How to Grill Fish

Three Methods:Prepping Your Work StationFilletsWhole Fish

There are several easy ways to barbecue fish. You do not always need foil paper or special tools. Cleaning up is fast also, with nothing to toss away or wash. With minimal prepping and seasoning necessary, you'll be a pro in no time.

Method 1
Prepping Your Work Station

  1. Image titled Grill Fish Step 1
    Turn on your grill and blast the heat. As you're heating up the grill, cover the grate loosely with aluminum foil. The intense heat will cause any debris to break down and dissolve, starting the cleaning process for you. This also minimizes sticking. At its highest heat, this should only take about 10-15 minutes.[1]
    • "Blasting the heat" is another way of saying very, very hot. We're talking around 550°F (288°C) here.[2] So, obviously, cover your grill while this process is going on. The heat will sear the fish initially, sealing it. If you throw it on a warm grill, it'll stick.
    • If you're using a charcoal grill, those babies need to be gray, not black.
  2. Image titled Grill Fish Step 2
    Clean the grill grate. If you used aluminum foil for the previous step, remove it now. Using a stiff-wired grill brush, scrape the grate clean. Fold a couple of sheets of paper towels into a small square or pad. Grasping the paper towels with tongs, dip the paper towels in oil (vegetable or olive) and rub over the bars of the grate.
    • Continue to wipe the grate with the oiled paper towels until the grate is somewhat glossy. Plan on doing this about 5 times. It's a good idea to re-dip the paper towels in oil for each application.[1]

Method 2

  1. Image titled Grill Fish Step 3
    Choose your fillet. When choosing a fish for grilling, you first want to consider how hearty it is -— how well can it stand up to the torture of a live fire. Flaky or delicate fish like flounder or sole won't cut it here. You want thicker fillets or steaks of more sturdy contenders such as:[3]
    • Halibut
    • Tuna
    • Swordfish
    • Haddock
    • Salmon
    • Mahi-mahi
    • Grouper
    • If you do opt for a delicate fish, you'll be better of with putting it in aluminum foil or using a grilling basket -- or else you risk your meat falling through the grill to the flames.
  2. Image titled Grill Fish Step 4
    Cut it up into smaller portions. Not only will it be easier to manage on the grill but you can ensure the fish cooks up evenly -- the skinnier tail end doesn't need to cook as long as the thicker part of the fillet. Cut your fish into portions that have an even thickness to ensure you don't have dry parts and/or undercooked parts all on one portion.
  3. Image titled Grill Fish Step 5
    Season or marinate the fish. If you have a marinade you've been dying to try, go for it. Just make sure to keep the fish in the marinade for no longer than 30 minutes -- both salty or sugary marinades have a negative effect on taste if left on too long.
    • However, all fish really needs is a coating of olive or coconut oil and some salt and pepper. The art is in the grilling -- just make sure you lather up both sides evenly.
  4. Image titled Grill Fish Step 6
    Place it skin-side down and diagonally on the grill. This not only creates those masterful grill marks you see in restaurants, it actually makes it easier to flip the fish because it's on an angle.[1] The general rule is a fish will take 8 minutes to cook through per inch of thickness, which means about 3 to 5 minutes per side.[4]
    • Reduce the heat to medium, cover the grill, and let cook! Don't try to move the fish until you see that the skin side has a nice sear and looks crisp -- if you do, you risk it falling apart. If you're not sure when to check the fish to see this, try gently lifting with a fine-edged spatula after a few minutes. If it doesn't lift off the grate easily, let it cook a bit longer and check at 20-second intervals until it does.[1]
  5. Image titled Grill Fish Step 7
    Flip the fish. Okay, so the fish is lifting off the grate and has the right color on the bottom. Time to flip. First, you need the right tool. A wide spatula with a thin, tapered edge does the job nicely by being able to slide easily under the fish and also large enough to support the whole fillet while you flip it. To make your life even easier, pair it with a flexible turner which can help hold the fish in place while the larger spatula slides underneath.
    • While attempting the turn, if you feel too much resistance, just stop and walk away. If you've properly cleaned and oiled the grate, the fish will let you know when it's ready to turn by releasing itself from the grate.[3]
  6. Image titled Grill Fish Step 8
    Cover, cook, and check for doneness. When cooked properly, the meat will be firm to the touch, flake easily with a fork, and appear opaque all the way through.
    • Take a fork and gently pull back a flaky section in the center. If the fish is opaque with just a bit of translucent center, it's ready to come off. If using an instant read thermometer, the fish should be pulled when it registers between 130-135°F (54-57°C), letting it carry over to 140°F (60°C) while it rests.[3]

Method 3
Whole Fish

  1. Image titled Grill Fish Step 9
    Get a whole, fresh fish from your local market or grocery store. Look for shiny scales, clear eyes and bright red gills. The fisherman among us, or those who don’t mind a little extra work, might enjoy cleaning, gutting and scaling the fish themselves. The rest of us should ask to have it done at the fish counter so when we get home, the fish is ready to go.
    • A whole fish is much harder to overcook than a small fillet; the skin protects the delicate flesh from heat and keeps the moisture in. The bones add a little extra flavor, too. Throwing the fish over direct heat on a grill is a fast and easy cooking method that gives you moist, tender flesh, and crispy, salty skin every time.[5]
  2. Image titled Grill Fish Step 10
    Make slashes into the meat (otherwise known as scoring). Cut deep slits spaced 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) apart along each side of the fish. Make at least 3-5 slashes in the meat perpendicular to the backbone on each side of the fish. You are doing this to open the interior of the fish to the heat, so it will cook evenly.
    • Make more slashes closer to the head, where the fish is thicker, than toward the tail, which cooks first. Snip off any sharp fins with kitchen shears or scissors.[6]
  3. Image titled Grill Fish Step 11
    Season the inside cavity. Sprinkle on a light coating of salt and pepper. There isn’t a whole lot of room to stuff smaller fish, but at the very least you can add few slices of lemon and sprigs of your favorite herb. Other seasoning combinations to try:[5]
    • Minced garlic with rosemary
    • Orange slices and paprika
    • Lime slices and cumin
    • Sliced green onion and tamari
    • Sliced red onion and basil
    • Minced garlic mashed with butter
  4. Image titled Grill Fish Step 12
    Coat the fish with oil. Olive or coconut work nicely. The grates of your grill should already be oiled down, but your fish will need it too, especially to prevent sticking.
  5. Image titled Grill Fish Step 13
    Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Wait until the grates are nice and hot before setting the fish down. If you don't, it'll stick. Steady, medium heat is best, otherwise the skin will burn before the fish is done. If possible, set the tail farthest away from the flames, as the skinnier, tail-end of the fish cooks faster than the rest.[5]
  6. Image titled Grill Fish Step 14
    Place on and wait. The crucial step is what you do after you place the fish on the hot grill: You wait. Fight the impulse to mess with the fish and move it around -- you'll rip the skin, lose some flesh, and throw off the cooking. Instead, stand there for 3-4 minutes. The fish is ready to be flipped when the skin no longer sticks to the grill.[7]
    • Generally, a fish that weighs 1/2 to 1 pound (.22 to .45 kg) will take about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Larger fish, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (.7 to .9 kg), can take around twice that amount of time. Another general guideline for whole fish is 10 minutes of cooking per side, per inch of thickness.[5]
  7. Image titled Grill Fish Step 15
    Flip the fish. To turn the fish, have your tongs in your “off” hand and a big spatula (oiled on both sides) in your good hand. Gently turn the fish over. It should come off the grates cleanly. If not, don’t force it. Let the fish back down and come back at it with the spatula, using pressure to pry it off the grates. You don’t want to pull the fish away from the grates and have half the skin and meat stick to the grill. Once the fish is flipped, let it cook for another 5-6 minutes.[6]
    • If the skin does stick to the grill, which is hard to avoid entirely, don’t sweat it. The presentation might not be quite as pretty, but the fish will still taste just as good.
  8. Image titled Grill Fish Step 16
    Test for doneness. Insert a thin skewer or toothpick into the thickest part of the fish. It should slide all the way in easily. When fish is cooked the meat will flake easily with a fork and will appear opaque all the way through. The flesh should also pull easily away from the bones.[5]
    • Place on a platter with a few garnishes and enjoy!


  • Try serving with:

    2 Tomato & Coriander (Cilantro) Salsa:
    2 Beefsteak Tomatoes, de-seeded and finely chopped,
    2 Medium Red Onions, finely chopped,
    Juice of 2 Limes,
    2 Tbsp Honey,
    2 Tbsp Fresh Coriander/Cilantro, chopped,
    Salt & Pepper.

    Mix all the ingredients together and serve.
  • Another way to test for doneness is to stick a small metal skewer into the thickest part of the fish for about 10 seconds and then touch the end of the skewer. If it is still cool, the fish isn't cooked enough; if it is warm (but not hot) the fish should be just right.
  • If you are using fillets that still have the skin on, you can simply cook these skin side down on a lightly oiled grill. The skin will be easy to remove when the fish is cooked.
  • To add a light smoke flavor to your fish, you may want to consider Golden Alder chips or chunks for white fish or Norther White Cedar for salmon. For charcoal, toss a handful of chips directly on the coals just before adding the fish. For gas grills, place chunks on grilling surface. When they start to smoke, add the fish.
  • Use wood planks, skewers, or baskets if you want to avoid flipping.
  • An alternative method of flavoring:

    A. Melt 1-2 sticks (depending on how much fish you have) of unsalted butter
    B. Add two cloves of garlic and one half diced onion
    C. Add your favorite season-all and some fresh cracked pepper
    D. Sauté until flavors have blended.


  • Try not to burn or overcook the fish. It does not take too long to cook, so watch it. Fish gets tough when overcooked.

Article Info

Categories: Fish and Seafood