Sockeye, Atlantic, Pacific, farmed, or wild… salmon can be many things, including delicious and easy to cook. But how the heck do you actually cook salmon?

Let us demystify this beautiful pink fish and set you up for salmon success.

Unless you’re going to catch your own salmon — which, let’s be honest, is probs unlikely — you can find ready-to-cook salmon at a fishmonger, butcher, or grocery store.

Salmon fillets are the easiest to work with because of their uniform shape that cooks evenly in a pan or in the oven. You can also crisp up the skin side for even more flavor 🤤. You can find salmon fillets in small sections that serve 1–2 people, or a cut of an entire side that’ll feed a group.

Beyond cut, you have a few more choices like skin on versus skin off, fresh vs. frozen, and types of salmon.

Wild salmonFarmed salmon
environmentCaught in nature after swimming through streams and the ocean all their life. Raised in hatchery tanks and pens until they are ready to eat.
nutritionCan have more minerals like calcium and iron.Often contain more fat.
colorUsually a more vibrant bright pink.Have a more subtle color.
flavorMore bold flavor.More subtle flavor.
species and originWild salmon sold in stores are usually from the Pacific ocean or rivers. Variations of wild salmon can include King (Chinook), Sockeye (red), Coho (silver).Atlantic salmon sold in stores are farmed salmon because these populations are protected from commercial and recreational fishing in the U.S. You can also find Chinook and Coho farmed salmon.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends looking for salmon that is eco-certified by the Marine Stewardship Council or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

Kitchen equipment

If this is your first encounter of the fish kind, or you just need a refresh, there are a few kitchen tools that will take your salmon cooking to the next level.

  • Pans. For easy stovetop cooking, grab a cast-iron skillet or a nonstick pan (use an oven-safe option if you’re going to finish your salmon in the oven). Use a sheet pan for cooking salmon in the oven from start to finish.
  • Utensils. Get a decent fish spatula for turning delicate fish. Look for something large and thin that slides under your fillet to flip it in one piece (avoid metal if you’re using nonstick).
  • Pliers or tweezers. Even boneless fillets may have teeny bones hanging around. Examine your fillet skin-side down and feel for rows of little bumps (those are “pin” bones poking out). Use *clean* needle-nosed pliers or kitchen tweezers to pull out any loitering bones.
  • Spatter guard. Avoid an oily mess and gnarly burns from that stovetop sizzle. This round screen can be placed over pans to keep those oil pops under control, while allowing air and heat to circulate.
  • Aluminum foil or parchment paper. For oven cooking, line your baking sheet with foil or parchment paper so you can just peel and toss the mess. A bit of aluminum foil tented lightly over the pan can also double as a splatter guard.

Oils and seasonings

Use your favorite cooking oil or butter and season your salmon with a canvas of flavors like:

You don’t need to be in the kitchen for hours. Good salmon takes minutes to cook.

A good rule of thumb is to cook salmon 10 minutes per inch of thickness. This will often look like 4 to 5 minutes per side on the stove. The cooking methods we’ve included below all take under 25 minutes.

Pan-seared salmon

For a quick piece of salmon that has plenty of flavor, but minimal prep, the stovetop is easy.

How to cook it:

  1. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a pan on medium-high heat.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon butter to oil and let it melt.
  3. Season fillet with salt and pepper or your seasoning of choice.
  4. Cook skin-side down for 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Flip fillet gently and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. The skin should be slightly crispy and the flesh will be opaque and flaky.

Oven-baked salmon in foil

Cook salmon in little packets made either from foil or parchment paper (foil may be easier for beginners). Also called “en papillote” in French, don’t let the fancy name fool you. This method is simple and even easier to clean up.

How to cook it:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. On a piece of foil place a salmon fillet, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, other herbs of choice, and a wedge of citrus. You can also add small sliced veggies to the packet.
  3. Fold the foil up and crimp the edges, so everything is completely enclosed.
  4. Repeat for each salmon fillet you want to cook.
  5. Place foil packets on a baking sheet.
  6. Bake until salmon is cooked through, for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Oven-baked salmon on baking sheet

TBH, salmon is a healthy protein-rich food no matter how you prep it. But if you’re looking to lower how much cooking fat you use, a study found salmon’s total fat content was lower with oven cooking.

How to cook it:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Season salmon with salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and lemon juice (or your preferred spice combo).
  3. Place fillets skin-side down on foil-covered baking sheet. (Foil is your friend for quick clean-up.)
  4. Bake in the center rack of oven for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how thick your fillet is. Add 1 to 2 minutes for more doneness.

Poached salmon

Poaching — or cooking in liquid — is another simple and healthy way to prepare salmon without extra oil or fat. But no matter how you cook salmon, one study showed you’ll still keep those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that make salmon so healthy for you.

How to cook it:

  1. Add enough water to a pan to cover your salmon fillet (remove the skin or use skinless salmon).
  2. Add salt, pepper, and seasoning to the water.
  3. Heat until the water simmers.
  4. Cover the pan with a lid and turn off heat.
  5. Leave the fish to cook undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes until done.

Broiled salmon on cedar plank

Buying fresh versus frozen salmon doesn’t make cooking much different beyond defrost time. But if you want to really enhance the natural flavor of fresh salmon, broil your fillet on an untreated cedar plank.

How to cook it:

  1. Prepare your cedar plank by soaking it in water for a few hours so it doesn’t burn while cooking.
  2. Turn on your broiler and arrange the top oven rack so it is 6 inches from the heat source.
  3. Place soaked planks in oven while the broiler preheats. (They should be steamy).
  4. Season a skinless salmon fillet and place it on the prepared plank.
  5. Cook fish under the broiler for 5 minutes.
  6. Turn off the broiler and leave in the hot oven for 5 minutes longer, or until the fish is as done as you like it.

Pan-seared and oven-roasted salmon

Now that you know all the basic methods, how do you really level up your cooking? Get the best of both worlds and combine pan-searing and oven-roasting for crispy, flaky salmon.

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. On the stove, heat a cast-iron skillet (or oven-safe pan) over high heat.
  3. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the pan.
  4. Add seasoned salmon to the pan, skin-side down, and cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Baste the top of the fillet with butter from the pan.
  6. Transfer the pan to oven and cook for another 7 to 8 minutes.

Cooking salmon can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. A delish salmon filet can take take 5 to 25 minutes depending on how you cook it.

Make sure you have a skillet, baking sheet, oil, and spices on hand and you’re good to go. You’ll be on your way to making salmon at home like a pro.