Salmon is one of the most nutritious and delicious fish you can find, but the process to cook it to perfection can be especially confusing when every other recipe states a different time and temperature at which to cook it.
So, what is the correct temperature to cook salmon? There isn’t a straightforward answer to what temperature you should cook salmon, as there are many factors to consider. However, for safety, the internal temperature should always be between 110-145°F.
Today we will have an in-depth look at the process of cooking salmon, including choosing the correct species and cut, how to check the temperature, and how to cook salmon using the 3 best methods.
You don’t have to spend another minute researching because we’ve made the ultimate guide to cooking salmon.
Choosing the Right Salmon
Choosing salmon isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Now there are so many different options ranging from farmed, wild, fresh, and frozen, as well as different types of species and cuts – what’s the difference, and which should you choose?
Let’s take a look at different aspects to take into consideration when buying salmon.
The species of salmon wouldn’t affect any cooking procedures or times, but how it was raised and prepared will.
Never buy salmon species that are on the endangered species (red) list. These include Sockeye, Rock, or Cape salmon.
Some types of Atlantic salmon (Norwegian, Scottish, and Alaskan) have become very popular due to other species becoming red-listed, and are, for the most part, now also on the yellow list.
Why are we mentioning the species if it doesn’t affect the cooking aspect? Well, it does, because all the endangered species are wild salmon.
If you see packaging that says “wild” or “free-range” or “line-caught” salmon, be sure to check the species on the package – which is required by law. If they don’t state any species, don’t buy it.
Wild Caught Vs Farmed
Buying farmed salmon isn’t necessarily taboo, however, wild salmon does have a more authentic taste and better texture – it all depends on how the farmed salmon was raised and if it was done in an environmentally friendly way.
Try to buy sustainably farmed or wild salmon to protect the species.
||Wild salmon||Farmed salmon|
|Definition||Caught in open waters by nets or lines, mostly in the Pacific ocean||Bred and raised in a confined aquacultural system in different areas of the world|
|Texture||Firm and meaty||Soft and buttery|
|Availability||Late spring to early fall||All-year-round|
Whether you have a wild or farmed salmon on your hands is an important factor, as it affects the internal temperature to which you should cook the fish.
Fresh Vs Frozen
Salmon also comes frozen or fresh depending on where you are located. Fresh salmon should look moist, shiny and not have any blemishes or smells. It will have a much fresher taste (if it is fresh) and will have a much better texture.
Frozen salmon is sometimes better than fresh, so it’s not a problem if that’s your preference. But, have a look at the label and make sure it states that the salmon have been flash-frozen immediately after harvest.
Vacuum sealing salmon is a way to preserve fresh cuts without having to freeze them. Remember that the salmon should be completely defrosted before the cooking process can start, so work that into your time-frame.
The FDA highly recommends thawing frozen seafood in the refrigerator overnight.
If you are short on time, you can place the frozen seafood in a re-sealable plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, but the item should be cooked immediately afterward.
Other than buying a whole salmon, there are a ton of cuts you can buy. The cut will affect the cooking time, but the internal temperature guide should still be followed without exception.
The cut is usually an indication of what dish you are making as well as how it should be prepared and cooked.
Here are some of the most common cuts you will find salmon sold in. You can create other cuts from these pieces as well or even fillet a whole salmon.
|Cut||What it is||Size||Best cooking methods|
|Whole side||Single fillet||4-5 lbs (1.8–2.2 kg)|| Roasting, curing |
|Individual fillets||Individual serving cut from whole fillet||6-8 oz. (170–230 g)||Roasting, pan-searing, poaching, grilling, smoking |
|Steaks||Single portion cut perpendicular to spine||8-10 oz. (230–280g)||Pan-searing|
|Belly||Lower section of whole fillet||varies||Slow roasting, poaching, pan-searing|
|Loin||Portion of whole fillet with both fat and flesh||varies||Roasting, pan-searing, grilling, smoking|
Before cooking salmon, remember to pluck all the pin-bones and scale and skin the fillet. You may want to invest in a pair of fish bone pliers to make this job easier.
If your piece hasn’t been portioned, do so according to the cut and size you need. Portioning your fish is great because you can choose exactly the size and shape you want.
Cooking Temperatures for Salmon
The FDA recommends cooking seafood to 145°F, but what you will be left with is a dry piece of fish. You cannot compare all types of seafood to each other and expect them to come out the same.
Cooking your salmon at the below-mentioned temperatures will still destroy any hazards and leave you with a juicy and flavorful piece of fish.
Cooked Salmon Internal Temperatures
Farmed salmon should be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 125°F. The fish’s flesh will be firm but still silky.
Wild salmon varieties should be cooked until they reach a maximum internal temperature of 120°F.
If wild varieties are cooked to above this temperature, they become too dry. This is because wild salmon has more collagen and connective tissue. The muscle fibers will contract less at 120°F, retaining more moisture.
Most wild salmon also contain much less fat than farmed and therefore have less fat to provide lubrication and juiciness.
How to Check Salmon Temperature
Before we look at how to cook salmon, you need to understand how to check the temperature properly.
The best and most effective way to check if salmon has been fully cooked to a safe temperature is by using a food thermometer.
These have a long skewer attached at the front that is inserted into the food item. The temperature is measured at the tip of the skewer.
Tips for taking the temperature of salmon:
- It is very important to place the tip in the center of the thickest part of the cut, otherwise the reading will be inaccurate.
- The skewer should not pierce the fish all the way through.
- Make sure the skewer is clean before inserting it into the salmon to prevent contamination.
- Do not use an infrared thermometer, as it will only take the temperature of the surface.
When to Take Salmon Off the Heat
This is an extremely important part of cooking salmon that most people forget about – resting your salmon.
When you remove the fillet or cut from the heat, it will continue cooking using its internal heat. This means that the internal temperature of the cut will still rise even if you have taken it off the heat.
On average, it will rise between 10-15°F, so it is very important to remove your salmon piece before it reaches its ideal internal temperature, meaning while it’s slightly undercooked.
Place it on a plate, loosely covered with foil or plastic wrap, and rest it for 5 minutes before testing the internal temperature again.
When to Remove Salmon from Heat
|Cooking Temperature||100°F – 110°F||110°F – 115°F||135°F|
|Remove When||110°F – 115°F||120°F – 125°F||145°F|
The main reason we rest salmon (or any food item) before serving it is to prevent it from being overcooked and dry.
Best Cooking Methods for Salmon
Salmon can be cooked in a wide variety of ways. The cut usually helps determine the purpose of it and thereby which cooking method to use.
The best ways to cook salmon are pan-frying, steaming, and roasting.
The best salmon cuts to pan-fry include individual fillets and salmon steaks. You can also pan-fry other individually portioned salmon cuts. The thickness of the cut will determine the cooking time.
How to pan-fry salmon:
- Dry your salmon thoroughly to prevent the flesh from sticking to the pan.
- Score the skin of the salmon so it doesn’t contract when cooking.
- Preheat a non-stick frying pan or skillet to the correct temperature (between medium-high and high heat).
- Add a dollop of butter or enough olive oil to coat the pan.
- Season the piece of salmon with salt and pepper.
- Cook the fish to your liking and remember to always place the skin side down first. Below is a guide to help you choose the best times that apply to your piece of salmon.
Here is a useful chart with information from Hestan Cue that indicates the cooking times for various thicknesses of salmon fillets. All the salmon pieces had a starting temperature of 45°F.
Pan-Seared Atlantic Salmon
|Thickness||Medium Rare||Medium||Well Done|
|½” or 1.27cm||1st Side: 1 min|
2nd Side: 10s
|1st Side: 1 min 40s|
2nd Side: 20s
|1st Side: 2 min 45s|
2nd Side: 45s
|¾” or 1.90 cm||1st Side: 3 min|
2nd Side: 45s
|1st Side: 4 min|
2nd Side: 1 min
|1st Side: 5 min 15s|
2nd Side: 1 min 15s
|1” or 2.54 cm||1st Side: 2 min 30s|
2nd Side: 1 min 30s
|1st Side: 4 min|
2nd Side: 2. min 30s
|1st Side: 6 min 15s|
2nd Side: 3 min 45s
|1 ¼” or 3.17 cm||1st Side: 4 min 15s|
2nd Side: 2 min 30s
|1st Side: 6 min 30s|
2nd Side: 4 min
|1st Side: 9 min 45s|
2nd Side: 6 min
|1 ½” or 3.81 cm||1st Side: 6 min 15s|
2nd Side: 4 min
|1st Side: 9 min 30s|
2nd Side: 6 min
|1st Side: 14 min 15s|
2nd Side: 8 min 45s
Note: Cook the first side at 425°F for up to 1 minute before reducing the temperature to 400°F and cooking for the remaining times per side.
As you can see from the chart, the thicker the fillets, the longer they take to cook.
Weight isn’t an accurate way to measure cooking times. Although it does give you some indication of size, it doesn’t indicate the cut (shape) of the piece or its thickness.
You can add 5 minutes after cooking to allow the salmon to rest. As we mentioned previously, the salmon will continue cooking after it’s taken off the heat, and if you don’t allow it to rest, it can come out undercooked.
2. Steaming En Papillote
Plain steamed salmon is bland and boring. Instead, cook the salmon piece en papillote. This is a cooking method where you steam a parchment paper packet of fish with aromatics (herbs and whole spices) and vegetables.
This method of cooking is both healthy and delicious!
The oven temperature should be 400°F. The reason for this is because this temperature creates steam which will help cook the salmon even further once removed.
The best cuts to steam are all the smaller cuts or individually portioned cuts such as fillets. You can steam larger cuts, but make sure you have the correct equipment and ratios.
How to steam salmon:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Score the skin of the salmon so it doesn’t contract when cooking and prepare all your other ingredients.
- Make the packets by enclosing your vegetables, aromatics, and salmon into a piece of non-stick parchment paper. Seal the packets on all sides so that the steam can build up. Do not wrap it too tightly.
- Bake until the correct internal temperature is reached. This will take anywhere from 10-25 minutes depending on the size of your salmon piece and the extent you want to cook it.
- Once the recommended time in the recipe has elapsed, test the internal temperature of the salmon piece with a food thermometer. If it hasn’t been reached, place the salmon back into the packet and oven to cook another few minutes or leave it to sit in the packet for a few minutes and test again.
- Un-wrap the packets immediately to prevent them from overcooking. Allow the salmon to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
The times below are a rough estimate of how long it will take to cook different sizes of salmon to various degrees using the packages.
Remember to remove the cut a few minutes earlier to rest it and allow the fish to cook using its internal temperature. Allow the cut to rest for a couple of minutes and test again.
There are tons of contributing factors that will affect the cooking time, so it is best to follow your recipe regarding oven temperature, size of the cut, and thickness.
Steamed Salmon Fillets (400°F oven)
|Weight||Medium Rare||Medium||Well Done|
|5oz (141g)||10 min – 110-115°F||12 min – 120-125°F||14 min – 145°F|
|6oz (170g)||12 min – 110-115°F||14 min – 120-125°F||16 min – 145°F|
|8oz (226g)||15 min – 110-115°F||17 min – 120-125°F||20 min – 145°F|
As we mentioned before, wild salmon is more flavorful and juicy when cooked to 120°F and not 125°F, so always try and keep the internal temperature there and not any higher.
We have yet to find a cut that doesn’t roast beautifully. When roasting salmon properly, it cooks from all sides and leaves you with a juicy, flavorful piece.
There are many different ways to roast salmon (slow or fast) and each has its benefits.
Slow roasting retains more of the moisture than when roasting on a higher heat. It also cooks the salmon more evenly and will produce a much more even color.
How to roast salmon:
- Preheat the oven.
- Score the skin of the salmon so it doesn’t contract when cooking.
- Place the salmon on a piece of non-stick parchment paper and onto a baking tray.
- Brush the salmon with olive oil or butter and season with salt and pepper.
- Roast for the allocated amount of time or until the correct internal temperature has been reached.
- Remove from the oven and allow the piece to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Oven Roasted Salmon Fillets (6-8 oz.)
The chart above is a rough indication of how long a 6-8 ounce (170g–226g) salmon fillet will take to cook, assuming that your oven’s temperature is accurate and the fillets are roughly 1″ (2.54 cm) thick.
Obviously, it’s nearly impossible that all the variables will stay exactly the same every time you cook a piece of fillet. There are tons of variables that affect the temperature and cooking times.
Firstly, your oven temperature needs to be very accurate. You also need to eliminate any hotspots in your oven or at least know where they are in order to compensate for them.
Do not place pieces in any hot spot that will cause them to scorch or burn.
The time your piece takes to cook depends on the thickness and size. A good rule of thumb is that for every inch of thickness, you can cook it for 10 minutes at 400°F. If a piece is 2″ thick, it must be cooked for 20 minutes.
If you are still not sure how long to cook your salmon piece, remember that smaller pieces cook faster than larger pieces and that the lower the oven temperature, the longer the piece will have to cook.
Again, remember to remove the piece a few minutes before it reaches its ideal temperature in order to rest the cut. It will continue cooking using its internal heat and reach its maximum (ideal) temperature in 5 minutes.
Always test the internal temperature of your salmon pieces.