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The World's First Online Tell-All Competition BBQ Cooking School

Sara Hansen

Tips On How To Grill Fish & Other Seafood Like The Pros

When you think of outdoor cooking, some may immediately think of smoking brisket or ribs or grilling steak. But, great barbecue isn’t just reserved for land-based meat. Another favorite, especially during spring and summer months, is grilled and/or smoked seafood. Everything from grilled shrimp to smoked fish. Seafood takes on a deliciously moist texture when cooked on a grill. But you may be wondering how to grill fish and other seafood perfectly.

For heavier meats, “low and slow” cooking is often the way to go. But with more delicate things like fish, shrimp, and other shellfish, grilling or smoking these will involve a different set of techniques, temperatures, and much lower cooking times. 

Check out some of these insider tips for perfectly grilled or smoked seafood straight from champion grillmasters and pitmasters: 


Start With Quality Seafood

Just like when you are picking land-based meat for your outdoor cooking, to get the best flavors when it comes to cooking seafood you have to start with good quality products. Your local fishmonger (a person or store that sells seafood) is going to be your best bet for good quality seafood and the largest variety. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

When buying fresh seafood, it should always smell clean and briny and not have an “ammonia” or “fishy” smell. It is also important to note that before cooking your fish or shellfish you should always rinse it with cold running water. This will help remove any bacteria. Also, try and cook your seafood the day you buy it.


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Keep Your Seafood From Sticking

Seafood, in general, is much more delicate in comparison to land-based meats. So, it is even more important to do what you can to keep your grill clean as well as lightly oiled. Because of its delicate nature, seafood (especially fish) will quickly stick to your grill at high heat if you are not working with clean, oiled grill grates. The last thing you want is to end up losing half of your fish because it is stuck to the grill. 

Make sure to turn your grill on high for 10-15 minutes before cooking and after you are done cooking to brush the cooking grates clean and remove any leftover bits of meat or seafood. This will keep your grill clean and make it easier to properly oil the grates when it is time to cook your seafood.

Oilier fish, like salmon, tuna, sea bass, and snapper, hold up better directly on the grill and won’t stick as much compared to an even more delicate white fish. Leaving the skin on the fish fillet also helps hold the meat together while cooking.

Another way to keep your fish from sticking to the grill is to use cedar planks. Cooking fish on top of a wood plank is a great way to cook fish on the grill and impart great smoky flavor into the meat. 


Use Skewers For Smaller Types Of Seafood

Because of the size of some types of seafood, like shrimp or scallops, using bamboo or metal skewers is essential when cooking these on the grill. This will ensure you can cook them evenly and you won’t lose anything between the grates of the grill. If you are working with fairly large shrimp, using two skewers will help keep them from spinning and make them easy to work with.

Alternatively, you can also use a handled grill basket for cooking these types of seafood. Again, make sure the grill basket is non-stick or oiled. There is a large variety of different sized grill baskets, but all of them make it easy to cook smaller types of seafood directly on the grill. 

Grill baskets also work great for grilling more delicate fish fillets. You can flip the basket and keep the filet intact without trying to flip the filet itself and it falling apart.


Presoak Your Planks & Wood Skewers

If you do decide to use cedar planks or wood skewers for cooking and smoking your seafood, it is important to presoak beforehand. One of the main reasons is that by not presoaking your wood planks or skewers, you can run the risk of the wood catching fire and ruining your food. 

Also, when you allow the wood to soak before cooking, specifically the planks, it actually helps impart more great smoky flavor into your seafood. A lot of that flavor comes from the water in the wood as it evaporates from the heat of your grill. 

So, let your hardwood planks and bamboo skewers soak for at least 15 minutes before you are ready to start cooking. You can also get creative and soak your plank in different things other than water to impart different flavors. White wine, sake, and cider are other great alternatives for soaking. 


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Be Careful Not To Overcook

Seafood, in general, takes much less time to cook compared to many other types of food. So it’s important to keep an eye on it to avoid overcooking it on a grill. Each type of seafood is different, but overall the thing to look for is when the fish or shellfish meat turns opaque and is firmer to touch. Undercooked fish will appear shiny and semi-translucent.

To help avoid overcooking seafood, it’s usually best (with a few exceptions) to use a medium-hot fire versus a very hot one. You can also use a two-zone system where you aren’t putting the seafood directly over the fire the whole time.  


Use The Right Fire For Your Type Of Seafood

Aside from keeping an eye on your seafood to avoid overcooking it, it is also important to use the right fire for each type of seafood. Some do better over high heat, while others need a little lower temperatures. 

In general, many pros agree with this breakdown:

  • High Heat: salmon fillets and steaks; scallops; peeled shrimp
  • Medium-High Heat: most fish and shellfish
  • Sear on High Heat/Finish on Medium Heat: tuna steaks


Choose The Right Wood For Seafood

When it comes to using hardwood to help impart a smoky flavor when outdoor cooking, there are many different types of wood available. Some types pair well with certain types of meat and foods. 

For seafood, the best options are going to be sweeter, milder woods like cherry, apple, or pecan. These wood flavors won’t overpower the mild, delicate flavor of your seafood. 


Wrapping It All Up

If you keep these tips we’ve covered above in mind, grilling fish and other seafood will become a lot less intimidating. Cooking seafood outdoors can actually be a lot easier than you may think. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to impress any of your seafood-loving family members and friends. You can even create a great surf and turf dinner when you combine delicious grilled seafood with a perfectly grilled steak.

This is just a sample of some of the insider tips you’ll learn straight from the pros here at BBQ Champs Academy. All of whom have perfected how to cook fish and other seafood on the grill. Learn everything you need to know straight from the Champion Grillmasters and Pitmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy to cook everything from perfectly grilled cedar plank salmon to mouth-watering grilled shrimp. Plus, learn how to cook all of the delicious land-based meats, like brisket and ribs, as well.

You’ll learn step-by-step techniques along with insider secrets, all in stunning high-def video. They will show you from start to finish how to up your outdoor cooking game to a whole new level.

Sara Hansen

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