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Do you leave the skin on salmon when air frying?

Whether or not to leave the skin on salmon when air frying is a common question for home cooks. The skin helps protect the delicate salmon flesh during cooking, but some people prefer to remove it before eating. There are pros and cons to leaving the skin on or removing it when air frying salmon.

Quick Answer

The quick answer is that leaving the skin on when air frying salmon helps keep the fish moist and tender. The skin crisps up nicely in the air fryer, creating a delicious textural contrast. However, removing the skin after cooking is easy if you prefer salmon without it.

The Purpose of Salmon Skin During Cooking

Salmon skin plays an important role during cooking by:

  • Keeping moisture in – The skin creates a protective barrier that seals in the natural juices and oils within the salmon flesh.
  • Preventing overcooking – It insulates the delicate meat from too much direct heat, helping prevent it from drying out.
  • Adding fat – Salmon skin contains oils that baste the fish from the inside as it cooks.
  • Enhancing flavor – When cooked until crispy, the skin provides a savory, salty contrast to the rich salmon.

Leaving the skin on while air frying allows you to take advantage of these beneficial properties of the salmon skin.

Benefits of Leaving Salmon Skin On While Air Frying

Here are some of the biggest advantages to leaving the skin on during air frying:

  • Moisture and flavor – The skin seals in moisture and natural fish oils that keep the salmon juicy and flavorful.
  • Texture – The skin gets wonderfully crispy and crunchy when air fried, adding a delicious textural element.
  • Easier cooking – The skin protects the salmon and prevents sticking to the fryer basket.
  • Nutrition – Salmon skin contains healthy fats and nutrients that would otherwise be lost.

Moist and Flavorful Salmon

One of the biggest challenges of air frying salmon is preventing it from drying out. Leaving the skin on creates a protective barrier that locks in natural moisture and oils within the fillet. The skin bastes the salmon from the inside out. This keeps the flesh deliciously moist and infused with fish flavor.

Crispy, Crunchy Texture

During air frying, salmon skin becomes wonderfully crisp and crunchy. This adds great textural contrast to the soft, flaky interior meat. The crispy skin gives your salmon added complexity.

Easier Cooking

Salmon skin prevents the fillets from sticking to the mesh air fryer basket. It allows the fish to cook evenly with direct heat contact only on the exterior skin side. Without skin, delicate salmon fillets can break apart or dry out.

Retains Nutrition

Salmon skin contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are good for you. Leaving it on retains these extra nutrients and fats that would otherwise be lost. The skin also contains vitamins and minerals.

Downsides of Leaving the Skin on While Air Frying

Despite its benefits, there are a few potential downsides to cooking salmon in the air fryer with the skin on:

  • Soggy skin – If the skin doesn’t become crispy, it can have an unappealing slimy texture.
  • Fat content – The high fat content in the skin means more calories if you eat it.
  • Strong flavor – Some people find the fishy taste of salmon skin unappealing.

Soggy Salmon Skin

To get crispy skin when air frying, make sure to pat the salmon fillets very dry before cooking. Excess moisture will steam the skin rather than crisping it up. Brush a small amount of oil on the skin to help it get super crispy.

High in Fat and Calories

Salmon skin is high in fat, which significantly increases the calorie content if you eat it. A 3 oz. portion of salmon with the skin has about 50 more calories than without. For weight loss goals, removing the skin after cooking may be preferable.

Strong Fishy Flavor

Some find the concentrated flavor of salmon skin to be overly fishy or strong. The fatty skin has much more intense salmon essence. If the flavor is unappealing to you, simply peel it off after air frying before eating.

Tips for Crispy Salmon Skin When Air Frying

Follow these tips to get deliciously crispy, crunchy skin when cooking salmon in an air fryer:

  • Pat the skin very dry – Remove excess moisture so the skin crisps vs. steams.
  • Season the skin – Rub with a little oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Cut slashes – Crisscross slashes help the fat render and skin get crispy.
  • Brush with oil – Lightly brushing oil helps facilitate even browning.
  • Cook skin-side down – Cook fillets skin-side down so the skin cooks directly on the hot air.
  • Use high heat – Cook at a high temperature, around 390°F to 400°F.
  • Flip halfway – Flip fillets over halfway through cooking to expose both sides to direct heat.

Pat the Salmon Skin Dry

Salmon skin will never get crispy in an air fryer if it’s wet. Make sure to thoroughly pat the fillets dry with paper towels. Getting rid of excess moisture allows the skin to properly crisp up.

Season the Salmon Skin

For extra crispy skin, brush or rub a little oil over the surface and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The oil facilitates browning while the salt draws out moisture.

Cut Crisscross Slashes in the Skin

Slicing a few shallow, crisscross cuts in the salmon skin allows render fat to escape for better texture. The openings also let steam vent so the skin gets crispy.

Lightly Brush with Oil Before Air Frying

Brushing the skin very lightly with oil helps promote even browning and extra crispiness. Olive, avocado, grapeseed or other heat-safe oils work well.

Cook Skin-Side Down First

Be sure to place the salmon fillets skin-side down in the air fryer basket. This allows the skin to cook directly under the hot circulating air for maximum crisping action.

Use High Air Fryer Temperature

Cranking up the heat helps create crispy salmon skin. Cook at around 390°F to 400°F to get the skin nice and crunchy. Lower temperatures will lead to less crisp results.

Flip Halfway Through Cooking

For evenly cooked salmon, flip the fillets over after about 5 minutes (or halfway through total cook time). This allows both sides to get direct heat contact.

How Long to Air Fry Salmon

Air frying times for salmon can vary based on thickness. Here are general guidelines for how long to cook salmon in an air fryer:

Salmon Thickness Cook Time
1/2 inch thick fillets 7-9 minutes at 390°F
3/4 inch thick fillets 9-12 minutes at 390°F
1 inch thick fillets 12-15 minutes at 390°F

Check for doneness by inserting a fork – the salmon should flake easily when ready. Cook times may vary based on your particular air fryer model.

1/2 Inch Thick Fillets

For thin, 1/2 inch cuts of salmon, cook at 390°F for about 7-9 minutes total, flipping halfway. Thinner salmon cooks fast so watch closely.

3/4 Inch Thick Fillets

Medium 3/4 inch salmon fillets need 9-12 minutes at 390°F. Flip over after 4-5 minutes for evenly cooked fish.

1 Inch Thick Fillets

Cook thick salmon steaks or fillets that are 1 inch for 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway. The extra time allows heat to penetrate all the way through.

How to Air Fry Salmon Without Skin

It’s easy to air fry skinless salmon fillets. Follow these tips:

  • Brush lightly with oil – This prevents sticking and facilitates browning.
  • Use parchment paper – Line the fryer basket with parchment to prevent adhesion.
  • Don’t overcook – Without the skin, salmon can dry out quickly. Watch closely.
  • Cook at lower temp – Try 365°F vs. 390°F for gentler heat without the skin barrier.

Lightly Oil the Skinless Salmon

Brush both sides of skinless fillets very lightly with oil. This will help provide a crisp outer layer and promote even cooking.

Line the Basket with Parchment Paper

Parchment paper prevents delicate skinless salmon from sticking to the air fryer basket. The fillets can rests right on top of the paper.

Watch Closely to Avoid Overcooking

Without the skin to protect it, salmon can dry out very quickly. Keep an eye on skinless salmon and remove it as soon as it’s opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Use a Lower Air Fryer Temperature

Cook skinless salmon at a temperature of around 365°F for gentler heat rather than intense heat over 390°F. This prevents drying and allows even cooking.

Can You Eat Salmon Skin?

Yes, salmon skin is entirely edible. When cooked properly until crispy, the skin has a delicious flavor and textural crunch. However, there are some downsides to eating air fried salmon skin:

  • High in fat and calories – Salmon skin is about 60% fat, so it significantly increases calorie intake.
  • Strong flavor – The concentrated taste of fish fat and skin can be overpowering.
  • Texture – If not cooked correctly, the skin can be rubbery or slimy.

Whether you eat the skin or remove it is ultimately a personal preference. Crispy salmon skin certainly adds an element of tastiness and satisfying crunch. But the high fat content may be something to consider.

High in Fat and Calories

A 3 ounce portion of salmon contains about 130 calories without skin or 180 calories with skin – so leaving it on adds about 50 extra calories. The high fat content may not fit into some dietary goals.

Strong Fishy Flavor

Salmon skin harbors much of the fishy flavor. The taste can be overpowering and unappealingly strong for those who don’t enjoy an intense salmon essence. The fatty skin may taste unpleasant.

Poor Texture

Improperly cooked skin may have a rubbery, slimy texture rather than being crispy. If the skin didn’t get crunchy during air frying, its texture can be very unappealing and hard to chew.

Removing Salmon Skin After Cooking

If you air fry salmon with the skin on for moisture and protection, but don’t want to eat the skin, it’s easy to remove it after cooking. Here are some tips for peeling off and disposing of salmon skin:

  • Let it cool slightly – Warm salmon can stick to the skin and tear.
  • Use a paper towel – Grip the skin with a paper towel and peel slowly.
  • Slide a knife under – Insert the blade horizontally to lift off the skin.
  • Cut into strips – Slice cooked skin into thin strips for easy disposal.
  • Compost it – Add discarded skin to a compost bin or bag for nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Let the Salmon Cool Slightly

Peel the skin off once your air fried salmon has cooled for 5 minutes or so. Warm salmon will stick stubbornly to the skin and fall apart.

Use a Paper Towel for Grip

Place a paper towel over the skin and hold it while gently pulling the skin off slowly. The paper towel prevents slippage.

Slide a Knife Under the Skin

Insert a thin, sharp knife under one corner of the skin and gently slide the blade horizontally between skin and meat. The knife lifts the skin off cleanly.

Cut Skin into Strips

For easier disposal, slice the skin off your salmon in thin 1-inch wide strips after air frying. Cut through both skin and any attached fatty layers.

Compost the Removed Skin

Rather than throwing salmon skin away, add it to a compost bin or bag. The skin breaks down into a nutrient-rich fertilizer for gardens.


Leaving the skin on salmon when air frying provides major benefits like added moisture, flavor, and texture. The skin also protects the delicate fillets. However, removing the skin after cooking takes just seconds if you prefer your salmon skin-free. Consider your priorities for taste versus nutrition when deciding whether to keep or discard that crispy air fried skin.