How To Grill Fish: Your Ultimate Guide

grilled fish with avocado sidings

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There’s nothing like the fresh taste of grilling a fish. When you grill a fish, you don’t rely on fat to cook the meat: it’s just the fish and an open flame. There is a natural taste to grilled fish that you will not get with frying or baking. However, you don’t want to just toss the fish onto a grill. Instead, you need to know how to grill fish. It isn’t difficult, but as fish is flaky and will fall apart easily, you need to make sure and follow these instructions to ensure the finest quality grilled fish in the end. 

What You’ll Need

sliced fish on a griller

image source: pexels

You don’t need all that much to grill tasty fish. While you are free to experiment with your fish, there are a handful of items you will need as you discover how to grill fish.

The Grill

Naturally, you need a grill. It is easier to grill with a gas grill rather than a charcoal or wood grill. While you might pull in extra flavor with one of the natural options, gas is easier to control and will give you an even cook.

Because fish is thinner than other meats and cooks quickly, it is desirable to have the added control that a gas grill offers so you can cook the fish evenly. You can even go with an electric grill top; just avoid closing a top lid on the fish if you have something like a George Foreman (you can cook it on this grill, just don’t sandwich the meat between the sides).

Grill Prep

Before starting the grill you’ll want to clean it off with a grill brush. This is more of an issue with outdoor grills, but whatever you’re cooking on you’ll want to have a grill brush. If you do not clean off the grill top, the fish will get stuck and cause problems during the grill process.

After you have scraped the grill as clean as possible, you’ll want to use an oiled paper towel and rub down the grill. This will clear off any particles from the grill so you have a smooth grate to cook on.

Grilling The Fish 

When it comes to learning how to grill fish, some prefer to use aluminum foil over the grill grate. There is nothing wrong with that, and if you have a thinner fish, it will help prevent the fish from falling through the cracks. This also is desirable if you have a charcoal grill so you won’t have direct flames touching the fish.

Using foil is also beneficial if you’re cooking the entire fish. You can wrap the fish up in foil and add slices of lemon or herbs into the foil. This way the meat cooks with the added seasoning.

Other times you can use a wooden stake, such as cedar, that has been soaked in water. This way when the wood stake is placed on the grill the moisture will help to steam cook the fish. This infuses the fish with the wood flavor. With the wood stake you won’t have the beautiful grill line marks. When cooking thicker fish stakes you want it to have those charred grill marks. However, the wood plank is a viable option for adding more flavor.

Paper Towel 

If you’re cooking a slice of fish and not the entire fish, you’ll want to remove as much of the moisture as possible. If you don’t, you may end up with a soggy fish. Use a paper towel to pat dry the fish. This is especially important if you’re using frozen fish. Ideally you’ll use fresh fish when grilling, but sometimes that isn’t an option.

Fine Edged Spatula

Don’t use a plastic or wood spatula. Go with a metal option that has a thin end. This way you can slide it under the fish without worrying about breaking the fish apart.

How To Grill Fish Fillets And Steak

In general, fish steaks are thicker than fillets. The steaks come from larger fish, such as tuna or salmon, but there are other kinds of fish steaks you might have. Each fish is a little different, but there are some general instructions you need to follow when it comes to mastering how to grill fish.


You want to use direct, high heat when cooking fish. Fish cooks quickly and will stick to the grill. If you use a low flame, the fish is more likely to stick, which pulls apart your meat. Instead, use a high heat that will cook the fish quickly, allowing you to remove the fish from the grill before it sticks.

Fish You Should Not Cook Directly On A Grill

There are some kinds of fish that are perfect for grilling, and then there are other kinds of fish that shouldn’t go directly on a grill but be instead placed in tinfoil or on a wood plank. Thicker, fattier fish like halibut, snapper, and salmon are all great for direct grilling. Tilapia and flounder are thinner and more delicate fish that will break apart and cook too quickly. While these are less expensive kinds of fish, you’ll need to look for other ways to cook them than directly on the grill.

Brush On Oil

While you may want to avoid using any kind of fat during the cooking process, when it comes to mastering how to grill fish you will still want to coat the fish with a thin layer of oil in order to prevent it from sticking. Most of the fat will cook off during the cooking process though, so you don’t need to worry about ingesting additional calories.

Lid Down

In most cases, you’ll want to grill your fish with the lid down as long as the lid is not providing direct heat. The lid down will trap the heat and help the fish cook faster. With steaks and fillets it is a race against the clock to avoid sticking, so the faster it cooks the better.

The only time you’ll want to avoid close the lid is if you have a thick steak and you want to maintain a pink, rare center. In this instance you’ll want to leave the lid open.

Grilling Whole Fish

grilled fish with knife and fork in a platter

image source: pexels

As you learn how to grill fish, you’ll discover that there are a few differences between grilling the whole fish and grilling a steak or fillet. For starters, when you grill the entire fish you’ll want to use an indirect heat source instead of a direct heat source. So, if you’re grilling, turn the heat of one side of the grill on and place the fish on the other. You will want to keep the lid down while you grill the entire fish.

Careful Spinning

Fish is delicate, so you can’t be forceful while you cook the fish. As the fish cooks, it will begin to flake and break apart if you’re not careful. So when you flip the fish, make sure to be delicate. Additionally, you’ll want to coat the exterior of the fish with some sort of fat to prevent it from sticking. You can use an oil or a butter.

You can even use a Crisco butter that will not melt like regular butter. Some enjoy using mayonnaise around the fish, as it sticks better. This will come down to personal choice, so you’ll need to try out the different options.

Aluminum Foil

When you are learning how to grill fish, you’ll find it isn’t always necessary to grill directly on the grate. Foil is a great option for grilling an entire fish. However, you will still want to apply some kind of oil or butter to the interior of the foil: otherwise the fish will stick inside of the foil and you’ll have a nightmare of a problem flipping it.

To help add extra flavor to your fish, either in the aluminum foil or if you’re grilling it right on the grate, cut down through the middle of the fish. Then open the fish and insert some lemon slices, fresh herbs, and butter. This will not only keep the interior of the fish juicy and prevent it from drying out but it will infuse the fish meat with these flavors. The beauty of leaving the skin on the fish is it will help insulate the fish as it cooks, preventing some steam from escaping.

Don’t be afraid to cook full fish. It is a different experience, but it doesn’t differ all that much from a steak or fillet.


grilled fish with vegetables

image source: pexels

One of the best meat you can prepare for nutritional value is fish. Fish is low in calories, high in protein, and a great substitute for other kinds of meat. If you want to avoid using much fat during the cooking process, you’ll want to turn to the grill. Learning how to grill fish isn’t difficult, but you need to have the right tools at hand. By following these tips and suggestions, you won’t have any problem preparing delicious fish at any point of the year.

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