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Cooking Tips

5 Tips to Prevent Fish from Sticking to the Grill

Have no fear: If you stick to our method, your grilled fish will release easily and cleanly from the cooking grate.

Published June 8, 2022.

We’ve all been there: You want to look like a grill master, but you go to nonchalantly flip your piece of fish and it sticks to the grill. You have to pry it off and the fish starts breaking apart. Those gorgeous salmon fillets now look like hash. 

Thankfully with a little know-how (and some heat and oil) this can be avoided.

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Preheat Your Grill

How? If using a charcoal grill, fill a 6-quart chimney starter with briquettes, light it, and wait until the top coals are partly covered in ash. Then pour them evenly over the bottom grill grate. Add the top grates, cover the grill, and let it heat for 5 minutes, undisturbed.

For a gas grill, ignite the grill, turn all burners to high, cover it, and let it roll for 15 minutes until those grates are nice and hot. 

Why? Properly heating a grill takes time. But the hotter the grill, the less likely the fish is to stick.

Clean and Oil the Grates

How? Scrape the cooking grate clean with a sturdy grill brush. Hold a wadded rag (or paper towels) with tongs, dip it in oil, and wipe the grate. Repeat.

Why? By repeatedly cleaning to remove debris and oiling the grate multiple times, you transform the grate into an almost-nonstick cooking surface. 

Preheat Your GrillClean and Oil the Grates

Give the Fish Its Own Coat of Oil

How? Before ever putting the fish on the grill, pat the fillets dry with paper towels. Then, using a pastry brush, brush the flesh and skin sides of the fish with a thin coat of oil before sprinkling the flesh sides with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you want. 

Why? The paper towels wick away moisture. The less wet the fish is, the more apt it is to develop a crust instead of just steaming on the grill. The crust helps the fish release easily from the grates. The oil helps the seasoning adhere and provides added insurance against sticking.

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.
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Start Flesh Side Down

How? Place the fillets on the grill, flesh side down (or serving side down, if using skinless fillets). Arrange them perpendicular to the grill bars.

Why? Starting the fillets flesh side down on a fully greased, well-preheated grill ensures the easiest release from the grate. Placing them perpendicular to the grates helps get dramatic char marks that run crosswise on the fish.

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Be Patient

How? Cover and cook until the fish is well-marked and releases easily from the grates. Based on the design and heat of your grill and the type of fish and seasonings you have on it, this can take anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes. Then use a fish spatula to gently push the fish over onto the opposite side to finish cooking through. 

Why? If you try to turn a piece of fish before it’s had time to develop char marks, it’s more likely to stick (in other words, you will be prying it off). Rolling the fillets over with a fish spatula is the most gentle way to turn them and is least likely to flake apart the fish.

With these tips, you’ll look like an expert whether grilling salmon fillets, tuna steaks, or swordfish.   

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