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Lesson 7: How to Grill Fish: Fillets, Steaks, and Whole

Sarah Breckenridge; Video by Bruce Becker and Dariusz Kanarek; Editing by Cari Delahanty. Shot on location at the Dana Holcombe House, Newtown, CT.
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Lesson 7: How to Grill Fish

Whether you’re already an accomplished griller or just a novice, grilling cookbook author Fred Thompson will turn you into a grill master in ten short episodes.

Grilling fish tends to scare off people who are otherwise very competent grillers. The two things that scare them are the fish’s tendency to overcook and stick to the grill. In this episode, you’ll learn some tricks for avoiding both problems, and you’ll also get three delicious recipes for cooking fish fillets, steaks, and whole trout. We’ll make Grilled Fish Tacos with cod fillets, Bacon-Wrapped Tuna Steaks, and Whole Smoke-Grilled Mountain Trout, stuffed with herbs and lemon.

Grilled Fish Recipes
Grilled Fish Tacos Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon-Pepper Rub and Horseradish-Chive Sauce Grilled Tuna Steaks with Mango Habanero Mojo Grilled Whole Salmon with Red-Pepper Aioli
Grilled Fish Tacos   Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon-Pepper Rub   Grilled Tuna Steaks with Mango Habanero Mojo   Grilled Whole Salmon with Red-Pepper Aioli

The first tip is, if you have a gas grill, use it. When it comes to cooking fish and seafood, gas grillers have a real advantage, because it gives you total control over the temperature.

Part 1. Grilling fillets and steaks:
The technique for grilling fish steaks and fillets is very similar. The most important things to remember are:

  • Direct heat, because they cook quickly
  • High heat, to help prevent sticking
  • For fillets, make sure they’re thick, meaty ones like salmon, halibut and snapper. Thin fillets like flounder or tilapia are too delicate for the grill, and prone to overcooking.
  • A super-clean cooking grate is the secret to preventing sticking. To get it very clean, preheat the grill thoroughly on high heat, then use a grill brush to clean off any bits of protein or sauce sticking to the bars.

Always coat your fish with some sort of oil or fat to prevent sticking. The fillets you’re grilling for the fish tacos are marinated in olive oil and spices. The tuna steaks are wrapped in bacon, which not only helps keep them from sticking but gives them that smoky bacon flavor. For extra insurance against sticking, you can also brush the grill grates with a little oil.

For just about any type of fish, you want to cook with the lid down. The only exception is plain tuna steaks if you want to keep the center rare; in this case, leave the lid up. Cook the first side of the fish a little longer than the second. This gives the fish nice sear marks for a good presentation, and it also helps the fish release from the grill without sticking.

The usual rule of thumb for cooking time–10 minutes per inch of thickness–tends to produce overcooked fish on the grill. For steaks and fillets, 8 minutes per inch of thickness is a better guideline.

Part 2: Grilling whole fish
Whole fish isn’t too much trickier than fillets or steaks, but in this case you want to use indirect heat instead of direct. So set up your gas grill for a two-zone fire, and place the whole fish in the cool zone from the start. As with steaks and fillets, keep the lid down.

Again, coat the fish with fat. The whole trout in this video are brushed with mayonnaise, a great fat for grilling fish, because it clings well to the fish. Even if you’re not a mayo fan, give it a try; the flavor of the mayonnaise really disappears in the cooking.

When it comes to turning, use a gentle hand. A fish spatula, with its thin, angled blade and widely spaced tines, is an essential tool. Even better is two fish spatulas: place them side-by-side and slide them under the fish, so the whole fish is cradled as you lift it up to flip.

For whole fish, the 10-minute-per-inch rule is a good guideline. Whole fish are actually a little easier to judge doneness than fillets, because they are already slit through to the center. Just peek inside cavity and use the point of a knife to test the meat right next to the backbone. It should separate easily, and be just barely opaque. When the fish is done, let it rest 5 minutes before serving.

More grilled fish steak and fillet recipes:
Grilled Swordfish with Lemon, Dill & Cucumber Sauce
Grilled Salmon with Wasabi-Ginger Mayonnaise
Niçoise Salad with Grilled Tuna & Potatoes
Grilled Halibut with Tarragon-Caper Mayonnaise

More grilled whole fish recipes
Grilled Soy-Glazed Snapper
Mackerel Provençal

Related Articles
How to Grill a Whole Fish
How to Grill Fish Steaks
For Juicy Grilled Shrimp, Cook it in the Shell
Grilling Clams and Oysters

Other lessons in this series
Classic Ultimate Burgers New York Strip Steaks with Blue Cheese Butter How to Start a Charcoal Fire
Lesson 1: The Perfect Burger
  Lesson 2: Great Steaks on the Grill   Lesson 3: How to Start a Charcoal Fire
The Two-Zone Fire Buttermilk Brined Chicken Breasts How to Add Smoke to a Gas Grill
Lesson 4: The Two-Zone Fire   Lesson 5: How to Grill Bone-In Chicken Parts   Lesson 6: How to Add Smoke to a Gas Grill
Grilled Fish Tacos Lump vs. Briquette Charcoal Fred's Ultimate Smoked Pork Shoulder
Lesson 7: How to Grill Fish   Lesson 8: Lump vs. Briquette Charcoal   Lesson 9: Slow-Smoked Pork Shoulder
Fred's Finest Baby Back Ribs    
Lesson 10: Real Barbecued Ribs        


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