BBQ Salmon Potlatch Style, The Resort at Port Ludlow

BBQ salmon Northwest Native style from The Resort at Port Ludlow

Barbecued salmon has been part of Northwest Native American celebrations for eons. The potlatch, the English version of the Nootkan word “p’alshit,” which means “to give” was basically a ceremony that involved songs, rituals, dances, gift giving, and, of course, barbecued salmon.

Executive Chef Dan Ratigan has revived Potlatch Salmon for guests coming to The Fireside restaurant at The Resort at Port Ludlow on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Pacific Northwest Native Americans  weren’t pottery-making peoples and they used local resources that we’re readily available to them to cook their salmon, including cedar and ironwood.

BBQ salmon Northwest Native style.

The Resort at Port Ludlow uses special vertical stakes to barbeque their Potlatch style barbeque salmon, but you can get similar results using your grill or BBQ with indirect cooking.

For centuries, Native Northwesterners have cooked salmon on a wood frame before a wood fire. They would typicaly use a strong, straight branch split at one end and fit the salmon ongto the split. To hold the fish on so it would cook evenly, they’d thread the fish with additional sticks woven over and under the salmon. The fish was then leaned toward the fire and slow roasted. This indirect style of cooking creates a flavorful, super moist fish.

Chef Dan has borrowed from this cooking technique by strapping salmon to cedar planks and using specially designed stakes that surround his BBQ to cook his Potlatch Salmon for guests. You can also simply use your grill.

They’ve created a special Potlatch Salmon recipe, which they share with us here. Adjust ingredients to the amount of salmon you’re cooking.

Recipe courtesy The Resort at Port Ludlow, Port Ludlow,

½ lb brown sugar

¼ pound kosher salt

¼ oz black pepper

¼ oz dry dill

½ oz granulated garlic

Mix ingredients.

To barbecue salmon:

Soak a cedar plank 2 hours in water (cedar planks are readily available from cooking stores). Remove skin and any remaining bones from salmon filet. Rinse fish under cold running water and pat dry. Season salmon with the Potlatch Salmon rub on both sides.

Lay that salmon (formerly skin side) on the cedar plank. Set grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high. Place the cedar plank in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook until cooked though, 20-30 minutes. The internal temperature should read 135 degrees F. Transfer salmon on the plank to a platter and serve right off the plank.

Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at

3 thoughts on “BBQ Salmon Potlatch Style, The Resort at Port Ludlow

  1. Wastrel Way

    Native Americans didn’t have pottery? It was not very common in the Pacific Northwest, but I assure you, they did have pottery.

    “cedar planks are readily available from cooking stores” lol

    One thing the Native Americans surely didn’t have is “kosher salt.”

    Salmon (and other large fish) cooked this way is delicious. This recipe is far from traditional, of course. There are more radical modern variations, such as merely rubbing the fish with salt and pepper, and then during cooking throwing fresh dill and Pernod on the fish.

  2. Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT EditorBobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor Post author

    Perhaps I should have been clearer. Pacific Northwest Native peoples were not pottery makers. Occasionally, they traded with pottery-making tribes or traded with people like Russian fur traders for copper pots. But, generally speaking, they used baskets or boxes made from woven materials or wood for cooking.

    Here’s what John Doerper and Alf Collins, in The Cooking Pot Proceedings, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, held in 1988 had to say about cooking methods of Pacific Northwest Indians, “Most West Coast Indians—west of Arizona and from California north to Alaska—chose to cook their food in baskets woven from roots or grasses. Even tribes who had contacts with pottery-making neighbours preferred baskets.”

    When Meriweather Lewis and William Clark when they reached the mouth of the Columbia River soon shorter after the turn of the 19th century, they wrote about the Indians in this region and their cooking methods: “They have among their utensils bowls and baskets very neatly made of small bark and grass in which they boil their provisions.” And they developed this indirect heat method of cooking salmon.

    And, of course, Pacific Coast Indians did not use Kosher salt like Chef Dan does. They used sea salt, which was readily available. The style of cooking salmon described in this recipe is, indeed, delicious. Hope you enjoy it.– Bobbie, RFT Editor

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