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How To Grill Fish

Fish is ideal for grilling because of how quickly it cooks. High heat helps lock in moisture and flavor -- and with a Traeger, you get the bonus of natural wood smoke flavor, too.

Grilling Fish

The two most important things you need for grilling fish are the right type of fish, and a clean grill.

Fish is more likely to stick to grill grates than steak, chicken, or pork. Fish is also more delicate so if it sticks, it may fall apart. That's why it's good to stick to certain types of fish for direct grilling.

What Fish Is Good for Grilling?

Hearty, dense fish are the best fish for grilling.

  • Salmon
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna
  • Snapper
  • Mahi mahi
  • Yellowtail amberjack
  • Grouper
  • Sea bass
  • Haddock

Fish that are light and flaky -- like flounder and sole -- can fall apart if placed directly on the grill. You can still use your grill to cook these types of fish using foil packets. We'll discuss this technique later in the piece.

How to Grill Whole Fish

Cooking whole grilled fish couldn't be simpler. Stuff the cavity of a scaled, gutted whole fish with the herbs and seasonings of your choice. You can also sprinkle herbs and seasonings on the skin of the fish. Then grill over high heat, flipping as needed to prevent burning, until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grilled whole fish is a delicious treat. The bones and skin of the fish help protect the flesh from drying, so grilled whole fish is especially tender. The bones and skin also have additional flavor that comes out as the fish is cooking. In essence, the fish is marinating while it cooks. Smoked whole chicken and bone-in steak are often more tender and flavorful for these same reasons.

Good fish for cooking whole include branzino, red snapper, and trout.

How to Grill Fish With the Skin On

To grill fish with the skin on, start by preheating the grill to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then start the fillet with the skin side up to get nice grill marks on the presentation side of the fish. Flip after 10 to 15 minutes, and finish cooking with the skin side down until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 145 degrees.

The total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillet. Fish fillets with the skin on are slightly more forgiving for cooks because the skin acts as a barrier, preventing the flesh from drying out.

Fresh salmon fillets are nearly always sold with the skin on.

How to Grill Fish With the Skin Off

To grill fish fillets with no skin, it's a good idea to liberally oil or marinate the fillets before grilling. This will help prevent the flesh from drying out.

After marinating or brushing with oil, preheat the grill to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the fillet on the grill and flip after 6 to 8 minutes and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 145 degrees, flipping as needed to prevent either side from burning.

Cooking time for skinless fish fillets will generally be shorter than for skin-on fillets, since the flesh is always directly in contact with the heat. The total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillet.

How to Grill Fish in Foil or Parchment Paper Packets

To grill fish in foil packets, first preheat the grill to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay the fish on a sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, add seasonings (and sometimes vegetables to cook with the fish), seal the packet, and put it on the grill for approximately 15 minutes.

If you are cooking a delicate fish or have thin fillets, they may fall apart if cooked directly on grill grates. So aluminum foil or parchment paper packets may be a better option.

When you cook fish in aluminum foil packets on the grill, you’re not really grilling them. You're actually steaming them. The fish can be delicious and flavorful when cooked in packets. However, it won’t get grill marks, and it won’t absorb any of the delicious smoke flavor from the grill.

That's why we recommend parchment paper packets. Parchment paper will allow some of the delicious wood smoke flavor to permeate the fish.

How to Season Fish for Grilling

The seasoning you use on your fish is a chance to be creative -- or simply enhance the natural flavor of the fish. Seasoning will usually include some sort of fat (butter or oil), as well as salt and pepper, and an acidic element like lemon.

With strong-flavored fish like salmon, those elements may be all you want to use for seasoning, thus allowing the natural flavor of the fish to be the star.

White fish, or other fish with lighter flavors, can be a blank slate for seasoning. Some popular seasonings for fish include Cajun spice, Italian seasoning, and of course simple salt and pepper. Traeger's Fin & Feather Rub includes notes of garlic, onion, and paprika.

How to Marinate Fish for Grilling

Soaking a fish in a marinade can help add flavor and keep the flesh from drying out while you cook. To marinate fish, cover it with a non- or slightly-acidic liquid mixture for under an hour.

Because fish is so delicate, you can't marinate it for hours or days like you might with chicken or beef. And you have to be careful not to make your marinade too acidic. A marinade heavy in lemon juice can start firming up the flesh before you even get it to the grill.

Common ingredients in fish marinades are olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice (in small amounts), and fresh herbs.

How Long to Grill Fish

On a grill set to high (500 degrees Fahrenheit), a 1-inch thick fish fillet will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to cook. Thinner fillets may be done as little as six minutes. The best way to ensure perfectly cooked fish is to use a digital instant-read thermometer. Take the fish off when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.

How to Keep Fish From Sticking to the Grill

The best way to keep fish from sticking on the grill is to make sure your grill grates are as clean as possible. Cooking debris on the grates can cause fish and other foods to stick. We recommend cleaning the grill grates while they are cool with a nylon-bristled brush.

Also, to make the grates even more fish-friendly, brush them with a cloth that has been dipped in oil just before placing the fish on the grill.

Even with these precautions, the fish may stick anyway. Fish are more prone to sticking than chicken, steak, or pork, but they will usually loosen up as the cooking process continues. If you go to flip the fish and feel it sticking, that usually means it needs to cook for a few minutes longer. Usually, the fish will release from the grill grate when the surface has started to firm.

What to Serve With Grilled Fish

Grilled fish is excellent as tacos, served alongside pesto, on slider buns, or with fresh roasted spring vegetables.

Grilled Fish Recipes

While these general guidelines apply to all grillable fish, different types can go well with certain flavors. These recipes are a good jumping off point for your next seafood feast.

Simple Grilled Fish Recipe

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

1 whole fillet of firm white fish: sea bass, halibut or cod

Traeger Fin & Feather Rub

2 whole lemons

Grilled Salmon Recipe

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients

3 avocados, halved and pitted

1 tablespoon Traeger Fin & Feather Rub

3 pounds salmon fillet, skin on

1/2 red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1 lime, juiced

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Grilled Halibut Recipe

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

Main

4 (6-ounce) halibut steaks, 1-inch thick

1/4 as needed vegetable oil

Marinade

1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup rum

1 tablespoon Jamaican jerk rub

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Pico de Gallo

1 large red or yellow tomato, cored and diced

1 sweet onion, diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 lime, juiced

Salt

Grilled Tuna Recipe

Cook time: 5 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 whole (8-ounce) sushi grade yellowfin tuna fillets

Pineapple

Brown sugar

12 whole slider buns, for serving

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Lettuce

Avocado, sliced

Grilled Trout Recipe

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 (10-ounce) whole rainbow trout

3/4 cup olive oil, divided

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Fennel pollen

2 lemons

1 small shallot

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed

Fennel fronds, for garnish