What Does Undercooked Salmon Look Like? And How to Tell

Use these tips to tell if your salmon fillet is undercooked or not and how to prepare grilled or fried salmon perfectly every time

If you are going to eat salmon cooked – as opposed to enjoying it raw – it is vital that it is cooked properly.

In this article, we will tell you how to tell if salmon is cooked using various methods.

And we include some tips on cooking salmon, so it always tastes great.

How Can You Tell if Salmon Is Undercooked?

Salmon Cooking
With fillets you can see in the cross section when they are properly cooked

While a properly cooked salmon is opaque and pinkish white on the inside and nice translucent pink on the inside, undercooked salmon has a dark pink appearance on the inside. The texture on the inside will be softer and squishy (the flesh won’t flake), and the look of the flesh will be very similar to raw salmon.

Is Undercooked Salmon Dangerous?

Raw or undercooked salmon can contain parasites and bacteria that can cause food poisoning if consumed. So, it’s important to cook salmon to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) to ensure that it is safe to eat.

Of course, for raw salmon, this doesn’t apply. Sashimi-grade raw salmon – which is the kind that’s safe to eat raw – had been handled in a way to ensure these parasites aren’t present (usually by snap freezing to a temperature at which they can’t survive).

How Does Perfectly Cooked Salmon Look?

Properly cooked salmon
Properly cooked salmon – it can still have some pinkness in the centre

Perfectly cooked salmon should have an opaque color and a moist, flaky texture. The flesh should be slightly firm to the touch but will easily flake with a fork. The edges should be slightly browned or seared, while the center should be cooked through but still moist.

An internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) is considered safe to eat, and that’s considered perfectly cooked salmon. However, some people prefer slightly undercooked salmon with a temperature of about 120-130°F (48-54°C), which gives a softer texture and is more moist.

Keep in mind that cooking time and temperature may vary depending on the thickness of the salmon, the method used to cook it, and personal preference.

What Does Overcooked Salmon Look Like?

Properly cooked salmon 1
This salmon is well cooked, but you can see the outer regions are more cooked by their color

Overcooked salmon can appear dry and have a dull or grayish color. The flesh will be firm and may separate easily into large, dry flakes. The edges may be browned or even burnt, while the center will be dry and sometimes chalky in texture.

The dryness of overcooked salmon is caused by the loss of moisture, the overcooked fish will lose its fat, and that makes it less juicy and flavorful. Overcooking can also cause the proteins in the fish to break down, resulting in a less desirable texture.

It’s important to keep an eye on the cooking time and temperature and to check the internal temperature of the salmon with a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking. Remember that when cooking salmon, the internal temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after removing from heat, so keep that in mind when taking the temperature reading.

How to Tell if Salmon Is Done

Checking the Color and Texture Change

As we mentioned, just using your eyes to gauge the color change in the cross-section of a salmon fillet is often enough to determine when it is properly cooked, although there are some other ways to check or double-check.

Checking the Internal Temperature

You can use a meat thermometer to test the temperature, or if you don’t have one of those, simply use a butter knife or metal skewer. Insert it into the fillet, leave it for 30 seconds and withdraw.

The section of the skewer that was in the center of the fillet should be hot to the touch if the salmon is cooked.

How to Cook Salmon Properly

Cooking salmon with Skin on
Cooking salmon with skin on is best for flavor and for presentation

Leave the Salmon Skin On

There is a range of reasons why it is better to leave the skin on salmon fillets.

  1. Appearance: A skin-on fillet has a nice contrast of colors and makes for a more attractive salmon dish than a filet with the skin removed.
  2. Moisture Retention: The skin helps to protect the salmon from direct heat, which can cause it to dry out. The skin also helps to trap moisture and juices, keeping the fish moist and flavorful.
  3. Easy to handle: Cooking salmon with the skin on makes it easier to handle and flip during cooking. The skin prevents the fish from falling apart, which can be a common problem when cooking skinless salmon.
  4. Adds flavor: The skin of the salmon can add flavor to the fish, especially if it’s seared or crispy, which can provide a nice texture contrast to the moist flesh of the fish.
  5. Nutritional value: The skin of the salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, which can be beneficial for heart health.
  6. Easy to remove: Once the salmon is cooked, the skin is easy to remove and discard, leaving the moist and flavorful flesh behind.

Cook the Fillet With the Skin Facing Down

Undercooked salmon
Cook the skin-on side first when grilling salmon fillets

It’s important to note that when cooking salmon with the skin on, it’s important to use a non-stick pan or well-oiled grates to prevent the skin from sticking. Also, make sure to cook the skin side first to ensure that it gets crispy and doesn’t stick to the pan.

Use a Timer

A timer helps you to produce perfectly cooked salmon. I generally work off 3-4 minutes per side for an average salmon fillet in terms of cooking time.


Is Eating Raw Salmon Better for You Than Cooking Salmon?

It is the same fundamental ingredient, so the benefits of eating salmon are similar, either cooked or raw. But the advantage of eating raw salmon overcooked salmon is that there is less oil and fat involved as grilled or oven roasted is usually seasoned with some olive oil prior to cooking.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eEating raw salmon also allows you to avoid salt, although if you use soy sauce, there is a significant salt component to that!

Should Salmon Be Pink or White When Cooked?

Salmon should be healthy and vibrant pink color when cooked. It is, of course, a more opaque and less translucent pink than the raw salmon, which has almost an orange color to it.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eWhite salmon is a sign the fish has been overcooked. It is still fine to eat, but it will be flaky and lack flavor.

How Long to Cook Salmon in the Oven?

The cooking time for salmon in the oven will vary depending on the thickness of the fish and the desired level of doneness.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eA general rule of thumb is to bake salmon in a preheated oven at 425°F (220°C) for 8-12 minutes per half-inch (1.25 cm) of thickness. For example, a 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick piece of salmon will take about 12-16 minutes to cook.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eYou can also use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish, which should reach 145°F (63°C) to be safe to eat and indicate the salmon is cooked.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eIt’s also important to note that the cooking time may vary based on your oven, the type of pan or dish you’re using, and whether or not the salmon is covered.

You can also try different methods to cook salmon, such as:

  • Wrapping the salmon in foil or parchment paper will help to trap moisture and flavor and decrease the cooking time.
  • Marinating the salmon before baking can add extra flavor and moisture.

Ultimately, the best way to check if your salmon is done is by using a meat thermometer or by gently flaking the fish with a fork. If it flakes easily, it’s probably done.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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