Your Cheat Sheet for Grilling Seafood
What’s so great about fish on the grill? Taste, for one: There’s the smoky-sweet flavor and aroma from the grill. Then, there’s variety: From fillets to steaks to whole fish (yes, really), you’ll find a gorgeous, colorful selection at Whole Foods Market, plus all the seafood in the department is either sustainable wild caught or Responsibly Farmed.
But if seeing uncooked seafood — or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, gorgeously cooked and assembled seafood on Instagram — intimidates you, don’t let it. Once you know this routine, you’ll realize that fish on the grill is not that complicated. Promise.
5 Steps to Mastering Fish on the Grill
- Clean the grate. Use a brush to remove loose gunk from your grate before heating, then brush it again when it’s hot (the heat will loosen tough particles). A clean surface always reduces sticking. For added sticking protection, oil your grate as well: Hold a folded piece of paper towel with long tongs, dip the towel in a neutral oil and rub it briskly over the grates a few times before the fire is lit.
- Preheat the grill. Medium-high heat is ideal for most fish. This is the heat level on a charcoal grill that you can comfortably hold your hand 5 inches above the grill grate for 5 seconds before the heat becomes too intense.
- Season and oil the fish. An easy marinade works well (keep marinating time short, no more than 30 minutes). Or simply brush your fish with oil and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, or consider a tasty spice rub.
- Start grilling! Place fish on the grate (be careful not to use too much oil or the fire will flame) and let sit undisturbed for 3 to 5 minutes; start skin side up if you have a skin-on fillet. When fish is browned, slide a wide metal spatula under it and flip. For large fillets or whole fish, you can use two spatulas, one under each half. Lower heat or move fish to a cooler part of the grill if it chars or cooks too rapidly.
- Test for doneness. Fish cooks quickly, so begin testing soon after flipping. Estimate 8 to 10 minutes total time per inch of thickness. Insert a paring knife into the thickest part of the fish. When the flesh flakes, and you see just a hint of translucence at the center, it’s done. Tuna and salmon are good when slightly pink or red in the center, but cook them any way you find most appetizing.
That’s it! Transfer your fish to plates or a platter and garnish as you like, or break it into chunks for excellent tacos, dice it for serving over salads or pastas, and so much more. You can always go with a classic, like adding a simple drizzle of lemon and some fresh herbs, but grilled fish is also a perfect canvas for your favorite prepared sauce or condiment, from salsa and pesto to chutney.
Top Fish to Try
Okay, so now you know what to do, but what are you actually going to grill? Check out a few of our tried-and-true favorites.
- Here’s your dramatic showstopper: grilling a whole fish. Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Farmed grill-ready whole branzino (aka Mediterranean sea bass) is super convenient — already gutted, scaled and stuffed with aromatic lemon and herbs. Sprinkle one or two of them with salt and pepper, drizzle with oil and grill over medium heat about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, flipping each with two spatulas, one under the head and one under the tail end.
- Summer is peak season for wild-caught salmon. Choose fillets or steaks — both have great grill cred: thick, with natural oils to help keep them from drying out, and complete with durable skin that holds them together, so they don’t stick or flake out on your grate and are easier to flip. Plus, salmon is rich enough to stand up to bold summer flavors — even barbecue sauce.
- Swordfish is also made for grilling: It’s easy to flip and resists drying out, thanks to a meaty texture and a good amount of natural oils. We bring in fresh harpoon-caught swordfish during grilling season. These fish are caught one by one using generations-old techniques for sustainable fishing, so it’s got that going for it too.
- Tender and elegant sea scallops are deceptively simple to prepare and go with lots of flavors. Opt for large scallops and make sure the side muscle is removed. Before grilling, keep them cold and dry (blot with a paper towel, if needed). Brush with a little oil and season simply with salt and pepper. Then grill over medium-high heat, flipping once, until lightly charred and just cooked through, about 2–3 minutes per side.
- Pink shrimp, a Florida variety that’s particularly sweet and tender, are awesome grilled, although you can opt for any variety. Most rules for grilling fish apply to big shrimp (that means large, extra-large or jumbo in shrimp speak). Make them glisten with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then thread them on skewers or use a grill basket for easy flipping. Keep the cooking time really short, just a few minutes until they’re firm and deep pink.
- Other great choices? Tuna steaks and halibut do exceptionally well on the grill. And any fillet, no matter how tender, can be grilled in a basket for easy flipping. You can wrap particularly delicate fish like sole or flounder in foil to keep them moist and tender. A layer of parchment paper between the foil and the fish is a good idea, especially if acidic ingredients, such as a marinade or lemon slices are going in with it.
You Don’t Need a Recipe, But …
Here are some great ones if you’re seeking more direction, and all of them are simple enough for weeknights or easy get-togethers:
- Grilled Whole Fish with Garlic and Lemon (Try branzino!)
- Grilled Scallops and Halloumi with Lemon-Oregano Vinaigrette
- Grilled Swordfish Tacos
- Grilled Swordfish Salad with Olives and Capers
- Grilled Salmon with Sweet Corn and Avocado Salad
- Grilled Salmon with Basil Lemon Butter
- Grilled Tuna Kabobs with Peach and Mango Salsa
- Grilled Halibut with Turmeric, Garlic and Capers
- Spicy Grilled Shrimp Kabobs