Grilled fish can be flavorful and delicious when cooked properly. (It’s good for you, too.) But when something goes wrong on the grill, your flaky fillets might stick to the grates, or fall apart completely. There’s science behind this—when fish is grilled, the protein in the fish and the metal from your grill can fuse together at a molecular level. No wonder it’s so hard to scrape off!
It’s time to learn how to grill fish properly, so there’s no more flaking and no more sticking. You can try plank grilling for a smoky cedar flavor or solve the problems with grilling fish by following the steps below.
Preheat and oil your grill
When you preheat your grill far in advance, it will reduce the amount of time that your fish will have to actually cook. In other words, the fillets aren’t as likely to dry out. It will also provide the crisp and defined grill marks that give flavor and aesthetics to your dinner.
Be sure your grill is clean and then use long tongs to hold a wad of paper towels dipped in oil to rub down your grill. You want the grates to be thoroughly oiled and glossy.
Choose the right cooking method
For “beefier” fillets, like swordfish or tuna, with a texture more like other proteins, you can put them directly on the grill after they’re brushed down with oil. (This is true whether you’re leaving the skin on or off.) You might even use these kinds of fish in your usual kabob for fresh flavors! More delicate fillets like sole or flounder would be better off cooked in a foil packet or grill basket.
Prep and grill the fillets
Make sure your fillets are completely dry, then brush them with oil so they can sear properly. Use simple salt and pepper to season for now, and place your fillets diagonally on the grill so they can be flipped easily.
Let the fillet cook until it’s well-marked and brown for about 2 to 4 minutes before flipping it over. If it doesn’t lift off easily, let it cook a bit longer and check in 30 second intervals until it is seared. Repeat on the other side!
Don’t overcook the fish
The last thing you want is overcooked fish, right? The line between just right and overcooked is a fine one, but you don’t want to cross it. To best check your doneness, use a digital thermometer for perfect fillets.
For firm-fleshed, thick fillets like salmon, halibut, sea bass, grouper and red snapper, your internal temperature should read 125 degrees. For other white fish varieties like tilapia, they need to grill a bit longer and register 140 degrees. You can also follow the guidelines in our best grilled fish recipes!