100 Techniques

Technique #61: Turn Your Grill into a Nonstick Cooking Surface

Fish sticking to your grill grates will be a thing of the past with these simple steps.

Published Sept. 1, 2023.

This is Technique #61 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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You’re not alone if you shun the grill when it comes to cooking items that stick to the grates, especially fish and shellfish.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could turn your grill grates into a nonstick cooking surface to make the most of summer seafood grilling?

Well, you can.


The Outdoor Cook

Go way beyond burgers and basic proteins to become your best outdoor cooking self. Whether you use a gas or charcoal grill, flat-top griddle, open-fire setup, smoker, or pizza oven, you can revel in the outdoor cooking lifestyle. By learning to harness fire and smoke the ATK way, you’ll even be able to convert many of these recipes between different cooking methods.

Why Do Some Things Stick to the Grill?

The reason fish and shellfish (and other proteins) stick to the grill grate is that the bond between protein and grill is actually a molecule-to-molecule fusion (unlike the superficial bond caused by a sticky barbecue sauce or glaze). Since this bonding reaction happens almost instantaneously, trying to separate delicate fish without destroying it is an exercise in futility. 

How to Prevent Sticking

To prevent sticking, you have two options: altering the proteins on the surface of the seafood so that they don’t bond with the metal grate or creating a barrier between the seafood and the grill.

Altering the proteins involves precooking the fish—which defeats the purpose of using the grill to cook it—so the answer lies in creating a barrier.

Grilled Stuffed Trout photo
Grilled Stuffed Trout

Use Oil as a Barrier

When oil is applied to a hot cooking grate, it vaporizes almost instantly, leaving a black, weblike residue. As the oil heats up, its fatty-acid chains form polymers (that is, they stick together), creating that crisscross pattern over the surface of the metal. A single layer of these polymers won’t prevent sticking, but applying and heating oil repeatedly builds up a thicker layer. After enough applications of oil, proteins will no longer come into direct contact with the metal and therefore won't be able to bond with it.

Preheat and Repeat

The hotter the grill, the less likely it is that food will stick, so preheat it well. Then, scrape the grate clean; residual debris will detach from a hot grill more easily than from a cool one. Next, oil the grate using a clean rag (much sturdier than paper towels). Hold the wadded rag with tongs, dip it in oil, and wipe the grate. Let the oil burn off, then repeat. Cover the grill and heat it again. Open the lid and wipe the grate twice more with an oiled rag. By reheating the grill and repeating the greasing procedure, you turn the grate into a practically nonstick cooking surface. When it’s black and glossy, it’s good to go.

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Step by Step: How to Turn Your Grill into a Nonstick Cooking Surface

Sticky grates are the bane of any grillmaster’s existence. You can avoid this—especially for repeat offenders like fish or delicate vegetables—by taking a few precautionary steps before and during grilling. It won’t take too much time, and will certainly save you plenty of time and hassle. Read our step-by-step guide below.

Step 1: Preheat the Grill 

Build fire as directed and preheat grill thoroughly; the hotter it is, the less likely food is to stick. Scrape grate clean.

Step 2: Oil the Grates 

Holding wadded clean rag with tongs, dip it in oil and wipe grate. When oil burns off, repeat. Cover grill and heat it again. Open lid and wipe grate twice more with oiled rag. When grill looks black and glossy, it’s ready.

Step 3: Oil the Fish 

Using silicone brush, spread thin coat of oil on both sides of fillets.

Step 4: Place Fish on Grill 

Place fillets perpendicular to grate, flesh side down. More bars under each piece makes it easier to move fillets. Cook without moving until food releases easily from grill.

Step 5: Flip and Remove 

To flip fillets, use fish spatulas to gently roll fillets onto skin side. To remove from grill, slide spatula under fillets, using tongs to stabilize fillets.

Watch why placement on the grill can be important for sticky fish in the video above.

Recipes That Use This Technique

If you're sure ready to banish stuck-on seafood from your grill grates for good, you can test your new skills with the recipes below. These delicious dishes employ the technique you've just learned, and are sure to yield perfectly grilled fish every single time.


Grilled Salmon Fillets

Set your fears aside: If you stick to our method, your grilled salmon will release easily and cleanly from the cooking grate.
Get the Recipe

Grilled Scallops

A blazing-hot fire can render scallops beautifully crisp on the outside and juicy within—or cement them to the grates like carbonized hockey pucks.
Get the Recipe

Grill-Roasted Stuffed Trout

Trout and bacon are a classic pairing, no doubt discovered by a camping fisherman.
Get the Recipe

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