Tools and Materials Needed

To clean salmon effectively, you’ll need the following tools and materials:

  • Fresh Salmon: Start with a high-quality salmon fillet or whole fish.
  • Cutting Board: A clean, sturdy cutting board is essential for a safe and efficient process.
  • Sharp Knife: Invest in a sharp, reliable knife for precise cuts.
  • Kitchen Shears: These come in handy for trimming fins and removing bones.
  • Paper Towels: Use these to pat the salmon dry and maintain a clean workspace.
  • Kitchen Tweezers: For removing any remaining pin bones.
  • Bowl of Cold Water: This helps rinse away debris and excess scales.

Now that you’ve gathered your tools and materials, let’s move on to the step-by-step process.

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace

  • Place your cutting board on a stable surface, ensuring it won’t slip during use.
  • Lay out all your tools and materials within easy reach.
  • Have a waste bin nearby for disposing of scraps.

Step 2: Rinse the Salmon

  • Start by rinsing the salmon under cold running water to remove loose scales and any lingering debris.
  • Gently pat the salmon dry with paper towels.

Step 3: Remove the Scales

  • Using your knife at a slight angle, scrape off the scales from the tail end towards the head.
  • Be sure to work in the direction of the scales to avoid damaging the flesh.

Step 4: Gut the Salmon (if whole)

  • If you’re working with a whole salmon, make an incision from the vent to the head.
  • Carefully remove the entrails with your hands or kitchen tweezers.
  • Rinse the cavity thoroughly under cold water.

Step 5: Remove the Head (if desired)

  • To remove the head, make a clean cut just behind the gills.
  • Discard the head or use it for fish stock, if desired.

Step 6: Fillet the Salmon (if desired)

  • If you prefer fillets, start by making a cut behind the head and pectoral fin.
  • Run your knife along the backbone, gradually separating the flesh from the bone.
  • Turn the fish and repeat on the other side.

Step 7: Check for Pin Bones

  • Run your fingers gently along the fillets to detect any remaining pin bones.
  • Use kitchen tweezers to remove any bones you find.

Step 8: Final Rinse

  • Give the cleaned salmon a final rinse under cold water to remove any loose scales or debris.
  • Pat the salmon dry one last time.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully cleaned your salmon, and it’s now ready for your culinary masterpiece. Whether you plan to grill, bake, or pan-sear your salmon, this thorough cleaning process ensures a delicious and safe meal.

Preparations Before Cleaning

Before we dive into the step-by-step salmon cleaning process, it’s crucial to set the stage for success. Here’s what you need to do before getting your hands on that delectable fish:

  • Gather Your Tools: First and foremost, make sure you have the right tools at your disposal. You’ll need:
    • A sharp knife: Ensure it’s sharp for precise cuts.
    • A cutting board: A clean, sturdy surface to work on.
    • Kitchen shears: Handy for trimming fins and removing bones.
    • A few paper towels: To keep your workspace tidy.
    • Kitchen tweezers: For those pesky pin bones.
    • A bowl of cold water: This will help rinse away any scales and debris.
  • Select Fresh Salmon: Start with a high-quality salmon fillet or a whole fish. The fresher, the better, as it’ll make the cleaning process smoother.
  • Set Up Your Workspace: Choose a clean and spacious area to work in. Lay out all your tools within easy reach, and have a waste bin nearby for discarding scraps.
  • Rinse the Salmon: Begin by rinsing the salmon under cold running water. This not only removes loose scales but also prepares the fish for cleaning.

Safety Tips and Precautions

When it comes to handling and cleaning salmon, safety should be your top priority. Here are some important tips and precautions to keep in mind:

  • Use a Sharp Knife: A sharp knife is not only essential for clean cuts but also safer to work with. Dull knives can slip and cause accidents, so ensure your blade is in good condition.
  • Mind Your Fingers: Pay close attention to where your fingers are while handling the knife. It’s easy to get carried away, but a momentary lapse in concentration can result in cuts.
  • Secure Your Cutting Surface: Make sure your cutting board is stable and won’t move during use. A slipping cutting board can lead to accidents, so choose a secure surface.
  • Proper Hand Washing: Before and after handling raw salmon, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This reduces the risk of cross-contamination.
  • Avoid Cross-Contamination: Keep raw salmon away from other foods in your kitchen. Use separate cutting boards and utensils to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Dispose of Scraps Safely: When removing entrails or scraps, dispose of them in a sealed bag and place it in the trash immediately. This prevents any lingering odors or attraction to pests.
  • Be Gentle with Pin Bone Removal: When using kitchen tweezers to remove pin bones, work carefully and avoid excessive force. A gentle touch will suffice.
  • Temperature Control: If you’re not cooking the salmon immediately after cleaning, store it in the refrigerator at 32°F (0°C) or lower to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Cleaning Up: After you’ve completed the cleaning process, thoroughly clean and disinfect your workspace, cutting tools, and cutting board.
  • Allergy Awareness: Be aware of any allergies your diners may have. Salmon is a common allergen, so double-check with your guests before serving.

Storing Cleaned Salmon

After you’ve successfully cleaned your salmon, proper storage is vital to maintain freshness and safety. Here’s how to store your cleaned salmon correctly:


Refrigeration Temperature: Store your cleaned salmon in the refrigerator at temperatures below 40°F (4°C). This prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.

Storage Container: Place the cleaned salmon in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag to prevent odors from spreading and to avoid any contact with other foods.

Use within Two Days: For optimal freshness, it’s best to consume the cleaned salmon within two days of refrigeration. If you’re not planning to use it within this timeframe, consider freezing it.


Freezing Temperature: If you need to store the cleaned salmon for an extended period, freezing is a suitable option. Set your freezer to 0°F (-18°C) or lower.

Wrap Properly: Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, ensuring there is minimal exposure to air. Alternatively, use vacuum-sealed bags for the best results.

Label and Date: Always label the storage container or bag with the date of freezing. This helps you keep track of the salmon’s freshness.

Freezer Life: When stored properly, cleaned salmon can remain safe to eat for up to three months in the freezer.


When you’re ready to use your frozen salmon, it’s crucial to thaw it safely to maintain its texture and flavor. Here are two recommended methods:

  • Refrigerator: Place the frozen salmon in the refrigerator and allow it to thaw slowly. This method takes time, usually requiring 24 hours for a fillet. It’s the safest option for preserving the salmon’s quality.
  • Cold Water Bath: If you need to thaw the salmon more quickly, you can use a sealed plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the salmon is thawed. Be sure the salmon remains in a watertight bag to prevent water absorption.

Comparing Refrigeration and Freezing





Below 40°F (4°C)

0°F (-18°C) or lower

Storage Duration

Up to 2 days

Up to 3 months (properly sealed)

Thawing Method

Slow in the refrigerator

Faster, using cold water bath

Texture and Flavor

Maintains freshness and quality

Maintains quality if sealed well


Suitable for short-term storage

Suitable for long-term storage

FAQ Ways to Clean Salmon Before Cooking

How do I properly prepare salmon for cooking?

Before you cook salmon, you need to know how to clean and prepare the fish. Start by rinsing your salmon under cold water to remove any slime or debris from the surface of the fish. If you’ve purchased a whole salmon, use a fillet knife and plier to cut along the backbone and remove the ribs and guts. For those who want to remove the skin, place the knife parallel to the cutting board and slide it between the meat and the skin, ensuring you retain as much meat as possible. Once cleaned, pat it dry with a paper towel, and it’s ready to cook.

Is it essential to wash salmon before cooking?

Yes, it’s advisable to wash salmon before cooking. Rinsing raw fish, including salmon, helps to remove any excess slime, scales, or any residual impurities. After washing, pat the salmon dry to ensure proper seasoning and cooking.

How can I season the salmon to enhance its flavor?

To season the salmon, start with a basic sprinkle of salt and pepper on both sides. Many people prefer to enhance the taste by marinating the salmon with lemon juice and various herbs and spices. Lemon not only adds flavor but also complements the natural taste of the salmon fish.

How do I know when my salmon is cooked to perfection?

The salmon is cooked when it easily flakes with a fork and has a slightly translucent center. An internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) indicates the fish is cooked. However, be cautious not to overcook, as salmon is a delicate fish and can become dry if cooked for too long.

I’ve heard about salmon with lemon as a popular dish; how do I make it?

Salmon with lemon is a classic combination. To prepare salmon with lemon, first, season the salmon with salt, pepper, and any other preferred herbs. Place the salmon on a baking tray, and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top. You can also add thin lemon slices on top for additional flavor. Then, bake the salmon in a preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

What’s the purpose of using a plier when cleaning a salmon?

When cleaning a salmon, a plier helps to remove the pin bones that a knife might miss. These bones are small and can be difficult to see, but using a plier can grip and pull them out, ensuring a bone-free eating experience.

How can I remove the skin from the salmon before cooking?

To remove the skin, place the salmon skin-side down on a cutting board. Holding the tail end, use a sharp knife to make a small incision between the flesh and the skin. Hold the end firmly and slide the knife along, separating the skin from the flesh. Some people prefer to leave the skin on, as it can add flavor and crispiness when cooked.

What are the benefits of eating salmon?

Salmon is one of the most nutritious foods available. It’s a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and several essential vitamins and minerals. Regularly eating salmon can offer various health benefits and is a tasty addition to a balanced diet.

Is it necessary to remove salmon scales before cooking?

Yes, it’s recommended to remove the salmon scales before cooking. Using a fish scaler or the back of a knife, start from the tail end and move towards the head, scraping against the grain of the scales. This process ensures a smoother texture and better seasoning absorption.

Why do many recipes suggest marinating salmon for a short period?

Salmon is a flavorful and fatty fish, so it doesn’t require long marination times. Marinating for just 5-10 minutes allows the fish to absorb flavors without breaking down the delicate texture. Over-marinating, especially with acidic ingredients like lemon juice, can alter the texture and may make the fish mushy.

Why is it essential to know how to clean salmon properly before the cooking process?

Knowing how to clean salmon is crucial because it ensures that the fish’s flavor is preserved, and any impurities or undesired parts, such as guts and scales, are removed. A well-cleaned salmon may enhance the cooking process, allowing the fish to cook evenly and absorb marinades or seasonings better. Additionally, properly cleaned salmon skin can become crispy when cooked, adding a delicious texture to the dish. For those who are in their early twenties or just starting to explore the culinary world, understanding the nuances of preparing a healthy and delicious meal with salmon can be rewarding. If you’ve sourced your salmon from a fishmonger, they might show you how to clean and cut the salmon, but learning the skill yourself ensures you can enjoy this delicious fish anytime at home.

I bought a whole salmon; how should I go about preparing it for cooking?

First, place the fish on a clean, flat surface. If you prefer to remove the skin, you can do so by making a small incision at the tail end, then holding the skin taut while sliding a sharp knife between the skin and flesh. To clean the inside, cut the salmon from the underside, starting near the head and moving down towards the tail. Open the fish up and remove the guts. Rinse the salmon under cold water and pat it dry using paper towels. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, this article or a tutorial can further show you how to clean and prepare your salmon.

What should I consider if I want to keep the salmon skin on during cooking?

The salmon skin can be a delicious part of the meal when cooked right, offering a crispy texture. If you decide to keep the skin on, ensure you learn how to clean it thoroughly. First, you should remove any remaining scales. Running a knife or a special fish scaler against the direction of the scales can effectively remove them. After descaling, wash the fish under cold water and pat dry. The skin will crisp up better when it’s free from moisture. Additionally, if you sourced your salmon from a reputable fishmonger, you could inquire if they’ve already descaled the fish for you. Some people prefer to remove the skin, but leaving it on can provide added flavor and texture to your dish.