Tips for Grilling Fish to Perfection Each Time

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Last Updated on April 16, 2021
Annabelle

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated

to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

fresh-fish-on-the-grill

When it comes to seafood, there’s no better way to prepare it than by grilling. While more delicate than the normal grilling fare of steaks and burgers, knowing and using the right techniques can make your fresh seafood into the perfect meal wherever you are.

Granted, there are unique challenges in grilling seafood, and certain types may require more attention than others. Whether it's fresh off the boat or picked up at the local seafood market, knowing the top tips to grilling fish before you get started can make all the difference to your enjoyment.

Begin with a Clean Grill

Beginning with a clean grill is key to a successful outcome for your next seafood dinner. A filet’s delicate nature causes it to easily stick to a grill and break apart when flipping over. Scrape and brush your grill thoroughly, removing all burnt leftovers,  which can create more sticking conditions for your fish. We’ve made grill brush reviews that will help you find the best grill cleaning tool.

fish-market

Choose Your Seafood Wisely

Any fish can be grilled, especially if you are the adventurous type. However, some types are better suited to the grill than others. These include those firmer or thicker filets that won’t easily fall apart and can stand up to the high heat of any type of grill.

The best choices for grilling include:

  • Mahi-mahi
  • Halibut
  • Red Snapper
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Swordfish
  • Striped Bass
  • Tilapia
  • Catfish

You want any fillets you grill to be at least 1” thick or more.

Seal in Moisture Before You Begin

On the grill, fish loses moisture faster than other meats. Try leaving skins on to help with this and keep the delicate seafood together and prevent it from falling through the grates.

One of the top tips for grilling fish is to lightly brush on a coat of oil to each side as you flip it to keep it from sticking to your grill and also retain moisture.

If you want to add a marinade, you only need to let your fish sit for several seconds, then place it on a lightly oiled grill. The other option is to brush on your sauce or marinade as it cooks.

Choose Your Grilling Method

Most seafood is cooked directly on your grill’s grates, although some choose to place it in a cast-iron skillet, a griddle, a plank, in a basket or on skewers. Here are tips for grilling fish in a variety of ways, with each creating a slightly different effect and taste.

fish in the grill basket

1. Grill directly on the grates 

Grilling directly on the grates will require timing based on your filet’s thickness. As a guideline, grill a filet based on approximately 7 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. So, if the filet is two inches thick, it will need about 14- 20 minutes on the grill total or 7-10 minutes per side.

Place the filet skin side down to start. When it's time to flip it over, gently use a spatula to slide underneath and slowly turn it. If you find the fish sticking as you try to slide in the spatula, give it an extra minute or two while checking it constantly to see if it lifts easier. When both sides appear opaque, and the internal temperature is about 123°F, remove it from the grill.

2. Use a plank

For an easier method, place your fish on a plank to grill. A plank is most often made of cedar to add flavor, but it can also be made of other woods such as oak or maple. You soak the plank for a few hours, then brush a light layer of oil on it before placing directly on your grill. Next, lay your fish on top of the plank and close the grill.

With the plank method, you don’t have to flip the fish over, which lessens the filet’s chance of breaking apart or falling through the grate. The plank adds an additional smoky flavor to your fish which you could not obtain without it.

3. Encase your fish in a pouch

For more delicate types of fish, such as flounder, you may want to encase it in a protective foil pouch before placing it on the grill. Pull out a foil square, lay your fish in the center, then fold the foil in on all sides to create a loose pouch.

Place the foil pouch directly on your grill to cook. The pouch itself keeps heat inside, providing a steaming effect to cook the fish.

When the fish begins to flake easily, it is ready to remove from the heat. Keep in mind that, when opening the pouch, the hot steam can burn your hands or face if it is too close.

In addition to foil pouches, you can also encase fish in cornhusks, grape leaves, or banana leaves.

4. Use the skewer method

For a fun way to grill fish, consider cutting it up into bite-size pieces and placing on skewers. Easy flipping results with this method, and it takes about the same time as the other grilling methods. Check a few pieces on each skewer for flakiness to determine when done. This is an excellent method for both salmon and swordfish.

5. Flip in a basket

Grill any fish, including the most delicate types, in a basket designed for grilling. Oil the basket, add the fish, close and secure the latch, and place it on your grill. Monitor it closely and check for doneness often.

6. Whole-fish grilling

Add a considerable amount of natural flavor when grilling by placing the whole fish directly on the grates. You can stuff the cavity with herbs, lemon slices, or any other concoction you’re fond of to add even more tastiness.  Once the whole fish lifts easily off the grill with no sticking, it’s time to flip to the other side. Consider whole-fish grilling for striped bass, trout, or tilapia.

Grill for the Seafood You Have

Make the most of whatever type of fish you choose to grill. Practice is the best way to develop your skills and also try different methods. To get you started, here’s how to grill your tuna or salmon.

Tuna

Whether 1” tuna filets or thicker steaks, tuna is ideal for grilling. Quickly sear each side over high heat for a minute or two. Move it to a cooler area and let it finish cooking until it meets the level you desire, such as rare or medium-rare. To cook tuna longer will result in a tougher, less tasty filet.

Salmon

Brush both sides of your salmon filet or steak with oil and place on a pre-heated grill. Peek underneath to see if grill marks are forming, then flip to the other side.  Make a small slice in the middle. If you see it is slightly pink here, remove it from the grill.

If you're looking for grilling ideas for summer, we also made a dedicated guide focused on tips for smoking mackerel.

Annabelle

Annabelle Watson

Final Thoughts

All-in-all, grilling your fish on the grill creates a tasty, memorable meal for you and your family or friends every time. Simply know the best grilling methods for the different types of fish, choose whichever one works best for you, and start enjoying the best your grill has to offer.