Scallop

How to Make the Best Grilled Scallops

Plus, 7 scallop-heavy recipes to keep on deck this summer.

May 21, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

The best grilled scallops are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside—perfect to plunk on top of arugula salad, buttered spaghetti, creamy risotto, you name it, or served alongside everything from potato salad to charred corn. The worst grilled scallops, meanwhile, are overcooked and rubbery and not at all what we want.

To help you reach Peak Scallop Perfection (it's out there!), we called in food writer and classically trained cook Christine Burns Rudalevige, who shares her top nine cooking tips below—plus, a ruby red grapefruit and chile glaze that the scallops totally love. (Psst: They also love an extra-cold rosé to go with.) And for even more A+ grilling recipes, tips, and tricks, check out our book Any Night Grilling by Paula Disbrowe. Now, fire up the grill and let's get started. 

I recently saw a bumper sticker on a Subaru with Maine plates that read “Real friends visit in March.”

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Thankfully, I have several of those types of friends. But I am also grateful for the many more who visit in the summer. These fair weather comrades typically want two things: to go to the beach, and to eat as much seafood as possible. 

In the two years we’ve lived in coastal Maine, scallops have become my après beach summer seafood of choice. They are elegant, easy, and tailor-made for the grill. Because scallops are a bit pricey, I've picked up a half dozen or so tricks to make sure they come out succulent, silky, and sweet after a short stint over the fire. 

Here are nine easy tips to make them the best they can be: 

1. Buy the biggest dry-packed scallops on offer. The bigger the sea scallop, the sweeter it will be. These big boys are more forgiving on the grill, meaning they won’t go from raw to rubber as quickly as smaller ones do. If you can find them, go for jumbo (usually about 10 scallops per pound) or giant (usually between 15 and 20 per pound).

2. Scallops grill best naked. Marinades can hide the scallops' delicate flavor and cause flare-ups that create a scorched crust. You only need a simple finishing glaze with a sweet undertone and a finishing kick. (In addition to the ruby red grapefruit glaze, borrow some inspiration from these salmon recipes and try out: maple-cardamom, or ginger-soy, or Buffalo, or teriyaki.) 

3. Keep your scallops as dry and cold as possible. Use a paper towel—or Unpaper Towels—to blot each scallop dry, then place the scallops on a baking rack sitting inside a baking sheet, and refrigerate until you're ready to cook. Get your grill grates as clean as can be, then coat well with a neutral, high-smoke point oil (such as grapeseed or canola). This juxtaposition of cold flesh and a hot, oiled grate prevents any sticking.  

4. Let the scallops ride by themselves on the skewer for easy, fast cooking times (without worrying about how done the other skewered bits are). If the skewers are wooden, remember to presoak them in warm water for about 45 minutes before cooking. 

5. Season them generously all over with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper just before you slap them down on the heat.

6. Cook the scallops on one side for about four minutes to get great grill marks (like those ones above!). Cook on the second side only until they are just opaque in the middle, to avoid overcooking. Cut one open if you have to.

7. Slide the thin edge of a fish spatula under all of the scallops on the skewer and then carefully flip them. Using tongs at this juncture would be a mistake.

8. Only apply the glaze to the scallops for the very last minute that they sit on the grill. Otherwise, the glaze will burn. You can certainly reglaze them on the plate just before serving. 

9. And lastly, eat them immediately, while they are still hot.  

Grilled Scallops With Ruby Red Grapefruit & Chile Glaze

Not scallop-ed out yet? Here are some additional ideas from the editors:

Bay Scallop Chowder

On the East Coast, chowder is ubiquitous during the summer, but typically clams steal the spotlight. In this recipe by Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser, bay scallops shine. They’re meatier than clams, with a more buttery texture, making this creamy chowder taste extra-luxurious.

Simple Pasta With Leeks & Scallops

This pasta may seem too sophisticated for a Wednesday night meal at first, but the recipe is really as simple as it gets. Buttery caramelized leeks are the perfect complement to rich scallops, and a little lemon zest on top does wonders to cut through all the fat. Keep this recipe in your back pocket for a weeknight win.

Tom Colicchio's Pan-Roasted Scallops With Scallop Jus

Double the scallop, double the delicious. This Genius Recipe hails from restaurateur and television host Tom Colicchio. He employs the part of the scallop that’s usually discarded (the muscle) in a flavorful scallop jus to accompany absolutely perfectly seared scallops.

Scallop Crudo With Coconut Milk & Lime

If you’ve never had raw scallops, don’t fear! Uncooked, their sweetness is accentuated, plus the buttery texture really shines. As recipe developer Josh Cohen writes, “The key to this dish is finding the highest quality scallops possible,”—great advice for any raw seafood recipe. If raw seafood isn't possible for you, this cool creamy coconut marinade would be just as delicious on cooked shrimp.

Seared Sea Scallops With Gingered Pea Purée & Cilantro Gremolata

These aren’t your grandma’s mushy peas. Instead, this pea purée packs a punch with hits of spicy fresh ginger and lemon juice. It plays the perfect sidekick to seared sea scallops with a bright gremolata—that smartly swaps cilantro for the traditional parsley—to tie the whole dish together.

Fried Scallop Sandwich

When in doubt, bread and fry your seafood, then throw it on a sandwich. Turns out scallops are no exception. They’re meatier than clams, more exciting than white fish, easier to prep than softshell crabs—and onced dredged in a spicy cornmeal batter and served on a bun, totally irresistible.

Photos by James Ransom

This article was originally published in June 2014. We brought it back this year because—hooray—summer is coming and we want to eat all the grilled scallops all the time. What are your best tips for cooking scallops? And what do you like to serve scallops with? Tell us in the comments! 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.

7 Comments

margaret S. May 24, 2019
I think large scallops cook best on a skewer because the skewer conducts some heat into the middle. I do them in the oven broiler, grease the pan with olive oil and marinate the scallops in bottled balsamic dressing. Yes, really, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
 
Brenda S. August 30, 2018
I adore seafood and this recipe for grilled scallops is going to be our dinner tonight- speaking of the coast of Maine- I must find my summer home somewhere there- it is just beyond to have scallops, lobsters and steamer Ipswich clams all summer - I am looking to find a great guy to share my Florida treasure coast abode in the winter with in exchange for summers at his home somewhere in the awesome Maine coast ! They say if you can envision it- it can happen- well im dreaming and seeing it clearly- and so maybe someday- my dream will be a reality !!!!
 
Kelcey June 15, 2015
I know I'm about a year late on this, but any thoughts on grill temp? I'm about to try scallop skewers for the first time. I'm at the beach and cooking for a big crowd and am (unfortunately) using a gas grill.
 
Dia C. July 16, 2015
Gas is an even heat so more control for something like scallops,heat up the fire to about 3/4 throttle and let the grill have time to come to temp. Brush the hot clean grates with oil and then lay out your skewers. Shake some ground pepper and lemon seasoning on them and grill 4 minutes. Flips with a spatula and grill till translucent.. Lay the finished product on a bed of romain and bath with fresh lemon. Drawn butter in s small bowl adds a simple dipping sauce.
 
Diane C. July 12, 2014
great article, cant wait to try the recipe
 
Author Comment
cheese1227 July 17, 2014
Hi Diane, Let me know how it turns out!
 
AntoniaJames June 20, 2014
So helpful! Looking forward to more in this series. ;o)