Guide to Grilling Fish Over Fire

Used with permission from

Fire brings out the best in fish, and to facilitate your fish-over-fire adventures, we offer some basic tips. It’s easy to grill fish to perfection … as long as you don’t get distracted and forget to take it off the fire!

We hereby present our best guidance on cooking fish on the grill … as well as some tips for making grilling as safe and “green” as possible.

General guidance

  • Skinless portions of fish naturally rich in fat—like salmon and sablefish—and skin-on portions of these and leaner fish are least likely to stick and dry out. The meat can be easily separated from the skin with a spatula after the fish is cooked … but the crispy skin can be very tasty.
  • To ensure that you retain maximum moisture in lean and fatty seafood alike, brush it lightly with a heat-resistant oil (e.g., olive or macadamia) before cooking.
  • Marinating has its advantages (see “Keeping grilled seafood safe”, below), but an herb-spice “rub” often yields fuller flavor. You can make your own rub mix, but our Organic Salmon Marinade and Organic Lemon-Pepper blends make great choices. Measure out about a teaspoon of mix for each fillet, blend it with a few drops of oil (just enough to moisten it a bit) and spread it on the seafood. Or, rub your fish with the herb-spice mix, and then spray or brush each fillet with a little oil to keep it in place and prevent sticking.
  • Use Cedar or Alder Grilling Planks to impart a rich, smoky flavor while keeping fish wonderfully moist with no trace of charring. We offer our grilling planks separately, and as part of our Fish + Grill Fixin’s combo packs.

10 steps to grilling seafood successfully

One big secret to grilling success is advance planning. Run down our checklist of preparation items so your guests aren’t kept waiting!

  1. Thaw fish well ahead of time. If you forget to leave frozen fish in the fridge overnight, the safest way to speed things up is to immerse the fish, still in its vacuum pack, in a dish of cool water for about 30 minutes; it is thawed as soon as it is flexible. (Pat the fish dry before applying any marinade).
  2. Try to avoid putting fish on the grill cold, straight from the fridge, lest the exterior overcook before the interior is done. To promote more even cooking, remove thawed fish from the fridge 20 minutes or so before grilling.
  3. If you want to use a marinade, immerse the fish in it fully for at least 30 minutes, and soak up any excess with a paper towel before grilling, to reduce flare-ups. (Note: Instead of marinating, it’s equally or more effective to rub marinade seasonings directly onto lightly oiled fish.) Fish should not be left in acidic marinades — such as those containing citrus juice or wine — longer than 20 minutes, or it will toughen. Wait until the fish is almost done before applying sweet barbecue, teriyaki or fruit-based sauces, to keep them from burning.
  4. Get all your utensils next to the grill, along with a clean plate or dish to hold the cooked fish. If you fear you may fumble your fillets into the fire, get a grilling basket, and don’t forget to oil it before putting the fish inside.
  5. Oil the grill grate lightly to prevent the fish from sticking, and, if you want the visual effect, to help form grill marks.
  6. Start your coals 30 minutes ahead of time, and have plenty on hand, in case you need to add more. (See “Fuel Sources”, below.)
  7. Lay the fish in the center of a hot, uncovered grill, directly above the heat source. There should be an audible sizzle when the fish hits the grate. Avoid cooler sections of the grill and indirect heat.
  8. Check it after 2-3 minutes. Slide the prongs of a broiler fork between the bars of the grill grate and under the fish. Gently lift up a section of fish to look for grill marks.
  9. When grill marks form, use the broiler fork to lift up a corner of the fillet, and slide a spatula under the fish. Turn the fish over and cook the other side. (Note: you needn’t turn fish with skin on one side. The skin will protect it from burning.)

After another 2-3 minutes, check for doneness. Use a broiler fork to flake open a section. If the interior is no longer translucent, the fish is cooked. In fact, you should remove fish from the fire when the very center is still just shy of being done, as it will continue to cook for a few minutes after leaving the fire. This is especially important with Sockeye Salmon, which is relatively lean and more vulnerable to overcooking, compared with King or Silver.

This article comes to us courtesy of Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics, my favorite source of clean fish and it is reprinted here by permission.

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