6 Simple Ways to Grill Fish

Whether you are grilling sturdy steaks directly on the grill, cooking more-delicate fish in a basket, or steaming tiny scallops or calamari rings in a pouch, you'll be able to handle anything with the following six techniques.

A Foolproof Guide to Grilling Fish

Grilling fish is easy. Even delicate fillets and tiny bay scallops work well on the grill when you give them something to rest on so that they are easy to flip. Whether you are grilling sturdy steaks directly on the grill, cooking more-delicate fish in a basket, or steaming tiny scallops or calamari rings in a pouch, you'll be able to handle anything with the following six techniques. Just pick up the freshest fillets you can find, fire up your grill and get cooking.

Direct

Grilling right on the grate provides high heat and nice, smoky flavor. It works best with sturdier, meatier types of fish that don't easily flake, so you can move them without them breaking. Make sure you have a medium-high heat (if the fire's too cool, the fish will stick) and remember to oil the grate well before adding the fish. A wide, thin-bladed spatula (or tongs for shellfish) makes flipping easier.

Best for:  

Fillets and steaks of firm fish, such as salmon, tilapia and sea bass; jumbo shrimp; clams, mussels and oysters in their shells; lobsters (split in half before grilling).

Pouch

Cooking in a pouch is ideal for delicate fillets and small items, because you don't need to turn them. The pouch traps the heat and steams everything at once — think of it as the grill equivalent of a one-pot dish. To make a pouch, place the fish on a square of foil, drizzle with olive oil and add fresh herbs or whatever quick-cooking items you like. Bring the sides of the foil together and fold to seal, creating a loose tent. Place the pouch on the grate and cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Open the packet carefully so you don't get hit with escaping hot steam.

Best for:  

Thin, delicate fillets such as sole and flounder, or very small pieces like bay scallops.

Skewer

Skewers make it easy to flip multiple chunks of sturdy fish or pieces of shellfish at once. And the presentation is summery and fun. Soak wooden skewers 20 minutes before threading to prevent them from smoking on the grill, or just fill them with food so there's minimal area exposed to the flame. Thread large items like jumbo shrimp or calamari on 2 parallel skewers to help them cook flat.

Best for:

Chunks of firm fish like halibut, salmon or swordfish; shellfish, like scallops and shrimp.

Plank

This hands-off cooking method infuses fish with warm, woodsy flavor and is great for delicate varieties and large sides that are unwieldy to turn. Prepare a grill for medium-low heat. Season the fish on both sides and place it directly on a presoaked wood plank (cedar, maple and alder are all nice). Cover and let cook — no flipping necessary. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to douse any flare-ups. 

Best for:

Almost all varieties of fish, from delicate fillets like flounder to meaty salmon steaks.

Whole

This is pretty self-explanatory. Fish cooked on the bone is inimitably flavorful and juicy and makes a dazzling dinner-party dish, too. Season and stuff the cavity of the fish with herbs or lemon slices. It not only adds flavor but also creates a space to let the heat through, allowing the fish to cook more evenly. Another way to help even cooking is to score the fish every 2 inches on both sides, almost to the bone. Brush the fish with oil, sprinkle with sea salt and put it on the grill. The next step is crucial: Don’t move it around or peek underneath. Step back and wait. The fish is ready to be flipped as soon as it no longer sticks to the grill. At that point, slide a spatula underneath and turn it gently.

Best for:

Any 4- to 12-inch fish, such as trout, striped bass, sardines or tilapia.

Grilling Basket

A basket works well with delicate fish and fillets. It makes it easy to flip the fish without breaking, and you still get all the wonderful smoky flavor of direct grilling. To prevent sticking, oil the basket before filling (or use a nonstick version).

Best for:

Fillets and small fish such as fresh sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring.

How to Tell When Fish Is Cooked

Fish cooks quickly and is done when it flakes easily with a fork and the flesh appears opaque all the way through. If any part of the fish is partially translucent, return it to the grill for another few seconds. For even cooking, use steaks and fillets that are evenly cut and have a similar thickness.

Next Up

6 Easy Techniques for Great Grilled Fish

Whether you are grilling sturdy steaks directly on the grill, cooking more-delicate fish in a basket, or steaming tiny scallops or calamari rings in a pouch, you'll be able to handle anything with the following six techniques.