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How to Grill Fish: 3 Recipes and Preparation Tips

Got a mess of fish you just caught? Looking for a healthy and delicious way to prepare them? Try cooking them on the grill.

How to Grill Fish: 3 Recipes and Preparation Tips
Always start the cooking process with a clean, hot grill. (Photo courtesy of Keith 'Catfish' Sutton)

Grilling is an ideal way to sear in juices and capture the distinctive flavor of each type of fish. You also keep the kitchen cool, a big benefit on hot days. And best of all, perhaps, grilling is quick and easy. Learn a few tips and you can have a delectable meal of fresh grilled fish cooked and on the table in less than an hour.

You can cook fish on any type of grill from a small hibachi or brazier to a fancy gas grill or inexpensive charcoal cooker. You can even grill fish over a campfire.

Grilling recipes often are interchangeable, too. A recipe calling for one type of fish is likely to work just as well with a similar type of fish. Mix, match and experiment to discover new flavor sensations.

Preparation Keys

There are certain keys to successful preparation, regardless of the type of fish or grill you use.

First, use the freshest fish possible. Fresh fish stays firmer and isn’t as likely to fall apart when you try to turn it or transfer it from grill to plate.

You can grill fillets, steaks, whole fish, or pan-dressed fish. The fish can be laid directly on the cooking grate after it has been oiled, or you can use a grilling basket that makes it easier to flip or move the fish. You won’t get the same smoky flavor, but fish also can be cooked on a grill inside a packet of aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Grilling fillets directly on the cooking grate sometimes can be troublesome because they tend to fall apart easily when nearly done. You shouldn’t have much trouble, however, if you allow the pieces to cook on one side until the edges are flaky and opaque before flipping. Then turn the fillets gently and carefully using both a spatula and tongs. You also can buy inexpensive aluminum grill pans that work very well.

When cooking fillets or steaks, always start with evenly cut pieces. If one part is much thicker than another, it will be hard getting the thick part cooked before the thin part dries out. If a piece of fish is uneven, consider cutting it in two. Put the thick half on first, and when it’s about halfway done, put the thin half on. This way you will get the fish cooked to perfection without burning any.

Grilling a whole or pan-dressed fish is dramatic and thrifty. You get to deliver a beautiful, smoky grilled fish to the table, and you lose far less meat than you would had you filleted the fish beforehand. Scale the fish and gut it. For whole fish, remove the gills. For pan-dressed fish, remove the entire head.

Lay the fish on the grill with the tail facing farthest away from the heat. It will cook much faster than the head end. Cook about 10 minutes per inch of thickness over steady, medium heat. This allows the center of the fish to get done without your dinner burning to a crisp on the outside. Gently flip the fish only once using two spatulas or a spatula and tongs.

Before Grilling

Always start the cooking process with a thoroughly clean grill. Be sure any cooked-on residue is scraped and burned off. You also need to oil the grate. Do this by folding a paper towel into a small pad, dip it into vegetable oil, then rub it over the surface of the grill using tongs just before you put the fish on.

The fish itself also should get a coating of oil, preferably something flavorful such as extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil or sesame oil. This helps prevent sticking and helps seasonings adhere to the fish. Season the fish generously with salt, but most other seasonings are best added after the fish has cooked so they don’t burn on the grill and taste bitter when you eat the fish.


Start with a hot grill. High heat creates a bit of crust on the outside of the fish and helps it to release from the grate. After the crust has formed, run a spatula under the fish and wiggle it around to break the initial stick. Then lower the heat to medium and continue cooking, flipping just once.

Remember, if you cook with the lid of the grill closed, and you should, the fish will need to cook longer on the first side than the second. This is because the second side already begins cooking while the first side is on the grate. Most chefs use a 70-30 approach. The fish cooks 70 percent on the first side and 30 percent on the second. For example, if you have a total grilling time of 10 minutes, cook the first side seven minutes and the second side for three minutes.

If you’re uncertain whether the fish is done or not, test the thickest portion with a fork. The meat flakes easily and will appear opaque all the way through when it’s ready. If any part of the meat is still glossy and partially translucent, then it’s not done.

All you need now are a few recipes to get you started. Those that follow are delicious, and you can adapt them for any type of fish you have on hand. Creating your own great recipes is half the fun of grilling. The other half is the eating. Bon appétit!

Grilled Lemon-Pepper Trout

Grilled Lemon-Pepper Trout
Use the freshest fish possible for this Grilled Lemon-Pepper Trout Recipe. (Shutterstock photo)


  • Any number of pan-dressed trout, about 1 pound each.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Minced garlic
  • Lemon-pepper spice

Click here for the full recipe.

Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce

Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce
This Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce Recipe is quick and easy to grill up. (Shutterstock photo)


  • 2 pounds catfish fillets


  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Click here for the full recipe.

Quick Grilled Crappie

Quick Grilled Crappie
Start with evenly cut pieces of crappie fillets for this recipe. (Shutterstock photo)


  • 1 pound crappie fillets
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon lemon-pepper spice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Click here for the full recipe.

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