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How to Cook Fish on the Grill

How to Cook Fish on the Grill

Last updated on 5/18/2022

When the weather gets warmer, customers start seeking out the smoky flavors of barbecue meals. Grilled fish and seafood provide a healthy protein alternative for your menu that your customers will love. However, it can be tricky to figure out the best grill temperatures for fish. In this article, we’ll show you the best fish to grill and foolproof grilling techniques so you can prepare fish to perfection!

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How to Grill Fish Video

Below is a step-by-step video on how to grill fish perfectly:

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Best Fish to Grill

Before you learn how to grill fish, it's important to first select the best fish to grill. The best way to begin is by choosing a fish that can stand the high-heat environment of a grill and using the proper grilling techniques for fish that cannot.

The following fish species feature a firm meat texture like beef or pork that won’t fall apart when cooked, making them some of the best fish to grill:

  • Arctic Char: This fish has a flavorful pink flesh that often resembles the taste of trout or salmon. Chefs will often choose to cook arctic char as fillets on the grill.
  • Halibut: Halibut fillets are known for their tender texture and delicate flavors that are perfect for pairing with bold seasonings and marinades. It is often cooked as fillets on the grill.
  • Mahi-mahi: Also known as dorado or dolphinfish, mahi-mahi is a white fish with a mild and sweet flavor that does well cooked as fillets on the grill.
  • Salmon: Salmon has a fresh ocean flavor that pairs well with a variety of sauces and spices, making it a popular option for grilling salmon fillets directly on the grill grates or on a plank.
  • Snapper: This lean fish is often grilled whole due to its firm texture. Snapper offers a stunning presentation on the plate with its vibrant red color.
  • Swordfish: The firm texture of swordfish fillets allows for them to develop distinct grill marks that create an eye-catching steak. It also features a slightly sweet flavor that fish enthusiasts enjoy.
  • Tuna: Tuna develops a mild flavor while having a beef-like texture when cooked on the grill. Tuna fillets are often cooked medium rare as steaks.

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How to Grill Fish

In order to master fish grilling, it's important to become familiar with the full grilling process, from prep to plate. You’ll have to choose which cut of fish will work best for your dish, along with the proper grilling method for that cut. Here is how to cook fish on the grill:

1. Choose a Fish Cut

choose a fish cut

Before you fire up the grill, the first step would be to select which type of fish cut you’re interested in preparing for your menu. You can work with a local fishmonger to ensure that the fish is fresh, cleaned, sustainably caught, and cut to your liking. The most popular cuts of fish for grilling include:

  • Fish Fillet: Fish fillets come from the thick sides of the fish and feature a skin side and a flesh side. As many of the bones as possible are removed before cooking.
  • Fish Steak: Fish steaks are a cross-section cut from a large fish species with firm and fattier flesh. The surrounding skin and interior bones help keep the integrity of the fish but can prove challenging to eat, as guests will have to pick out the bones. A fish steak should be a minimum of 1” thick.
  • Whole Fish: Cooking a whole fish requires the least amount of preparation and creates a striking food plating presentation. The full coverage of skin retains the flavor in the meat but can also present a challenge to guests as they eat around the skin and bones. Leaving the skin on the fish helps to retain the moisture in the meat while also adding stability so your fish doesn’t easily fall apart. The skin also creates a heat barrier to protect the meat from the flame of the grill. It can later be removed after the fish is fully cooked.

2. Prep the Fish

After choosing your fish cut, you’ll want to properly prepare the fish before trying any grilled fish recipes. Follow these easy steps to prep your fish:

  1. Rinse the fish in cool water to get rid of any debris that may be on the flesh.
  2. Wrap the fish in a paper towel or a kitchen towel to remove any excess moisture.
  3. Use fish tweezers to tweeze out any bones that may be protruding from the flesh.
  4. If using a whole fish, make cuts every 3 inches along the sides for even cooking.
  5. Brush both sides of the fish with oil, regardless of the cut.
  6. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Additional seasoning and marinating should be done when fish fillets come off the heat to prevent sticking. Whole fish can be stuffed with herbs and citrus. For fish cooked in foil packets, herbs and citrus can be added to the packet.

3. Prepare the Grill

One of the biggest challenges you may encounter when adding fish to your menu is figuring out how to grill fish on the grill without it sticking and falling apart. One main way to prevent this from happening is by properly seasoning and cleaning your grill.

  1. Cover the grates with aluminum foil to concentrate the heat on them.
  2. Heat the grill at the highest heat for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Brush the grates with a wire grill brush.
  4. Coat the grates with oil by using a wad of paper towels and tongs. You’ll want to wipe the grates 5 to 10 times, re-dipping the paper towel into the oil each time. The oil seasons the grates to prevent the fish from sticking.

4. Grill the Fish

There are various ways that you can cook fish on a grill, and some fish cook better depending on the cooking style you choose. The most important factor to check for when cooking seafood is to make sure that the internal fish temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit before serving. Cooking times can vary depending on the thickness of your cut. A fish should be grilled for a total of 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness.

How to Grill Fish Fillets

pieces of salmon fried over an open fire
  1. With the skin side down, place the fish diagonally on the grate slats to make it easier to flip and to give it desirable grill marks from the Maillard reaction.
  2. Close the grill lid and reduce the heat to medium. Allow the fish to grill for 2-4 minutes.
  3. Using a spatula or tongs, try lifting the fish. If it does not lift off cleanly, allow it to cook in 30 seconds intervals until it lifts off easily.
  4. Flip the fish onto the flesh side and close the grill lid.
  5. Allow the fish to cook for 3-7 minutes, until the thermometer reads the food-safe temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. If the fish flesh is fully opaque and begins to flake when tested with a fork, it can be removed from the grill.
  7. Finish by seasoning the fillet to your liking before serving.

How to Grill Fish Steaks

  1. Bring your grill to a medium heat and lay your 1” fish steak directly on the grates.
  2. Close the grill lid and allow it to cook for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Flip the fish and marinate the cooked side.
  4. Allow it to cook for another 3-4 minutes with the grill cover closed.
  5. Check the internal temperature for doneness.
  6. Remove the fish from the grill and brush the second side with marinade before serving.

How to Grill a Whole Fish

  1. Bring your grill to medium-high heat and place the fish down with the dorsal fin closest to the heat and the tail farthest away. Set the fish at a 45-degree angle to the grill grates.
  2. Allow the fish to cook uncovered for about 5 minutes.
  3. Attempt to gently lift the fish with tongs. If it does not lift easily, keep cooking while testing it at 1-minute intervals.
  4. Once it lifts off cleanly, flip the fish over to the second side.
  5. Allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes.
  6. Once the skin is crisp and flesh is white, check the internal temperature of the fish at the thickest part.
  7. If food-safe temperatures have not been reached but the skin is getting too brown, move the fish to a cooler spot on the grill until the thermometer reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Remove the fish from the grill and serve.
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How to Grill Fish in Foil

salmon in foil cooking on grill with lemon

Delicate fish such as tilapia, cod, sole, and flounder can still be cooked on the grill but fare best if grilled in foil. Grilling fish in aluminum foil helps to protect the structure of the fish while retaining moisture and preventing sticking. The foil helps to steam the fish and allows the fish to absorb the flavors of any herbs and spices that are in the foil pack.

To grill fish in foil:

  1. Tear two pieces of foil that are at least 10” x 10” in size. This can be larger depending on the size of your fish.
  2. Grease the sides of the foil pieces that will be in contact with the fish by using either oil, butter, or cooking spray.
  3. Add your fish, vegetables, herbs, citrus, and aromatics onto the greased foil.
  4. Place the second foil piece over the fish and vegetables and fold the ends to enclose the pouch.
  5. Light one side of the grill on medium-high heat, and place the fish foil packets on the unlit side. The packet should not be over direct heat.
  6. Allow to cook for 8-10 minutes. You can also use this method to grill shrimp and scallops, but you’ll want to cook them for 5-7 minutes only.
  7. Remove the packets from the grill with a spatula or tongs. Carefully cut them open with a knife and allow the hot steam to escape before serving.
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How to Grill Fish on a Plank

hot smoked salmon fillet on a cutting board

A wooden plank can be used for grilling fish fillets that are slightly too delicate to place directly on the grill grates. The plank provides a sturdy non-stick platform while also enhancing the flavor. Many fish enthusiasts enjoy grilling fish on cedar planks due to the distinct smoky flavor it adds but you may also use apple, cherry, maple, or oak wood.

To grill fish on a plank:

  1. Soak the wooden plank in water for at least 2 hours.
  2. Brush the top of the plank with oil.
  3. Place the plank on the grill with the fish fillet on top.
  4. Close the grill cover and allow to cook for 10-12 minutes. No flipping is required.
  5. Check the internal temperature for doneness.
  6. Brush with marinade.
  7. Move the plank to a cooler spot on the grill for another 1-2 minutes if it does not reach the proper internal temperature.
  8. Remove the fish from the grill and serve.
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Alternative Seafood Options for Grilling

lobster and seafood variety cooking on grill

Fish aren’t the only types of seafood that fare well on the grill. Below are more seafood options you can fire up this summer, however many of them will require the use of a fish grill basket to cook them properly.

  • Clams and oysters
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Sardines and Mackerel
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp and Prawns
  • Squid

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You can create a memorable menu straight from the sea by trying out these grilling techniques with a variety of fish and seafood options that your customers will love.

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