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Fish: Grilling Techniques

Grilling is an easy way to enjoy the delicate flavors of fish

We know that fish is good for us, especially the fatty fishes that are high in Omega 3 oils. Fish is also delicious and offers numerous options for cooking. Grilling is a great way to combine the flavor of fish with the joy of cooking outdoors.

Some fish types are better than others for grilling. Whole fish is always popular, but steaks, cutlets, and fillets stand up well, especially if you use a grilling basket or a plank. For best grilling, pick a fish with a firm flesh and a strong flavor. Salmon is a good recommendation for beginning cooks. Salmon may be best enjoyed, however, if the skin and bones are removed before bringing it home.

If you purchase fillets for grilling, make sure they are no less than ½-inch thick and preferably 1-inch in thickness.

Typically, you should not cook oily fishes over direct heat unless they are some distance above the coals. Place them to one side of the heat source. Otherwise, the fat in the fish will cause flare-ups and interfere with the taste of the final product. Oily fish varieties include: mackerel, salmon, trout, and swordfish.

Before you start the fire, make sure the grate and/or grilling basket are sparkling clean. If the fish begins to stick, much of the meat or skin may be lost. Give the grate and basket a heavy coating of oil before applying any heat. If you have a gas or electric grill, heat up only one burner or side. If you are using charcoal, pile the briquettes to one side and light them. Allow at least twenty minutes for the white ash to form before putting the fish on the grill. The grill should be medium-hot to hot before adding fish.

You should reposition the fish without turning it over. This will sear criss-crossed grill marks into the meat (to make it look pretty) and, more important, will help it cook more evenly by rotating the parts that come in direct contact with the fire.

Cooking times will vary greatly depending on the level of heat, the type and thickness of the fish, the amount of wind, and outside temperature. You only want to turn the fish one time; begin inspecting the fish after 2-3 minutes. If it is turning opaque, then it is probably time to turn it over. Some fishes require more time per side; the best guide is a meat thermometer - fish should reach an internal temperature of not more than 140 degrees. Remember that the fish will continue to cook as you take if off the grill, so at 130 degrees or 135 degrees, you may be able to remove the fish if is no longer translucent.

Testing for flakiness is not always the best indicator; this can mean the fish is overcooked, something a majority of the population achieves with fish.

You can use a variety of seasonings, stuffings, marinades, and basting mixes on fish. Oily fish, however, do not require basting. The simplest seasoning might include salt, pepper, and a little oil and lemon juice.

If you are using a vinegar-based marinade or one that includes lemons, keep the marinating time to a minimum of an hour or so. Acids can make fish skin turn to a mushy texture.

Barbecue sauces are terrific additions to fish and shrimp. Because of the short cooking time required for fish, there is little danger of the sugars in the sauce burning as they would on meat and chicken. Still, if a sauce contains sugar, it is all right to baste inside the fish (if you are stuffing it) with sauce, but wait until the last couple of minutes on the grill to add sauce to the flesh.

Plank cooking is another grilling method that will bring out the best in your fish as it absorbs some fine smoky-wood elements. You can purchase planks at Internet stores or at specialty shops. You can also make your own. Approved woods include apple, cedar (only Western Red Cedar), alder, and hickory. If you choose to make your own, make sure it is untreated.

For grilling, a plank should be ½-inch to 3/8-inch in thickness. Widths and lengths will vary. The planks should be soaked in water for as long as possible, preferably overnight, but some can be ready in as little as 20 minutes if soaked in hot water. Four hours is a universally suggested length of time. Coat the plank in olive oil. Place the plank on the hot grill and close the lid. Turn the plank every few minutes to allow for smoking and a light charring. Always keep water handy - as the plank dries out, fires may arise. Extinguish them and lower the heat a little by adjusting air vents.

You may want to add more oil before putting the fish on the plank. When the plank is lightly smoking, put the fish on top. Planking requires a longer cooking time as it insulates fish from the direct heat. Planks do not work well with foods that need high heat and a faster cooking time such as hamburgers and steaks.

Grilling planks may be good for only one or two uses. Scrape off the char after the plank has cooled. If it is still in one piece and feels sturdy, you should be able to use it again. Clean it with water, a little liquid dish soap and a bristle brush; reheating at your next cookout will sterilize the plank.

Grilling fish is just as easy as cooking any other type of food and, with a little practice, can easily become a back yard favorite.

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