea – I can’t wait to use this with all of my summer tomatoes!
I have to agree with John above, I loved the suggestion of oiling the grill grates with an onion. Not heard that one before. Will make it a lot easier.
Great recipe too!! It’s on my list of “need to try” recipes.
Judy Purcell says
Hi Todd, thanks for stopping by and do let me know how you like the recipe. 🙂 I had a moment to check out your site-in-progress, looks like you’ll have a few grilling reicpes of your own coming soon! Best of luck.
Lewis Perry says
Oh. I want that food please!
Karen (Back Road Journal) says
Beautiful fish and great tips, I’ve never thought to brine fish.
Sounds like the best summer! Those teaching classes must have been a blast and sounds like they were very rewarding! Great to have appreciative students! Love this salmon. Thanks for all of the grilling tips to get it right!
Judy Purcell says
MJ, it was a great summer–so fun to do what I love outside too. 🙂
Liz Posmyk (Good Things) says
Loving this, Judy. It’s our kind of meal! Congratulations on teaching, that’s a good thing to be doing xx
Judy Purcell says
Thanks Liz, it’s been very rewarding. 🙂
John/Kitchen Riffs says
Really like the tip to use an onion when oiling the grill! Very clever. Sounds like a busy, but fun, summer. Really good post — learned a few things. Thanks!
Judy Purcell says
Hi John, it has been a busy summer and I haven’t been as consistent visiting all the blogs I usually do, but I’ve been by several times to see what you’ve been up to. Appreciate my online pals!