Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Grilling Fish 101

posted in Main Dishes, Meat, Poultry and Seafood by Donna Diegel

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Let’s see a show of hands: How many of you are afraid to grill fish? Well, you’re missing out if you’ve never tried fish fresh off the barbecue, and this post will cover how to choose it and grill it.

How to Choose the Right Fish for the Right Job

We’ve already covered how to buy fresh fish and seafood, but it’s important to know that some fish work better than others on the grill. Here are some basics on what fish is best suited for the barbecue:

Thick steaks, such as tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi and salmon fare well on a grill. But don’t discount whole fish like trout, red snapper, striped bass and bluefish. They work well, too, if you can get past the eyes and tail!

Tender fillets like sole, catfish, flounder and tilapia don’t do as well on a grill, because they tend to break up and fall through the grate. You can grill more fragile fish in a foil packet or using a wire fish basket. Otherwise, save these kinds for pan cooking, baking or deep frying.

What if I don’t have an outdoor grill?

The George Forman Electric Grill is a good alternative for those who can’t grill outside. The other option for indoor grillers is to use a grill pan on the stove, as Kathy has demonstrated grilling chicken indoor. They come in round, square and rectangular shapes and either non-stick or cast iron. They’re great for low-fat cooking because they keep whatever you’re grilling up and out of the fat.

Fish Grilling Methods

Grills: Whether using gas, charcoal, electric or grill pans, there’s a secret to grilling fish: Get your grill as hot as you can make it. You want to sear the fish as soon as it hits the grate. This seals in the juices and immediately firms the flesh; it’s less likely to stick to the grate and it’s easier to flip. Fish 4 Fun has some great tips on grilling seafood. They’ll also tell you exactly how to get the grilled diamond pattern you see in restaurants.

Cedar smoking/grilling is a no-fuss way to grill tender fillets, salmon and shrimp. The fish or shrimp are cooked on a wood plank, which gives them a smoky flavor. Just presoak the cedar plank, arrange your fish on top, cover and grill.

Foil Packet Grilling: There will be occasions when you want to cook a more delicate fish, and this is the perfect time to use foil packets. This is also a great way to cook an entire meal, because you can cover the fish (or meat) with vegetables and potatoes. Basically, you lay the fish (and anything else you want to cook) on a piece of foil, then bend the foil over top and seal all the sides by folding them over several times. Cooking this way will also keep the grill clean.

To Marinate Or Not To Marinate

Thick, dry fish steaks (like tuna or swordfish) taste great when marinated. Sometimes, a simple mix of oil, vinegar and spices is all it takes to make a drier kind of fish juicy. One idea is to coat tuna or swordfish steak in mayonnaise, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and slap it on a hot grill. Let it sear for a few minutes on one side, turn it sideways for those pretty grill marks, then flip it over until it’s done.

Before cooking oily fish like bluefish, scallops and salmon, dry them thoroughly with paper towels. They tend to soak up water and that makes it hard to dry-grill. Sear or grill them in a little bit of flavored butter or oil. Add a sauce or other condiments just before or after the fish comes off the grill.

How do I know When My Fish is Done?

The basic rule is to cook fish 8 minutes per inch of thickness, or 10 minutes per inch if it’s a whole fish. Check it two minutes before you think it should be done, keeping in mind that everything keeps cooking for a few minutes after it leaves the grill. Fish is best when it just starts to flake off with a fork. Helen Rennie has an excellent site devoted to fish and seafood, where she gives 10 tips for grilling fish. Every fish has its own personality and needs to be grilled or cooked accordingly.

Grilled Fish Recipes

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6 Comments

Kalyn said:

Nice collection of grilled fish recipes. Thanks for featuring my Mahi Mahi with Korean Dipping Sauce. I used that same sauce with salmon, and it was also delicious with that too.

przepisy kulinarne said:

I like to cook very at home.Cool fun. Like me. Thanks. Greetings from Poland.

Kathy Maister said:

Kalyn, you always have such fabulous recipes!

Przepisy, my dad was totally fluent in Polish but unfortunately I never learned the language. Thanks for stopping by to visit!

Anonymous said:

Mike said:

Funny I stumbled across this today because last night I marinated a Mahi Mahi and cooked it on my grill. This type of fish does work well with a marinade and I cooked it right on the grate – although I had a platesetter in for indirect heat.

The marinade was simple, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a dash of hot sauce and basil. Came out tasting great. Not a huge fish fan but if it’s cooked over lump charcoal I become a fan very quickly :)

Mike M said:

Thanks for the tips. I have not tried grilling fish yet… always afraid that its going to fall through the grill grate.
I think the plank method will work out nicely and I’ll give your site a mention in my next video.
Great resource :)