Not only am I a Hungry Goddess, but I count myself as a Grilling Goddess as well. My Dad stood sentinel with his grill through all four seasons when I was young. Even in snow, there was a night or two each year that he bundled up, pushed the grill just outside the garage, and gave us savory treats right off the barbecue.
Living in South Florida also gives ample excuses for grilling, although in the summer, you may be more likely to fry along with your goodies on the grill. I reserve my grill pans for the days that I cannot take the heat!
In order to encourage as much grilling of fish as possible, I have put together a comprehensive How to Grill Fish for your pescatarian pleasures! I also added some of my grilled fish recipes AND mango salsa for grilling inspiration.
Best Fish for Grilling
As fish cooks, it tends to fall apart so you need to take that into consideration when planning your Fish and BBQ Adventures. The best fish for grilling are:
- Salmon Steaks – especially with the skin on and they should be at least one inch thick
- Swordfish Steaks – they have a meaty texture which makes it a popular and yummy fish to throw on the grill
- Ahi Tuna – make sure that you do not overcook – keep it at medium rare just like beef!
- Halibut – when cut into steaks, halibut has a texture similar to salmon
- Mahi Mahi – another fish with a meaty texture that does very well on the grill
- Shrimp – yes, shrimp on the barbie!
- Whole Fish – trout, red snapper, striped bass and bluefish
Fish that is more delicate should be placed in a grill basket or foil packet and then the sky is the limit – grill baskets are the best for fish like catfish, sole, flounder and tilapia but can be used for any fish. Keep the fish personalities (thickness, texture, fat content, and flavor) in mind as you are choosing the best fish for your meal. Of course, leaving the skin on at least one side will aid in keeping the fish together on the grill.
When choosing your fish – the texture is one of the most important factors in how you want to approach cooking the fish:
To determine the texture of a fish, bend its fillet or steak and get a feel for its flexibility. If it feels stiff when you bend it and as firm as meat, it is dense. Try that on a piece of swordfish or tuna to get a sense for what a dense fish feels like. If it’s flexible and drapes like fabric, it is fragile. Fillets of fragile fish, like sole or flounder, are so flexible that you can roll them up from head to tail. The other fish textures are somewhere between these two extremes.
Delicate and slightly firm fish lend themselves nicely to any cooking method, so don’t worry if you can’t tell the difference between their textures. The fish at the extremes of the texture spectrum are not as versatile. It’s not a good idea to grill fragile fish, such as sole and flounder. They are likely to fall through the grill rack, and there goes your dinner. The dense and firm fish– like tuna, swordfish, and mahi-mahi don’t lend themselves well to poaching and steaming. Their texture resembles that of meat, and they are cooked as such. Can you imagine a poached lamb or pork chop? Neither can I. Firm and dense fish are best cooked with dry, intense heat methods: grilling, broiling, and searing.
Texture is also the deciding factor in whether or not to marinade a fish. Many dense fish tend to dry out during cooking, and can benefit from sitting in an oily marinade for 30 minutes to couple of hours. That’s the secret to juicy swordfish. The only dense fish that can be just as good without a marinade is tuna when cooked very rare. Fish that are not dense do not need a marinade. (from beyond salmon)
You need a hot grill to get a nice sear and remember to cook fish for approximately 8 minutes per inch of thickness or 10 minutes if it is a whole fish and the usual cooking time for not whole fish fish is six minutes to eight minutes, three minutes to four minutes on each side. Start checking for doneness about 2 minutes before time – it is always best to undercook.
Elevate your flavor and your fish with a cedar (or other type of wood) plank that goes directly on the grill. This infuses the fish with a smoky and tangy flavor naturally. Williams Sonoma has the cedar planks that work great!
Marinades of oils and herbs are fantastic and a great way to keep the fish steaks from drying out. I recently used a simple honey, mustard, oil marinade on mahi-mahi and ended up with extremely moist and tender fish. Don’t be afraid to stuff a whole fish with herbs and aromatics – this will enhance the flavor.
A Few More Grill Tips for Fish:
- Brush the grill with oil right before adding the fish
- Grill on the skin side first to avoid sticking
- Place the fish diagonally on the grate to create grill marks, plus it is easier to flip the fish when it’s on an angle.
- If you are adding a glaze, grill fish first on each side for 2 minutes on the hot portion then add glaze/sauce and turn grill down and cook until done
- Make sure you pat down your fish to remove excess moisture before placing on the grill, otherwise it will steam and not sear
- Allow fish to come to room temperature before grilling or you will have a raw enter and charred outside
Some Recipes for Grilling Fish
Grilled Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa and Jamaican Rice and Peas (mango salsa pairs very well with many different types of fish!)
Grilled Swordfish with Spicy Cherry Salsa (see below)
Happy Grilling and Happy Eating!
Share your favorite grilled fish recipe below!