The thrill of the grill isn’t just for beef. Fish, both local and global, also lends itself to grilling. The combination of the light, flaky texture of fish with the smoky essence of an open fire makes grilling a prime way to showcase the catch of the day, even if it was “caught” at the fish market.
Many outdoor cooks who are adept at steaks and burgers are reluctant to put fish on the grill. They worry about it falling apart, or cooking too quickly and drying out, or, conversely, not getting cooked enough. Fish isn’t that complicated, though, and there are several easy ways to get started with fish-grilling.
Salmon is a good introduction to grilling fish: the skin-on fillets are sturdy, and they’re usually thick enough to cook thoroughly without drying out. Try to get a midsection piece that is a consistent thickness; if one side tapers down to be very thin, it will cook unevenly.
The skin-on fillets are also good for beginners because they are grilled only on one side (skin side down) and don’t need to be flipped. Since the top side doesn’t come in contact with the grill, it can be topped with citrus, vegetables or sauce to keep it moist as it cooks through.
Firecracker salmon is blanketed with a spicy herb-based marinade made with just enough brown sugar to slightly caramelize and form a crust. For those looking for less fire in their sauce, substituting ketchup for the Sriracha sauce will yield a flavorful topping without the heat.
Grilled fish tacos are another entry point for beginning grillers. Since the fish in tacos is usually served in chunks anyway, it doesn’t matter so much if the fillets fall apart (and that issue can be avoided by investing in a long spatula made specifically for turning fish.) Local fish such as catfish, grouper and snapper can be grilled for tacos, and other sustainable choices such as tilapia shine in tacos, where they take on the typical spices of cumin and chiles.
Perhaps the ultimate fish grilling technique for beginners is the foil packet. Grilling fish and vegetables in a foil packet trades off some of the smoky flavor for the reassurance that the fish won’t dry out, stick to the grates or burn from too-high heat. Almost any fish fillet, with endless combinations of vegetables and spices, can be cooked in foil. While the finished result is more like steaming than grilling, it’s an easy-prep, easy clean-up way to have a healthy meal of fish and vegetables on the grill.
Even thicker slabs of fish need less heat than most cuts of meat; be sure to give the fire plenty of time to dwindle down to medium-hot coals, or set a gas grill on medium. Keep a long-handled fork handy for testing the fish; when done, it should separate cleanly into flakes when the fork is inserted.