Want to know how to grill fish so it turns out perfectly every time? Read on, whether you’re a beginner or whether this is not your first time manning the grill.
More on how to grill fish in a moment. Lately, it seems, cooking has become very complicated. Brine this. Marinate that. Make a sauce that takes 3 days. We want to dial it back, to get out from under the yoke of complex formulations and intricate preparations. We want to take you back out to the grill, where cooking can be spontaneous and the food can be easy. Because one of the best things about grilling is that it is a supremely simple process. In addition to being simple, grilling should be easy. We hope to remind those of you who already know, and show those who don’t, that big flavor does not need to be the result of big effort.–Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
WHAT ARE THE BEST FISH TO GRILL?
Burgers, hotdogs, steak, whole chickens. Zucchini and potatoes. Even bananas. We grill a lot of things but fish isn’t often one of them—it can take a more delicate touch but trust us, it’s worth it. Some fish does hold up to flame better than others, though. Swordfish, salmon, tuna, snapper, and mahi-mahi all do really well on the grill. Fish like cod, which is a little more delicate and flaky, is manageable if you cook it skin side down. As well, no matter what you’re grilling, don’t force it if you’re trying to flip and it seems “stuck”. Proteins release when they’re properly seared—once your spatula slides underneath, it’s ready to be flipped over.
How to Grill Fish
- Build a two-level fire in your grill, which means you put all the coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side free of coals. When the flames have died down, all the coals are covered with gray ash, and the temperature is medium (which means you can hold your hand 6 inches above the grill for 4 to 5 seconds), you’re ready to cook.
- Rub the fish fillets on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper. Put the fillets on a fish tray or in a fish basket on the grill rack, situating them directly over the coals. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes on the first side.
- Carefully flip the fillets and cook until the fish is opaque throughout, 3 to 8 minutes on the second side. The exact timing will depend on the thickness of the fillets. To check for doneness, make a small cut in the thickest part of one of the fillets and peek in to be sure it's just opaque all the way through. If the fish isn't cooked through, transfer it to the side of the grill that's free of coals until it is opaque throughout.
- When the fish is done, use a spatula to move it to a baking sheet and serve at once.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This recipe is super basic, but the possibilities are endless. I grilled wild Alaskan halibut that was delicious as prepared in this recipe. The grilled, salted, and peppered outside edge was my favorite part of the fillet. But it would be so easy to dress up any fish cooked this way with fruit salsa, tomato salsa, olive tapenade, or some other yummy topping.
The prep time was 3 minutes, and the total time (not including waiting for my charcoal to heat up) was 11 minutes. The fillets that I used were 1 inch thick. I only needed to cook them for 4 minutes per side, and I could have cut down the second side to about 3 minutes because I thought the fish was a tad overdone. I didn't need a two-level fire because I never moved the fish away from the coals.
How to grill fish is more of a technique than a recipe per se, but it's as easy as could be. The total time for applying the oil, seasoning, and cooking was just under 20 minutes. A fast method for cooking fish.
We used cod—2 fillets were 1 inch thick, and 2 were 1 1/2 inches thick. We used a gas grill. The 2 inside burners were left off in case we needed them for indirect cooking. We cooked the 1-inch-thick fillets for 6 minutes per side and didn't need to cook them any further. The 1 1/2-inch fillets were cooked for 8 minutes per side and didn't need any further cooking. The results were tasty, and the fish was cooked until opaque through the middle. In fact, those fillets could have come off after 14 minutes, as they would have overcooked if not taken off when they were.
This is a very simple recipe. The how-to grill fish technique works as long as you use fish fillets with firm flesh. I used salmon the first time, which worked very well. The second time I used cod, which I placed in a lightly oiled grill basket. Cod is a pretty flaky fish and really needed the grill basket to hold it together.
I used a gas grill and placed the fillets over direct heat. The grill took about 15 minutes to get to the correct temperature. The hands-on time was about 10 minutes, and the grilling time was about 15 minutes for a total time of 25 minutes.
Originally published July 19, 2015