Smoking Salmon on a Charcoal Grill

grilling salmon on charcoal grill

Smoking salmon on a charcoal grill is easy and fun. Choose fresh salmon that is bright pink and firm to the touch. Look for wild caught fish, if possible, as it has less fat and fewer contaminants than farm raised salmon.

Use a neutral cooking oil (like rapeseed) to brush the salmon and help it absorb flavors. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs to your liking.

Cooking Time

Grilled salmon cooks quickly and requires a light touch. Too much direct heat can dry it out and leave you with a tough fish. To avoid this, make sure the grill is screamin’ hot before adding salmon (as Nicole says), and brush the grates generously with oil. If you do accidentally burn some skin, don’t panic – the burnt bits will flavor the cooked side of the salmon.

I prefer to cook salmon fillets with the skin on. It adds texture and a delicious, nutty flavor that pairs well with the smoky grill. It’s also easier to flip if the skin is on one side – just slide your fish off the grate and onto the fleshy side.

When you’re ready to grill, start with the skin-side down over the hot zone for about 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. When the skin is darkened and crispy, move it to indirect heat and allow to finish cooking. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the fillet. It should register 120 degrees F. It will continue to rise 3-5 degrees while resting. Enjoy! This is a great meal for a weeknight dinner. It’s quick to prepare and surprisingly filling.


If you’re grilling salmon fillets, a bit of salt and pepper will help to add flavor. You can also try using fresh herbs like dill and parsley, which pair well with fish. Lemon juice is another great flavor enhancer for grilled salmon, and it’s easy to add to any recipe for this popular seafood.

Before cooking, make sure that the grates of your charcoal grill are clean and oiled. If they’re not, the fish may stick. Use a brush to wipe the grates, or dip a paper towel in oil and rub it on the grate. This will give the salmon a nice, healthy non-stick coating and prevent it from sticking to the grate when you’re ready to flip it.

Place the salmon on the hot side of the grill first, skin-side down. This will allow most of the grilling to happen on one side, and then you can use a fish spatula to gently turn it over onto the cooler side. Keep an eye on it to ensure that it doesn’t overcook — a medium-rare piece of salmon should be a light, opaque pink and easily flake apart with a fork. You can also test for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the salmon: it should read between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit.


Aside from the fact that it tastes great, smoking salmon is a fast and easy way to make a beautiful dinner. If you’re entertaining a crowd, this is a great option to consider because it cooks so quickly that you can finish up cooking the fish while guests are mingling and grabbing drinks.

Start by prepping the salmon with any marinade or seasoning of your choice (see seasoning and marinade ideas above). Rinse the fillets, pat dry with paper towels and allow to sit in room temperature air for about 30 minutes until the skin feels tacky to the touch.

The next step is to prep the grill for indirect heat. Light a chimney starter full of charcoal and pour onto one side of the grill. Place a pan filled with water on the opposite side of the grill to help regulate and control the temperature during the smoking process.

Once the grill is hot, add the soaked wood chips directly over the coals and close the lid to trap the smoke in the grill for a flavorful smoked salmon. After 6-8 minutes, flip the salmon and allow to cook another 4 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Once done, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.

Smoking Salmon on a Charcoal Grill Step By Step

Smoking salmon on a charcoal grill can yield wonderfully smoky and flavorful results. To smoke salmon on a charcoal grill, you’ll need a few additional tools, like a smoking box or aluminum foil pouch for the wood chips or chunks. Here’s a step-by-step guide to smoking salmon on a charcoal grill:


  • Salmon fillets or sides
  • Wood chips or chunks (apple, cherry, or alder wood works well with salmon)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional seasonings: lemon zest, dill, or your favorite salmon rub


  • Charcoal grill
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Charcoal chimney starter
  • Smoking box or aluminum foil pouch
  • Meat thermometer
  • Grill thermometer (if your grill doesn’t have one)


  1. Soak the Wood Chips/Chunks:
    • If you’re using wood chips, soak them in water for about 30 minutes. If you’re using wood chunks, they don’t need to be soaked.
  2. Prepare the Charcoal:
    • Start by lighting a chimney starter full of charcoal briquettes. Once they’re ashed over, spread them out on one side of the grill to create an indirect heat zone.
  3. Prepare the Wood Chips/Chunks:
    • If you’re using a smoking box, fill it with the soaked wood chips or chunks. If you don’t have a smoking box, you can create a pouch from aluminum foil and poke some holes in it to allow smoke to escape. Place the pouch or box directly on the hot charcoal.
  4. Preheat the Grill:
    • Place the grill grate on the grill and close the lid. Allow the grill to come to the desired smoking temperature, which should be around 225-250°F (107-121°C).
  5. Prepare the Salmon:
    • While the grill is heating, prepare the salmon. Brush the salmon fillets or sides with olive oil to prevent sticking.
  6. Season the Salmon:
    • Season the salmon with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and any optional seasonings you like, such as lemon zest, dill, or your favorite salmon rub.
  7. Place the Salmon on the Grill:
    • Place the seasoned salmon on the grill grates opposite the hot charcoal, in the indirect heat zone. Ensure the grill thermometer registers the desired smoking temperature.
  8. Smoke the Salmon:
    • Close the grill lid and smoke the salmon for approximately 1-2 hours, depending on the thickness of the fish and your preferred level of smokiness. You can add more wood chips or chunks as needed to maintain a steady stream of smoke.
  9. Check for Doneness:
    • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the salmon. The salmon is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). It should be flaky and opaque throughout.
  10. Remove and Serve:
    • Once the salmon is smoked to your liking, carefully remove it from the grill and transfer it to a serving platter.
  11. Garnish and Enjoy:
    • Garnish the smoked salmon with fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, or your favorite sauce or dressing. Serve it as a main course or as a delightful appetizer.

Smoking salmon on a charcoal grill can be a rewarding and delicious experience. The slow smoking process infuses the fish with rich smoky flavors that complement its natural sweetness. It’s perfect for special occasions and gatherings.

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