Who wouldn’t love the perfect grilled fish? It is after all, the perfect combination of fish, fire and awesome.
Everyone in the world loves grilling. Fisherman, hunters, party throwers… if you can name a group, chances are they like to fire up the grill.
Fishermen have a special connection with fire. Grilled fish– whether it be a filet, whole fish or small chunks for tacos, is a wonderful way to take your catch from boat to table.
The perfect grilled fish is fantastic all year round. Not only that but you can eat it anywhere– on the boat, at a barbecue, in the middle of summer or at your cabin in the winter. It’s always a good time to start the grill.
As much as everyone likes to eat grilled fish, there are some who shy away from grilling it themselves because it’s “too difficult.” I can hear it now…. “The fish sticks to the grill… it tears apart… steaks are easier!”
We’ve heard just about every excuse there is. The truth is that with a bit of practice and a few helpful tips, you can grill these recipes for the perfect grilled fish with nearly guaranteed success.
Grill Types: Fueling the Fire
The first thing to go over is the grill you’re using. We prefer cooking over wood– white oak to be exact.
The flavor and taste that wood imparts to your food can’t really be replicated. If you can’t get your hands on hardwood, charcoal is great too (lump charcoal is better than the briquette variety).
Next up the preference tree is the pellet grill, followed by propane. Propane grills still do a great job– they do not smoke up the place, are easier to “start,” and make it super easy to regulate temperature.
We aren’t saying that propane sucks or taking any shots at pellet grills. It’s just hard to replicate the flavor that live fuel puts into the food you cook on it.
The Perfect Grill Temperature
When it comes to the perfect grilled fish, grill temperature is the probably the most important consideration. Anyone who has ever said, “I can’t get the fish not to stick to the grill” is almost certainly struggling to keep the grill hot enough.
If the grill isn’t hot enough, the fish will almost certainly stick. Then when you try to flip it, it sticks– that’s when your tear the skin or even the flesh.
Conversely, if a grill is too hot, the fish will almost always burn. Grilling fish, it turn out, is rather like a Goldilocks and the three little bears type of deal… not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Keeping the grill at a medium/hot temperate is the right idea. If you’re using a pellet or propane grill, setting it to 430-450 is perfect.
Grilling with charcoal or wood? Place your hand over the grill grates maybe 5-6 inches above it.
If you can hold your hand there longer than about 3-4 seconds, your fire is not hot enough. When you can’t get your and anywhere near 5 inches from the grill it’s too hot.
With wood and charcoal, it’s all about controlling the heat and MAINTAINING that heat while cooking. Propane and pellet grills will maintain their temperature pretty well on their own as long as you aren’t opening and closing the lid constantly, but with charcoal and wood its constant work.
You want to keep the fire/coals right in the appropriate range for the entire cooking of the fish. This ensures that the fish cooks evenly on the grill.
Here’s our three go to takes on the Perfect Grilled Fish. Give em a shot. You can do it.
The Perfect Grilled Fish Tacos
with guacamole & pico de gallo
- A pound and a quarter of fish chunks, two ounces each
*we love using grouper or rock cod for this. It also makes a mean swordfish recipe.
- 2 cups guacamole
- 2 cups pico de gallo
- 8-12 flour or corn tortillas
- 2 limes (cut in wedges)
- 2 teaspoons chile powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- olive oil
This one is simple and delicious and can be done with ease right on the boat or in your kitchen at home. Store bought salsa and guacamole can be subbed for the recipes below to make it even easier, but we like our recipes better.
Step 1. Season the fish with salt, chile powder and garlic powder.
Step 2. Preheat your grill, we prefer wood or charcoal like we said above but if your on a boat thats a bad idea for obvious reasons. So propane will work great too.
Step 3. Lightly coat the fish with olive oil
Step 1. Grill over that medium high heat that we love to cook fish on.
Step 2. Cook for 3-5 minutes, turning the fish pieces half way through.
Once the fish is cooked remove and place on a serving platter. Serve with the pico de gallo, guacamole, limes and warm tortillas.
Chef Cosmo’s Pico de Gallo
makes 2 cups
- 5 tomatoes (seeds/guts removed and diced)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 jalapeno (seeded and minced)
- 1/3 cup red onion (diced)
- 1/2 bunch cilantro (chopped)
- 1 lemon (juice)
- 1 lime (juice)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoons fish sauce
Mix everything together in a bowl, taste and season with salt. This should stay good in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Chef Cosmo’s Guacamole
makes about 2 cups
- 2 avocados
- ½ cup pico de gallo
- 1/4 cup roasted corn
- 2 tablespoons lime (juice)
- 2 tablespoons cilantro (chopped)
Smash the avocados, lime juice and cilantro in a bowl with forks until creamy and most of the chunks are gone. Mix with salsa, salt and pepper and taste. This should stay good in the fridge for up to 5 days.
The Perfect Grilled “Mayo Marinated” Fish Fillet with peaches & salsa verde
- 4 fish fillets, each five-six ounces.
*we love using salmon for this, but it also works well with amberjack
- 1/2 cup Hellmans or Best Foods mayonnaise
- 4 tablespoons salsa verde (recipe below)
- 1 tablespoon “salsa verde” herbs (equal parts mint, chive, and cilantro), finely chopped
- 1 or 2 ripe peaches cut into 8ths (you may need two depending on size)
- olive oil
- 1 lemon
- sea salt
Step 1. Pre-heat the grill to that magical medium high heat.
Step 2. Season the fillets with salt and coat each piece with mayonnaise.
Let these sit for about 10 minutes before cooking. We rub the fillets with mayo to get an extra nice caramelized flavor on the fish, it also adds some fat and keeps the fish moist and juicy.
This technique can used with almost any fish.
Step 1. Place the fillets on the grill and cook for about 2-4 minutes per side.
When you’re grilling salmon, you want the center of the fillet to be rare and cool to the touch. If you over cook salmon, the fish can become very dry (so best to stick to medium rare to medium). If using another fish cook the fish to desired doneness.
Step 2. While the fish is grilling mix together the salsa verde, herbs, and cut peaches in a small bowl. Season with salt and set aside.
Step 3. Once the fish is done cooking, remove from the grill and squeeze the lemon evenly over each fillet.
Step 4. Place the fish on the serving platter and spread the peach and salsa verde salad over the fillets and serve.
This dish is great warm to room temperature, so if you are cooking other things for your lunch or dinner you can plate this and finish some other tasks before eating.
Makes 1 cup
- 4 shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoons capers– rinsed and chopped
- 5 brown anchovy fillets– rinsed, patted dry, and chopped
- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoons honey
- 1 small jalapeño chile– stemmed, seeded, with ribs removed; minced
- Sea salt
Mix the shallots, capers, anchovies, vinegar, oil, honey, jalapeño, and salt in a bowl. The salsa will keep, covered, in the fridge for about 1 week.
The Perfect Grilled Whole Fish with cherry tomatoes and spicy lemon dressing
- 1 whole fish in the neighborhood of 1.5 pounds
*we love using snapper
- 1 cup sungold cherry tomatoes –halved
- 1/4 cup red onion—rinsed and slivered
- 1 tablespoon parsley— chopped
- 1 tablespoon chives — chopped
- 3/4 cup spicy lemon dressing
- 1 tablespoon cilantro– chopped
- 1 lemon– cut in half
- rice bran oil
Step 1. Remove the guts, gills and scales from the fish.
Step 2. Using a sharp knife, make three cuts along the fish fillet. Each cut should go all the way down to the back bone.
Step 3. Season the fish with salt, pepper and a small layer of rice bran oil.
Step 4. Let the fish sit and come to room temperature– this will help with even cooking of the fish.
Step 1. Heat the grill to medium high heat.
Step 2. Grill the fish for about 4-6 minutes per side.
While the fish is cooking, it’s important to keep the grill at a constant temperature. If you’re using wood or charcoal, it will be necessary to tend to the grill during the entire cooking process.
Step 3. How to Tell When It’s Done?
The easiest way to tell if your whole grilled fish is done is to stick a small, sharp knife into the top of the fish’s “neck” just behind the gill plate. If the tip comes out nice and hot, the fish should be fully cooked.
Step 4. Once cooked remove the fish from the grill and transfer to the serving tray.
Step 5. In a bowl toss the herbs, lemon dressing and red onion. Season with salt and pepper and taste. spread the salad over the fish and serve with cut lemons.
For the spicy lemon vinaigrette
makes about 2 cups
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 lemons juice & zest
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons Aleppo chile flakes
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 1/4 cup grape seed oil
Step 1. In a blender place everything except the lemon zest and oil. Run the blender on high until everything is blended well.
Step 2. Turn the blender to medium and slowly add the oil.
Step 3. Season with salt and transfer to a mixing bowl and whisk the zest in. You don’t want to add the zest to the blender or it will make the dressing bitter (if the lemon zest is blended).