How to Grill Fish and Seafood, According to Our Test Kitchen
With these tips in hand, you’ll be an expert at the grill.
Despite a rather finicky reputation, all varieties of seafood, from hard-shelled clams to delicate, thin fillets of trout, can be grilled successfully. The key is knowing which technique will best suit each type. Learn how to cook fish and seafood on the grill for a healthy, smoky-flavored meal that is sure to impress.
How to Know When Your Fish Is Done
The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145℉. Use an instant-read thermometer or follow our general rule of thumb: if it flakes easily and is no longer translucent in the centers, odds are it's done. Generally speaking, that means 8 to 10 minutes over medium-high heat for a 1-inch-thick piece of fish.
When to Cook Directly on the Grates
For thick, sturdy fish like tuna, mahi-mahi or salmon, grill it right on the grates. It will hold up well, especially when it's time for the big flip. The same goes for shrimp, scallops, and bivalves, such as oysters, mussels and clams. Here are five tips for cooking directly on the grates.
5 Tips for Grilling Fish & Seafood Directly on the Grates
Tip #1: Make Sure the Fish Is Dry
Pat the fish dry, then oil it to prevent sticking. Then add your seasonings.
Recipe to Try: Grilled Salmon with Watercress Salad & Buttermilk Dressing
Tip #2: Leave the Skin on
Leave the skin on. Even if you don't plan on eating it, grilling with the skin on is a good insurance policy—the fish will be less likely to adhere to the grates and will help keep the fish together when you flip it.
Tip #3: Preheat the Grill
Be sure to preheat a gas grill on high for at least 15 minutes, or build a fire in a charcoal grill and let it burn down to high heat (about 500℉). Once it's ready, give the grates a good scrub-down with a grill brush (debris can cause your fish to stick to the grates). Just before adding our fish, soak a paper towel in oil and use long grill tongs to run it over the clean grates. Reduce the heat to medium-high.
Related: Our 13 Best Grilling Tips for Summer
Tip #4: Don't Rush the Flip
Don't force the flip. If you find your fish sticking despite your best efforts, just give it a minute and try again. It will release naturally when it's ready—so patience you must have, young Padawan.
Recipe to Try: Garlic Shrimp & Asparagus Kebabs
Tip #5: Use Skewers for Pieces of Seafood
Grilling sea scallops or shrimp? Yes, you can grill each one individually, but skewering them will keep smaller pieces from falling through the grates and make it easier to turn them all at once. Use two parallel skewers as opposed to just one to prevent your seafood from spinning and sliding around.
When to Use a Plank, Grill Basket or Foil
For thin, delicate fish like tilapia or cod, whole fish that's stuffed, or small seafood, such as sardines, do yourself a favor and take the extra step of utilizing one of these grilling accessories for the best results. You can thank us later. Here are three tips for using a plank, grill basket or foil.
Recipe to Try: Plank-Grilled Miso Salmon
Tip #1: Use a Plank
Go for a wood plank if you're after the slightly smoky flavor wood imparts (or you just want a great presentation). Plan ahead: planks made from hardwood like cedar need to be soaked for an hour or two before grilling to prevent burning.
Recipe to Try: Grilled Fish Tacos
Tip #2: Use a Grill Basket
Opt for a flat grill basket—the hinged type that opens to let you put food inside and has a handle for easy turning—when grilling stuffed whole fish or smaller pieces of seafood that could drop through the grates. (If you don't want to skewer shrimp or scallops, they're good contenders for a grill basket.) Prevent sticking by coating the basket with cooking spray or brushing it with oil before adding the fish.
Recipe to Try: Cajun Shrimp Grill Packets with Tomatoes & Okra
Tip #3: Use Foil
Use foil, placed directly on the grates, as a makeshift sheet pan, or fold it into a packet if you want to grill quick-cooking veggies, herbs or sauces along with your fish (We like Reynolds Wrap Foil Wrappers since they come in pre-cut sheets). To make a foil packet, simply stack two 20-inch sheets of foil. Coat the center of the top layer with cooking spray. Layer your ingredients on the foil. (You can add other things to your packet like thinly sliced veggies or lemon.) Bring the short ends of the foil together, leaving enough room in the packet for steam to gather and cook the fish. Fold the foil over and pinch to seal. Pinch seams together along the sides. Place the packets on a gas grill over medium heat or on a charcoal grill 4 to 6 inches from medium coals. Cover the grill and cook just until the packet contents are done (about 8-10 minutes for a salmon fillet or equivalent, about half that for shrimp and scallops). Handle the hot packets with a large spatula or oven mitts. Carefully open both ends of the packet and allow the hot steam to escape.
This article originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine, June 2021.