How to Cook Perfect Grilled Fish

True, there are a few pitfalls to watch out for: A gorgeous, succulent fillet could stick to your grill grates, flake apart and turn dry and overcooked in less time than it would take an ice cream cone to melt in the summer sun.

The good news is that following a few basic rules can make grilled fish a quick, easy, totally delicious summer standby.

  • Meaty fish steaks like tuna, salmon and swordfish are some of the very easiest to cook: They’re very firm, and their high oil content means they resist sticking and are less prone to drying out.  For an almost foolproof recipe featuring these fish, try the terrific beginner recipe in Learn to Cook: Grilled Fish.
  • For thinner, leaner white-fish fillets, keep the skin on during grilling to help hold it together and keep the flesh moist. You can always remove the skin after cooking if you like. That’s the very successful method used in this popular Grilled Red Snapper with Strawberry and Avocado Salsa. You can apply the same technique for skin-on perch, porgy or bass fillets.
  • Marinating fish is great way to add flavor and aroma, and a marinade with oil will also help prevent sticking during grilling. But keep the soaking time short: Fish is naturally tender, and if you marinate it too long in an acid mixture it will begin to “cook” the flesh and adversely affect its texture. Citrus-Marinated Grilled Salmon with Tabbouleh Salad is packed with fabulous summer flavors and calls for a judicious marinating time of just 30 minutes.

Citrus-Marinated Grilled Salmon with Tabbouleh Salad

Citrus-Marinated Grilled Salmon with Tabbouleh Salad

  • If you haven’t tried grilling a whole fish yet, do give it a try this season! It’s a rewarding experience and quiet simple. Cutting slashes in the side of a whole fish will help smoke, flavor and heat penetrate for great flavor and even cooking. That’s one of the reasons this recipe for Grilled Mackerel with Tomato Salad comes out so spectacularly tasty. The recipe is fabulous with trout, bluefish or branzino as well.
  • Always have your grill grates scrupulously clean before you put fish on them–it’s one of the very best ways to reduce sticking. Heat your grill first, then clean it thoroughlyto remove any burnt-on food. If your fish itself has no oil on it, you can brush the grates lightly with canola oil or safflower oil, or use a hinged grill basket. Lean, delicate paiche is successfully grilled in this on-oil Grilled Paiche Tacos with Pickled Vegetables, a true summer treat.

Grilled Paiche Tacos with Pickled Vegetables

Grilled Paiche Tacos with Pickled Vegetables

  • Fish grills up very quickly and will turn dry and tasteless if overcooked, so watch it carefully. A good rule is to not touch it for at least three minutes once it hits the grill. This gives the fish a chance to form a crust on the outside, which will allow the fish to naturally pull away from the grates and makes flipping it with a spatula easy.
  • Estimate 8 to 10 minutes total cooking time for each inch of thickness over medium to medium-high heat. Check the doneness by gently inserting a paring knife into the thickest part of the fish and looking for just a hint of translucent flesh at the center. Tuna and salmon are good when still medium or medium-rare, but feel free to cook them any way you find most appetizing. Fish continues to cook a bit once you remove it, so if it’s already opaque at the center you could overcook it.

Step out and grill some fish! Where there’s smoke, there’s endless possibilities for deliciousness.

Tell us about your favorite summer fish recipes.

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