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People are often wary of grilling fish — and for good reason. Without the right instructions, it can fall apart, get stuck to the grill and feel unattainable to get those restaurant-worthy grill marks. But with a few tips from grilling expert Rick Browne, you'll be flipping perfect fillets in no time.
The best fish for grilling
Many grill experts recommend only cooking thicker, fattier fish fillets, such as salmon, tuna, grouper and halibut. These work best for grilling directly on the grates, but lighter, flakier fishes can be done. For those, Browne advises placing the well-oiled fillets in foil packets on the grill so they don't fall through the cracks.
Skip the soak and season liberally
“I don’t marinate fish at all,” Browne told TODAY Food. “If you do, it’s likely to fall apart.”
Instead, the best technique is to brush oil on the both sides of the fish (the meat and the skin) and give it a heavy sprinkle of salt and pepper or your favorite dried fish seasonings.
Temperature and timing
Preheat the grill on medium-heat. While it's heating up, douse paper towels in olive or vegetable oil and, using grill tongs, coat the grill grates in the oil. Don't go easy — really coat it! Next, place the oiled, seasoned fillets on the grill skin-sides down at a diagonal (to get the good marks), reduce the grill heat to medium and close the lid.
Do not touch the fish until it's time to flip. For thinner, flakier fillets cooking in foil, you don't need to touch them at all until they reach an internal temperature of 125 to 145 F and has started to flake.
Use the right utensils
Now, for thicker cuts like salmon, you're going to need to flip the fish one time and one time only. The important part is to use the right utensil. No tongs, no serrated spatula — just a nice, delicate fish spatula or slotted fish turner. This product happens to be Ree Drummond's favorite cooking tool and can be used for a ton of things beyond grilling fish.
Victorinox Slotted Fish Turner, $17, Amazon
Slide the fish spatula underneath the fish to see if the skin is browned and crispy. If it is, use the fish spatula on the bottom and another spatula gently on the top to turn the whole fish over until it rests diagonally against the grates. This will help keep it together and ensure no tender bits fall off.
Cover it one last time for about five more minutes. The center of the thicker cuts should be opaque. Use an internal thermometer to ensure it's about 125 F.
Try a wood plank
Another of Browne’s favorite ways to grill fish is using a cedar plank. He cautions to be sure to buy a plank that’s specifically intended for cooking so you know it hasn’t been treated with chemicals. Soak the plank for three or four hours until it feels thoroughly wet, then brush it with olive oil.
Put the fish fillet directly on it and cook the entire thing with the grill's lid closed for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Brown advises to have a squirt bottle handy and remain close to the grill, because occasionally even a soaked plank can catch fire. Discard the plank after one use, he says, since the wood can harbor bacteria.