The Ideal Cut Of Salmon For Grilled Perfection

The next time you think about sizzling up something on the grill, why not forgo the usual steak or chicken breast and opt for a robust piece of salmon instead? Although you'll never run out of ways to prepare the seafood favorite (whether you bake it, fry it, or eat it raw, sushi-style), as it happens, salmon is actually uniquely suited to grilling. When compared to other types of fish, both wild and farmed salmon tend to be heartier and boast a greater fat content that allows them to handle high heats, such as over an open flame on a barbecue.

While that can cause leaner and more delicate fish to dry out while cooking, salmon is better able to retain its juicy goodness on the inside while getting a good sear on the outside. The preparation is important, of course, but the real secret to making the perfect grilled salmon is actually in choosing the right cut of the fish in the first place.

In the case of salmon, you'll want to turn to a center-cut filet, especially if there's grilling on the menu. Just as it sounds, this cut comes from the center of the fish, where the muscle is at its thickest. While other cuts, such as the thinner, tapered tail end, can be just as yummy, they're not the best for the high, dry heats involved with grilling.

The thicker the cut, the better

Such is typically true for any type of meat: The thicker it is, the juicier it gets while cooking. When it comes to seafood, however, the thickness of the piece can really make or break your dish. Since fish cooks quicker than red meat and poultry due to its higher water content, shorter muscle fibers, and smaller connective tissues, it can go straight to overdone before it even has the chance to develop a crust, so choosing thicker pieces is essential for getting a longer sear time before the salmon reaches the point of dried-out and overcooked.

Ideally, the center-cut filet will also include the skin. The skin, along with the extra fat and flesh, acts to insulate the salmon's inner juices while it gets the sought-after crispy crust outside, slowing down the time it takes for the heat to reach the center. It's all a bit of a balancing act, but the results speak for themselves: Grill up a thick-cut salmon and you'll have a perfectly crunchy exterior and a wonderfully tender (and flavorful) interior. You'll never go back to thin filets again.