How to Grill a Piece of Fish in 5 Minutes (and Nail it Every Time)

June 30, 2015

We partnered with Alaska Seafood for tips on how to grill fish like halibut and salmon all year round. 

halibut steak

There are two schools of thought regarding how to grill fish consistently well: Either pick the right gadget or pick the right fish.  

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You can employ a fish basket to grill a whole fish, use a cedar plank to cook one over an open flame, or use steel tongs to keep a flaky white fillet from falling into the charcoal.

Or you can pick a fish that’s built like a steak. 

I’m talking firm-fleshed, flavorful, meaty ones like halibut and salmon that can handle heat, the smoke, and a flip or two. To prep a grill for hardy fish, start by cranking it as high as it will go. You want the grates very, very hot, so cover the grill as it heats up.  Once the grill is hot, use a steel brush with a long handle and some elbow grease to completely clean the grates.  Cover again for 2 to 3 more minutes to bring the grates back to that piping hot level.  (If using a grill pan on the stove, follow the same process; just make sure the exhaust fan is on high and a window is open.)

Each fish steak you are planning to cook should weight about six ounces, be at least a solid inch thick, and kept very cold. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator just before you are ready to grill and pat them dry.

Dampen a wad of paper towels with canola or grapeseed oil liberally. Grab the oiled towels with a pair of tongs, and rub them along the grates of the grill. Reduce the heat to medium high and place the fish on the grill, skin-side up (there may be no skin on your fish steaks, but I am referring to the side that used to have the skin on).

After about 2 minutes, the lower half of the fish steak closest to the heat will start to turn opaque. That’s when you know it’s time to flip. Use a spatula (one that is wide and has a tapered edge) to gently loosen the underside of the fish steak from the grill and flip quickly. Cook for another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. To test if the steak is done, gently use a spatula to pry open the middle contours of the fish. If they are opaque, you’re good to go.  

To serve, pair your grilled fish with one of the following simple sauces:

I have my biases, of course.

Now pass the sauce.

First and third photos by Alpha Smoot, second by thirschfeld, and fourth by James Ransom

Alaska Seafood can be prepared using a range of techniques from smoking and grilling to roasting, sautéing, baking, or poaching. Try using this selection of recipes—and head here for additional ideas and cooking tips.

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Any Night Grilling is your guide to becoming a charcoal champion (or getting in your grill-pan groove), any night of the week. With over 60 ways to fire up dinner—no long marinades or low-and-slow cook times in sight—this book is your go-to for freshly grilled meals in a flash.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Susan Hession Bocox
    Susan Hession Bocox
  • cheese1227
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.


Susan H. July 1, 2015
as for toppings, i was thinking of a nice homemade salsa
cheese1227 July 1, 2015
Yes!!! Salsa's are so adaptable to what you can find in your area. I used to love fish and stone fruit salsas when we lived in Central PA because of all the great fruit that grows there. We're still in the herbs and greens part of the growing season up here, but tomato salsas (and ground cherry ones!) will abound later this summer.