Salmon is not only extremely delicious but very nutritious and good for health too. This very quick and easy-to-cook protein can be prepared in various ways, whether in the oven, grill, or stovetop. However, getting the temperature right and cooking the salmon perfectly can be tricky.
If you don’t cook it enough, the salmon will be raw on the inside, and cooking it for too long will make it mealy and dry. Either way, the beautiful fish will taste unappetizing.
In this article, we’ll give you the complete lowdown and discuss the tips and tricks of how to cook salmon perfectly.
What is the Perfect Temperature to Cook Salmon?
According to the USDA, it is recommended to cook salmon at 145°F; however, at this temperature, most people find that the salmon is overcooked. Typically, the best results of cooking salmon can be seen at temperatures between 120°F-125°F.
However, arriving at the perfect temperatures for cooking salmon depends on various factors such as whether the salmon is wild, farmed, fresh or frozen, the type of salmon and the cut you choose.
Type of Salmon
There are many types of salmon and each one cooks differently.
- Atlantic Salmon: Most of the salmon available and eaten in the US is Atlantic salmon. These are usually farm-raised in aquaculture pens and have a lot of intramuscular fat.
- King Salmon: Also called the Chinook salmon, King salmon are among the largest types of salmon in the ocean. King salmon has a very high-fat content making them perfect for pan-frying and roasting.
- Coho Salmon: This type of salmon is small in size, but extremely flavorful. Having very little fat, the Coho salmon is suitable for cured dishes.
- Sockeye Salmon: Compared to the King salmon, the Sockeye salmon has deeper reddish-colored flesh. With much less fat content than the King salmon, the Sockeye salmon can turn very dry if not cooked properly.
Wild vs Farmed
Compared to farmed salmon, wild-caught salmon has a better texture and fresher taste. Typically, wild salmon are caught in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. Wild salmon has a firmer and meatier texture and is available between late spring and early fall.
On the other hand, farmed salmon are bred in various parts of the world in restricted aquacultural systems. Farmed salmon typically have a soft and buttery texture and they are available all through the year. Whether the salmon is wild or farmed affects the internal temperature to which the fish must be cooked.
Fresh vs Frozen
Typically, the cooking temperature of the salmon depends on whether it is fresh or frozen. Fresh salmon is usually shiny, moist, without any smells or blemishes and generally has a better texture and fresher taste compared to frozen salmon.
Further Reading: How To Tell If Salmon Is Bad: A Quick Guide To Save You Time
Cuts of Salmon
You have the option of choosing from a wide variety of salmon cuts such as individual filets, whole side, belly, steaks and loin, etc., apart from purchasing the whole salmon. The cut of the salmon will affect the way the salmon is prepared and cooked and it will also impact the cooking time.
Related: What Is the Food Temperature Danger Zone?
Salmon Cooking Temperatures
As we discussed earlier, as per the FDA, seafood must be cooked to 145°F; however, this will leave your salmon dry and tasteless. So, the recommended temperatures for cooking salmon to ensure that all hazards are destroyed while leaving the fish juicy and flavorful include:
- Medium-Rare: 110°F-115°F (43.3°C-46.1°C)
- Medium: 120°F-125°F (48.9°C-51.6°C)
- Well Done: 145°F (62.7°C)
Farmed salmon must be cooked till the internal temperature of the fish is 125°F to ensure that the flesh is firm, yet silky; however, wild salmon must be cooked until the temperature is 120°F.
Wild salmon has more connective tissue and collagen, so cooking it above 120°F will make the wild salmon too dry. At 120°F, the muscle fibers contract less, retaining more moisture.
How to Check the Temperature of Salmon While Cooking?
When cooking salmon, the most important thing to know is how to check the internal temperature properly. Using a food thermometer is the most accurate and best way to check if the salmon has been cooked to the proper temperature.
Typically, a food thermometer has a long skewer attached to the front and must be inserted into the food. The tip of the skewer measures the temperature.
Proper Technique to Take the Temperature of the Salmon
- For an accurate temperature reading, ensure that the skewer is in the center of the thickest portion of the cut of salmon.
- The thermometer skewer must not pierce the salmon all the way through.
- Ensure that the skewer is clean before inserting it into the salmon to prevent any contamination.
- Avoid using an infrared thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the salmon, as this will only measure the surface temperature.
Salmon Cooking Method
The technique you pick also affects the temperature at which the salmon is cooked. Typically, the salmon should be cooked at a temperature that’s not too high so that the outer part of the fish cooks much before the inner part is done. In this section, we’ll discuss the various salmon cooking styles and the temperature required.
Place a skillet on the stovetop and heat on medium-high. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil or butter. Place the filet of salmon skin-side down and cook it for around 3-5 minutes, until the skin is nice and crispy and released from the skillet.
Then, flip the filet and cook the fleshy part for around 2-4 minutes. Allow the salmon to rest for around 5 minutes. This will bring the temperature of the salmon to around 120°F-125°F.
Set the oven’s temperature to around 500°F. Without cutting into the meat, make three to four slashes in the salmon’s skin to score it. By wiping the salmon with a paper towel, rubbing it with oil, and adding salt and pepper on top, you may get rid of any extra moisture. Place the salmon skin-side down on the baking sheet covered with parchment paper and lower the oven temperature to 325°F.
Roast for around 8-12 minutes until the internal temperature of the salmon reaches 120°F and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving. You can either use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the salmon or put a probe thermometer in before placing the salmon into the oven.
To sous vide the salmon, first, preheat the water bath to around 125°F and add all the seasonings (such as herbs, spices, etc.) you want to the salmon. Place the salmon into a Ziplock bag and put the bag into the water bath. Cook for around 20 minutes until the salmon is opaque and serve.
If you plan to grill salmon on your propane or charcoal grill, create a 2-zone fire. If you have a propane grill, turn 1-2 burners on a high setting. In the case of a charcoal grill, light the briquets and when ready, place 3/4th of them on one side of the grill.
When the grill is hot, place the salmon on the hot side with the skin-side down. Cover the grill and then cook the salmon for 3 minutes. Check if the salmon separates from the grill easily. When it does, flip the salmon and cook for a couple of minutes until it reaches 120°F. Allow the salmon to rest for 5 minutes and then serve.
Related: How Long Does Cooked Salmon Last: The Burning Question!
There are several ways to cook salmon; however, if you don’t get the cooking temperature right, you’ll end up with an overcooked, dry and tasteless piece of fish. The key is to get the technique, as well as timing right and by paying attention to these aspects, you can ensure that your salmon is perfectly juicy and has a glorious flavor.