Every spring seafood lovers, chefs and home cooks eagerly await the arrival of Copper River salmon. This wild fish is widely celebrated as a seasonal harbinger of Summer abundance as it is the first to run in Alaska.

Beginning in May, hundreds of thousands of Copper River King and Sockeye salmon begin to make their migration to spawning beds far in the wilderness of the Chugach Mountains. The especially arduous journey results in beautiful, robust fish that are truly the athletes of the wild salmon world!

What better way to celebrate the best salmon of the summer than to share it with friends and family in the sunshine? Grilling a whole fish will lock in flavor and moisture, helping savor the flavorful oils that Copper River salmon is known for. Sometimes cooking seemingly delicate salmon over a fire can be intimidating, but with these tips you’ll be grilling like a life-long Alaskan.

Go-to guide for hosting your own Copper River salmon cookout


You’ll also need:

  • A grill or campfire
  • Sunshine and friends

When grilling over a campfire, small details can make a big difference. As soon as the fire shows coals hot enough to cook over, spread prepared smoking chips on the fire to release subtle aroma and flavorful smoke. For Copper River salmon, a couple handfuls of Alder chips will help bring out the earthy, slightly sweet flavor that is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Don’t be intimidated to prepare a whole salmon over the fire, this method makes for a hearty meal, easy clean-up and a beautiful presentation.

  1. To begin, cut 3 to 5 diagonal cuts along the fish’s outside with a sharp knife, breaking through the skin just slightly. This will keep the fish laying flat while cooking.
  2. Rub the outside skin and inside belly of the salmon with olive oil and a mixture of sea salt and black pepper.
  3. Stuff a mixture of bundled herbs such as dill, parsley, chives and thyme into the belly of the fish.
  4. Add slices of lemon, and several crushed cloves of garlic into the belly as well until just overflowing.
  5. Place the entire fish on the clean grill and let roast slowly until the meat is opaque.

For a flavorful summer side, wrap asparagus in soaked Cedar grilling wraps, squeezing the remainder of the lemon inside the bundle. Place next to the salmon on the grill. Sit back and relax in the sunshine while the coals continue to smoke.

When finished, gather around the table and serve the salmon whole on a platter with serving utensils. Enjoy with a well-paired IPA or dry white wine.

About the Author

Kinsey is a seafood lover and outdoorswoman. She studied Sustainable Fisheries at the University of Hawaii and currently lives in Cordova, AK where she works to enhance the local traditional fishery with Copper River Marketing.