Grilled scallops are given a quick dip in a bright citrus and chile-based marinade that comes together in a flash. And did we mention they just take a couple of minutes on the grill? Dinner’s ready!
Adapted from Adam McKenzie | Weeknight Smoking on Your Traeger and Other Pellet Grills | Page Street Publishing, 2021
Scallops are delicious when cooked quickly on your grill. This easy marinade would work well with any kind of seafood but imparts a particularly nice citrusy flavor to scallops. Don’t be surprised by the confectioners’ sugar in the recipe—it counters the tang of the citrus and actually helps create a great sear on the scallops.
I recommend using a cast-iron griddle or skillet in your grill for this cook, so you don’t have to worry about losing your scallops in the grates.–Adam McKenzie
☞ Table of Contents
Grilled Scallops FAQs
How do I remove the side muscle from scallops?
When preparing your scallops, it doesn’t really take much more than just a quick rinse under cool water before being patted dry. The only other thing left to do is removing the side muscle, which isn’t particularly tender or tasty.
The side muscle is a little rectangular tag of tissue with fibers running in the opposite direction from the fibers in the scallop itself. Just give it a little pinch and it’ll come right off. Often, you’ll find that your scallops have very few, or even none, as they often fall off during harvesting
What’s the difference between sea scallops and bay scallops?
Sea scallops are larger and have a meatier texture than bay scallops, which tend to be smaller, sweeter, and more tender. Sea scallops are ideal for grilling or pan searing. Save the bay scallops for adding to easy pasta dishes, like this simple Spaghetti with Scallops.
How long should I marinate scallops?
As with most seafood, less is more when it comes to marinating time. These only need a quick 15 minute rest in the fridge, and take care not to leave them for more than an hour.
- Gas grill, pellet grill, or smoker
- Wood chips, wood chunks, or pellets (optional)
- Zest and juice of 1 orange preferably organic
- Zest and juice of 1 lime preferably organic
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil plus extra for brushing onto the scallops
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped habanero pepper
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
- 12 large (1 lb) sea scallops side muscle removed
- Preheat your smoker or grill to 450°F (232°C), according to manufacturer’s directions, using pellets or a smoke pouch, if desired. Place a cast-iron skillet in the grill to heat up for at least 15 minutes.
- In a shallow glass baking dish combine the orange zest and juice, lime zest and juice, sesame oil, vegetable oil, soy sauce, habanero pepper, garlic, and confectioners’ sugar and mix well.
- Add the scallops, cover and place in the fridge to marinate for about 15 minutes.
- Remove the scallops from the marinade and dab away any excess moisture and bits of garlic and habanero from each side with a paper towel. Discard the marinade.
- Use a pastry brush to brush both sides of the scallops with a very small amount of vegetable oil, then place them in the hot cast-iron skillet. Cook the scallops until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C), 2 to 4 minutes per side. You should have a good brown sear on each side, and the meat should be just opaque and slightly firm. Be careful not to overcook the scallops, or they will become too firm and rubbery.
- Serve immediately and enjoy!
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is a nice and simple marinade to make, and it comes together in about 5 minutes. Most of your time is spent waiting for the skillet to get piping hot as the scallops soak up all the great flavors from the marinade. You really don’t get much heat in the marinade from the habanero either, so don’t let that scare you off.
I used confectioners’ sugar to counterbalance the citrus tang, however, I think honey would work just as well. It’s really not overly acidic in my opinion. Make sure you dry the scallops off well, as bits of pepper or garlic will burn and result in a bitter-tasting bite when cooked over such high heat.
That little bit of oil (I used grapeseed for its high smoke-point quality) helped form a wonderful sear, and the scallops turned over very easily. I seared the grilled scallops for about 2 minutes on the first side, then about 90 seconds for the second side, before removing them from the skillet.
I made the marinade again to try it with some shrimp and salmon, but I let the protein marinade for 30 minutes, before placing them in the skillet. These also resulted in a nice char and wonderful flavor.
So, this is a versatile marinade to keep in your recipe armory, as I bet it would work well with chicken or pork too (just need a longer marinade time!) I served these with roasted potatoes and a side salad.
If you are a scallop lover, these grilled scallops are a must-try. Yes, scallops sautéed in olive oil and butter are delicious, but this recipe takes them to a completely different place.
The taste and wonderful texture of scallops are retained but a depth of additional flavors is added. First comes the clean citrus taste, followed by the soy sauce and sesame oil. And finally comes the garlic with the habanero pepper leaving a little heat on your tongue.
At first, I did a double-take when I saw the confectioners’ sugar but it does make sense. Sugar can nicely accent the heat of a pepper. In the case of a scallop, you would want very fine, light sugar, like confectioners’. Perfect.
These are great with roasted asparagus.
These grilled scallops were a really great Friday night supper. It was quick and easy to pull together, uses pantry ingredients, and tastes much fancier than you’d think. It’s totally company-worthy.
We used our PK charcoal grill with chunk charcoal and alder chips we had leftover from smoking some fish. We also found that the griddle/skillet wasn’t necessary as our scallops were huge.
For the marinade, my orange yielded about 1 tablespoon of zest and 1/2 cup of juice, the lime gave up 2 teaspoons zest and 2 tablespoons of juice. I used regular soy sauce and a jalapeno since my store didn’t have any habaneros. My 12 scallops weighed just a bit over 1 pound and came with the side muscle removed.
We needed to cook the scallops just a bit longer (4 minutes per side) than the recipe instructs, I’m sure because they were so big. The confectioner’s sugar did seem to help the scallops sear nicely, but didn’t lend any sweet notes to the finished dish other than toning down the acidity of the citrus.
I think the recipe is correct in stating that it will serve 2-3, my husband and I had 3 scallops left over. I served this with broiled garlic asparagus and brown rice pilaf. It’s good stuff, you need to make this.
If your scallops have lost their “mojo” (like “Austin Powers”) this recipe will bring it back. This delicious recipe for grilled scallops isn’t fussy at all and the end results are scrumptious. The marinade could be used for other seafood as well, with fabulous results.
I served them with jasmine rice and green beans. Don’t doubt the addition of powdered sugar, it makes the dish sing. Yeah, baby, yeah!
This recipe was super easy and delivered delicious grilled scallops with a good amount of caramelization on the two sides and just the right amount of citrus flavor. Scallops are so sweet that any recipe risks masking it but this recipe was just right. The sweetness of the scallops came through along with a nice balance of citrus and sesame.
Putting the marinade together was a breeze, as was cooking. The recipe says 3 minutes per side, but if you’re using a cast-iron skillet on a 450-degree grill, 2 minutes per side is probably enough. I did three on one side and pulled them after about two on the other. They weren’t overdone but definitely didn’t need that other minute.
Also, the oil is key because even with patting off the marinade, the scallops wanted to stick to the pan. This recipe may not replace my tried-and-true seared-in-butter scallops but I’ll definitely make these again! We got two servings and served them with grilled kale rabe, grilled carrots, and a glass of chardonnay.
Originally published May 11, 2021