How To Tell When Salmon Is Done

This gives you just the right amount of insight into how to cook salmon properly and deliciously.

Whether preparing it on the grill, in the oven, or on the stove-top, salmon is an easy, quick-cooking protein that is also delicious. The only trick is cooking it correctly.

Salmon with Lemony Greens and Grains

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Claire Spollen; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Salmon Internal Temperatures

Like a piece of steak, you can cook salmon to varying degrees of doneness—whether you have fillets, steaks, or a whole side of salmon. Also, like a steak, salmon can go from raw to well-done or overcooked in minutes, especially if you are using high heat. This quick cooking time means you must keep an eye on it as it cooks. (Unless you're preparing it in a slow cooker. In that case, feel free to walk away!) Here is a guide to knowing when salmon is cooked and ready to enjoy.

Cook times depend on two things: the thickness of the salmon and how you like it prepared (medium-rare, medium, or well-done). According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the thickest part of a piece of cooked salmon should have a minimum internal temperature of 145°F—which will be a very firm, well-done piece of fish.

For medium to medium-rare, aim for a temperature of 125°F to 135°F when you remove it from the heat. The fish will continue cooking a bit after it comes off of the heat but remain tender and moist inside (according to the USDA, it should still reach 145°F). If your piece of salmon still has the skin on, cook it skin-side-down first to prevent albumin from appearing.

What is Albumin?

At a temperature of 135°F, you're more likely to see albumin, a white substance that appears when cooking a piece of salmon (it's the most abundant proteins in salmon liver), and the muscles contract. Albumin typically oozes out of the fish when overcooked. It's safe to eat but doesn't look appetizing, so you want to avoid it if possible.

Sweet-and-Spicy Salmon Rice Bowl
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

How To Cook Salmon

Cook Salmon Skin Down

When your salmon still contains the skin, place that side down while cooking—this helps moderate the temperature. Another preparation consideration is to salt just before placing it in the oven. Salt adds and complements the fish's flavor and taste, but using salt before preparing to put it in the oven will draw out the fish's moisture, leading to overcooked fish.

Cook Salmon at the Correct Temperature

Cooking methods impact the time expected to have fully cooked salmon. Baked salmon takes the longest cook time, around 15 minutes, while pan-seared salmon can cook in about five minutes.

Cook Salmon with Similar Thickness

When selecting salmon filets, try to purchase fish with relatively the same thickness. Similar to meat, fish size varies, affecting certain spots' cooking times. Arrange your salmon filets and make trims or adjustments before cooking to eliminate half-baked fish.

How To Test if Salmon Is Done

Use a Food Thermometer

To test the salmon's internal temperature, consider purchasing a food thermometer to insert directly into the thickest portion of the salmon filet. This test will indicate whether you've reached an ideal temperature to take the salmon out of the oven to continue cooking while it rests—usually five to 10 minutes.

Test for Flakiness

Flakiness is another sign of doneness. Use a salad fork or the tip of a paring knife to test whether the top of the fish flakes apart easily. It's done cooking if it's flakey. If salmon is hard to the touch and doesn't flake when testing it with a utensil or finger, it needs to cook a little longer.

Test its Color

When testing the salmon's texture, you can also examine its color. It should appear slightly pink or translucent when finished. Too translucent, the fish is undercooked, opaque, or cloudy, and it is overcooked.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many ways can you prepare salmon?

    There are a few ways to prepare salmon, including pan-frying, searing, oven-roasting, grilling, grilling in a foil packet, poached, or in parchment paper referred to as “en papillote” in French.

  • What is the most accurate way to tell the temperature of salmon?

    Using a food thermometer is the most accurate way to determine the internal temperature of salmon. When assessing the salmon, choose the thickest section of fish to insert the food thermometer.

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  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Safe minimum internal temperature chart. Updated May 11, 2020.

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