How to cook salmon on a bbq smoker or charcoal grill

You know, one of the most interesting food anecdotes or stories that always sticks in my mind occurred between myself and a pal that’s a bit of a foody. He said to me – “I only like sashimi or smoked salmon”. Fair enough, I agree this is the best way to eat salmon myself. But in a snap reply I said, “if you don’t like Salmon cooked it’s because you’ve over cooked it” and I sat back and often realise just how true that is. If you overcook salmon it becomes lifeless, loses it’s lovely flaky appeal, essentially it becomes the boring Salmon you’ll buy out of a can in Tesco.

So in this article I am going to teach you how to add a bit of interesting smokey flavour to your Salmon with a food smoker come charcoal grill whilst still maintaining a nice moist flakey texture. I’ve got the kids eating this today so I won’t be going pink in the middle but rest assured that’s my normal preference 🙂

BBQ salmon in foil – butter, lemon, salt, and soy sauce for serving.

Don’t try to get too clever you’ll waste your time. Literally. You don’t have to get chefy and creative to make salmon taste it’s best. The simple way to add a bit of smokey flavour to your Salmon is lay a decent portion in foil, lump of butter, cut a lemon in half, it of salt.

Preparing salmon for the bbq – Cut a lemon butter salt and that’s it

That really is it. It took about five minutes to cut down that side of Salmon after removing the scales. You could do this on a gas bbq, portable charcoal bbq, a throw away bqq, and a portable gas bbq too. It’ll work just the same

I’m not sure why but my Fishmonger insists on filleting the Salmon before scaling. Something we need to have words on, I know that some like to cook scale on now but that isn’t for me!

You’ll notice I make a bit of a boat out of the bottom piece of foil. This is to catch the melting butter and ensure the Salmon fillet cooks nicely in it. I put the skin side up, because if I don’t end up too drunk I’ll blast that under a grill to crisp it up.

Folded the edges of the foil to catch the melting butter from the bbq on the Salmon

So you’re wondering why not do away with the foil and lay it on the grill skin side down. Two reasons, firstly it’ll stick so you need a fish basket, secondly, Salmon dries out rapidly this way. Some fish really benefit from the fish basket, one in particular is Sardine. They are superb in a griddle but salmon doesn’t go that way. The only tasty and thoroughly enjoyable Salmon is a moist Salmon.

After making a boat out of the bottom piece of foil I then scrunch a top layer on carefully making sure I don’t damage the boat. That’s it. I finish the rest of the seafood and head straight over to the bbq smoker.

The other thing I like to do just incase the boat looks like it might break up is place a tray under it. I’m not particularly fussed about the butter escaping on a charcoal grill

But if you had a gas bbq that might make it smoke a bit more than you might like, not that a Smokey buttery smell bothers me 🙂 It also helps when it comes to transfer indoors or to your table.

How long do you cook salmon on the grill and at what temperature?

Because I don’t place my Salmon anywhere near the charcoal I get far more freedom in temperature range. I also place my Salmon on the warming rack and let it cook through nice and steady. This gives me more of a chance to have a prod and ‘normally’ cook it to the point it’s just a bit pink in the middle. Today though with half a dozen kids running about between my sister an I, the emphasis is on being sure the Salmon is a bit over cooked if anything sadly. Here’s a look half way through:

Salmon half way through cooking on the Charcoal BBQ

So give it half hour and take a look. Here’s a few pictures:

Nice looking Salmon well cooked and slightly past pink in the middle for the kids

If you’re looking to cook quicker then obviously cut your portions smaller. We are in no rush so I always go with a large chunk. Most of the top end from the belly actually. If you do go smaller portions then it’s much easier to control the cooking too. If you’re not confident starting with smaller portions I’d probably the way to go.

So the big big question really – Is it better than pan fried?

I’m afraid I’m going to have to massively disappointed here and say no, pan fried is better unless you take the time to quickly blast the skin in your grill which can dry the fish out. I don’t think anything beats a bit of salmon pan fried in small portions quickly in butter and salt other than to eat your Salmon as sashimi or smoked 🙂

The reason we do it on the bbq is because it’s just a lovely way to cook and part of the whole bbq experience. And don’t get me wrong, it still tastes delicious I’m just talking about what is the absolute best push comes to shove, you should absolutely be cooking a bit of salmon in tin foil on your bbq or food smoker 🙂

Is there anything better than a bit of food on the bbq? Actually yes, the kids in the background having a blast, a nice glass of wine, or a beer. How grateful I am that we are nearly past the Covid thing here and bbq’s can be put properly back on the menu!

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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