How to Grill Fish: Your Complete Guide


Grilled Salmon

Grilling fish is an art form. Check out this guide to learn how to grill fish.

Summer is grilling season in America. We have learned to cook just about anything on the grill.

This summer, consider adding fish to your rotation. Grilling fish is a healthy alternative to burgers and brats that you can easily whip up quickly for yourself and your family.

Many seasoned grillers are hesitant to grill fish because they don’t know how easy it really is and how flavorful it can be.

Fish comes with so many health benefits that the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings every week. If you want to learn how to grill fish that will please your heart and your tastebuds, keep reading. 

Preparation is Key

When it comes to grilling fish, preparation is key. Many of the general principles of grilling also apply when you’re grilling fish.

The very first thing you need to do is preheat your grill on high. Pro tip: you always want to preheat your grill on high, no matter what you’re grilling.

Turning up the temperature is the secret to grilling like a lifelong pro. The high temps will caramelize your fish and give it the grill marks everyone knows and loves.

Did you know that grill marks actually provide flavor to the meat? Make sure the temperature is turned up before you place your fish on the grill.

One of the biggest concerns grillers have about grilling fish is its tendency to dry out easily. Preheating the grill means that the fish will have to spend less time on the grill, reducing the chance of it drying out.

When it comes down to it, preheating the grill will set you up for success. The biggest fear you may have about grilling fish is that it might stick to the grill.

Guess what? Preheating will eliminate that risk too!

If you preheat the grill correctly, the fish will release itself naturally from the cooking grate of the grill when it’s done. You might be thinking it’s too lean, but it’s true. This is why fish is so easy to grill.

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Getting the Temp Just Right

Another thing to keep in mind while grilling fish is that the temperature should remain constant.

While it depends on the recipe you are using, the temperature should be medium to high heat at around 400-450 degrees. It’s important to note that this temperature works whether you are cooking the fish with the skin on or off. 

Keep it Clean

Always clean the cooking grates before you put your fish on the grill. You should clean these with a stainless steel brush.

Doing so will get rid of any debris left from prior grilling sessions. Really, you should clean the grill before grilling anything, but especially fish.

If your fish sticks to the cooking grates, you probably didn’t clean the grates well enough or preheat your grill to the right temperature. As you can see, when it comes to grilling fish, most of the work is done before the fish even hits the grill.

By following the advice in this section, you’ll be setting your fish up for success when it finally starts cooking.

There are two ways to grill your fish: skin-on and skin-off. Each way comes with its own tips for success.

How to Grill Fish with the Skin On

How to Grill fish with the skin on
One method to grill fish with the skin still on.

If you choose to grill your fish with the skin on, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to technique.

As you might expect, preparation is key to successfully grilling with the skin on. The first thing you want to do is let the fish sit out of the fridge for 5-10 minutes.

This will allow the fish to reach room temperature. Then, you want to oil and season the fish. You want to be generous with the oil to reduce the chances of the fish sticking to the cooking grates. 

If you want to use the grill to sear the flesh side of the side, it’s especially important to oil this side. Then, you’ll place the fish flesh-side down onto the cooking grates.

Be sure to refer to the specific recipe you are using. If you don’t want to sear the flesh side of the fish, you can just put the fish on the grate with the skin side down.

If you’re hesitant to sear the flesh side because you are concerned about sticking, don’t be! Fish is unique in that it will naturally release itself from the grill when it’s done cooking. It basically does the work for you. 

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How Long Should You Cook Fish For?

Follow conventional fish cooking wisdom when it comes to grill time. You should leave the fish on the grill for 8-10 minutes for every inch of fish.

Of course, you want to flip the fish over halfway through this time. So that means for every inch in thickness, you should grill each side of the fish for 3 to 4 minutes.

This is general advice and you should consult the recipe you are using as it may offer different instructions. 

When It’s Done

Taking the fish off the grill should be a breeze. All you have to do is slide the spatula in between where the skin and the flesh of the fish meet.

Be sure to use a side to side motion to get in there. If you do this right, the layer of skin will be left on the cooking grate of the grill and the flesh piece will be removed and on your spatula. 

After you remove your fish from the grill, make sure to let it rest for a few minutes. This crucial time allows the fish to relax and the juices from grilling will be absorbed back into the fish.

This will make the fish juicier and more tender. You should let the fish rest for about 3-5 minutes before serving. 

How to Grill Fish with the Skin Off

When it comes to grilling fish with the skin off, the same preparation steps should be followed.

Take your fish out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes. This allows it to reach room temperature, which will help it cook better.

When it comes to oiling and seasoning the fish, be sure to be generous on both sides. Of course, this will prevent the fish from sticking to the cooking grates of the grill. 

How Long Should You Cook Fish For?

Cook your fish using the same time guidelines as mentioned previously. For each inch of thickness in the fish, it should be grilled for 8 to 10 minutes.

Since you want to grill the fish evenly, you’ll want to flip it halfway through. This means you should grill each side of the fish for 3 to 4 minutes.

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Of course, if your recipe calls for something different, you’ll want to follow the instructions on the recipe. 

When grilling fish with the skin off, it’s important that you only flip the fish one time. Repeatedly turning and flipping the fish is a rookie grilling mistake and increases the chances of the fish breaking apart on the grill. 

When It’s Done

When you do flip your fish, don’t force the fish from the grill. You must be patient and allow the fish to naturally release itself from the grill.

This is the case for both sides when you are grilling without the skin. When the fish naturally releases itself from the grill, the fish is telling you that it is done cooking.

After removing the fish from the grill, be sure to let it sit for 3-5 minutes. As discussed before, this lets the fish relax and the juices will be reabsorbed back into the fish.

The fish will be more tender if you allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving. 

Consider Smoking Your Fish

Once you have mastered the art of simply grilling fish, you can take things to the next level. Consider adding some smoke to your fish for a new flavor experience.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, you’ll want to soak wood chips before placing them on your charcoal. Be sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes and place them directly on the charcoal. This will make your fish more flavorful.

If you’re using a gas or electric grill, you’ll soak wood chips for at least 30 minutes and then place them in a smoke box right on the cooking grate.

However, you choose to grill your fish, remember to always grill with the lid down. Every time you open the grill, you add grilling time to your fish. 

Grill Like a Pro

Now that you know how to go about grilling fish, you’re well on your way to becoming a BBQ pro.

Many novice grillers never learn the art of grilling fish because they are held back by uncertainty. As you can see, grilling fish is remarkably simple.

Your heart and your family will thank you for adding grilled fish to the menu this summer. 

And remember, you’re only as good as the equipment you’re working with. Check out this article for our guide to the best grills.

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