Simple Tips for Grilling Fish Perfectly Every Time

A baked fish garnished with lemon slices and herbs is in a rectangular dish. Accompanying dishes include roasted potatoes, sautéed vegetables, and lemon wedges. Utensils are placed nearby.

If you’re not confident about grilling fish, get ready to impress. These tips will help you cook up perfectly grilled, flaky fish every time!

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.

Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.

Before I was diagnosed with alpha-gal, my grilling skills were limited to flipping hamburgers. But now that fish has become a staple in our household, I’ve learned these tips for grilling fish that ensure it has all the smoky flavor I expect without ruining its delicate, flaky texture.

Several fish steaks are grilling on a barbecue over red-hot coals. A text overlay says, "How to Grill Fish like a pro.


In This Article

Tips for the Best Grilled Fish

Before you get cooking, whether you’re grilling in the backyard or cooking over a campfire, there are a few tips that will make your fish grilling experience smoother. These shouldn’t be overlooked, as it’s very easy for the cooking session to take a turn for the worse by skipping one of these simple steps.

A grill being cleaned with a wire brush, showing a metal grate with hints of ash and embers.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Clean Your Grill Grates

Whether you’re using gas or charcoal, starting with clean grill grates is a must. Fish is delicate, and it can easily stick to the grill if you don’t clean the grates well beforehand. You may have skipped this step while grilling burgers or steaks in the past, but for fish, it’s imperative to take a minute or two extra to scrape and brush the grates until they are sparkling clean.

A close-up of a barbecue grill with flames and smoke rising from the grates.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Give Your Grill Time to Heat Up

Another tip for preventing the fish from sticking to the grill is to give it a generous amount of preheating time. Allow the grill to preheat for at least 10 to 15 minutes at a high temperature. This ensures the grates are piping hot so that when the raw fish hits the grill, it starts to sear immediately, ensuring your final filet has grill marks that would be the envy of any seasoned grillmaster.

Baked fish with lemon slices and herbs in a dish. Side plates with hasselback potatoes and mixed vegetables. Lemon wedges, utensils, and a serving spatula are on the table.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Invest in a Fish Spatula

If you’re serious about grilling fish, tongs won’t cut it. A wide metal fish spatula supports the entire surface area of the fish when flipping it so that there’s less chance of breaking the flesh. If you don’t have a fish spatula, using two spatulas together is a hack that can also work well.

Two whole fish, each wrapped in a grill basket and garnished with lemon slices and herbs, cooking on a charcoal grill with visible flames and smoke.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Other Accessories

Items like cedar planks, skewers, and perforated grill pans are also helpful depending on the type of fish you’re grilling. Cedar planks and perforated pans infuse all the smoky goodness of the grill into the fish without needing to cook it directly on the grill grates. Thanks to a cedar plank, converting this baked wild sockeye salmon recipe to a grilling recipe in the summer is easy. 

A basket for grilling fish is another fantastic tool to have in your grilling arsenal. You can use a basket to secure the fish on the grill, making it easy to flip without worrying about the fish falling apart or sticking to the grates. Baskets are perfect for grilling more delicate fish varieties that might not hold up as well directly on the grill. Plus, using a grilling basket means less cleanup and more evenly cooked fish.

If you don’t have a cedar plank or grill basket, try grilling fish on foil. This grilling technique works best for delicate fish like tilapia, sole, and flounder. Jeré Cassidy of One Hot Oven grills half of a salmon on a piece of foil. She uses a pastry brush to add a blend of olive oil, honey, and freshly squeezed lemon juice for an easy 15-minute meal. And when the fish comes off the grill, she can just roll up the foil and toss it out without any grill cleanup.

The Best Fish to Grill

Certain varieties of fish are more suited for grilling than others, but before you even decide on tuna or tilapia, there are categories of fish to consider.

  • Whole fish
  • Steak fish
  • Filets of fish

You can grill all of these types of fish, but the method will be slightly different. I’ll cover how to approach each one below.

Sage Advice: Although I live in Kansas, the most landlocked state in the Union, I have great luck finding high-quality, fresh fish at Costco. And there are even more options available in the frozen section!

How to Grill Fish

Grilling fish may seem tricky at first, but with the right approach, this cooking method is a breeze. Here’s how to grill whole fish, steak-cut fish, and filets to perfection.

Grilled whole fish served on a wooden platter with fresh greens, a lemon wedge, and a side of white sauce. Salt, peppercorns, and seasonings are scattered around the table.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

How to Grill Whole Fish

Grilling fish whole may seem intimidating, but it will result in a beautiful presentation. Keeping the fish on the bone also allows it to stay moist and tender, much like any other cut of meat. The beauty of cooking a fish whole is that you can cook any type of fish this way—even the extra delicate ones like sea bass or flounder.

Whole fish should be cleaned, scaled, and gutted before grilling. While not necessary, stuffing the cavity of the fish with herbs and citrus is visually appealing and imparts a wonderfully subtle flavor to the grilled fish.

Season a whole fish generously with salt and pepper. Place it on a hot grill over a medium-heat direct flame towards the front edge of the grates — not in the middle. After letting the fish cook for about three minutes to sear, use a metal fish spatula to check if the fish easily releases from the grates. If not, leave it to cook for another minute or two. Otherwise, flip the fish over towards the center of the grill to finish cooking for an equal amount of time.

Two pieces of salmon are being grilled on a barbecue.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

How to Grill Steak-Cut Fish

Swordfish, tuna, salmon, and halibut are common types of fish that you might see cut into seafood steaks. Working with this kind of fish is much like grilling any other kind of steak or chop.

Season the steak-cut fish generously with salt and pepper right before. Grill the fish over direct heat on your gas grill or charcoal grill until the desired level of doneness. The oily nature of these fish allows them to cook up nicely and release more easily from the grill when flipping, although I still recommend using a fish spatula.

A raw salmon fillet sits on a metal rack, surrounded by sprigs of rosemary, pink salt crystals, and a utensil on a gray surface.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

How to Grill Fileted Fish

Fileted fish is the trickiest of the categories, and not all types of fish are suited to this method. If you grill it in filet form, you’ll want to choose a thicker fish type with firm flesh. Some good options include:

  • Halibut 
  • Salmon
  • Sablefish — also known as black cod
  • Snapper
  • Mahi mahi
  • Grouper
  • Monkfish
  • Striped bass
  • Trout

Common species that aren’t as well-suited for the grill when fileted are haddock, flounder, cod, and sole. However, you can still grill these varieties using a perforated grill pan.

If you’ve followed the tips and are using a clean, hot grill, cooking a filet of fish on the grill is completely manageable. If your piece of fish has the skin intact, place the fish skin side down to start.

The most important tip for grilling a fish filet is to cook it 75% of the way on one side rather than flipping it at the halfway point. Doing this ensures that it will easily release from the grates when you flip the fish. Finish off the remaining 25% over direct high heat. Most fish filets need about seven to eight minutes total cooking time on a high-heat grill.

Certain fish species can be cooked to a preferred level of doneness, like wild salmon, and the cooking time should be adjusted as such, whereas other fish, like monkfish or bass, should be fully cooked through. At our house, we call the fish done when an instant-read thermometer reports an internal temperature of 150° F.

Grilled fish fillet with char marks cooking on a barbecue grill with bread slices in the background.
Photo Credit: Pexels.

Don’t be Intimidated

You can embrace your new normal with alpha-gal by replacing thick, juicy t-bones with fish steaks. Although it cooks differently than the beef-forward meals you may have grilled in the past, with these tips and tricks, there’s no reason to be intimidated by grilling fish.

Grilled Fish Recipes

Now that you know how to grill fish like a pro put your new skills to work with these delicious grilled fish recipes:

Do You Like Grilling Fish?

How do you typically cook fish? Do you have a grilling tip for fish not included here? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Portions of his article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

Thank you for sharing!

1 thought on “Simple Tips for Grilling Fish Perfectly Every Time”

  1. I’ve always been afraid to grill fish, but after using these tips, I am happy to report that I grilled a salmon filet like a pro last night. thanks!!

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