How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill

So, you've got everything ready for your family fish feast, but when you go to flip it on the grill, it ends up in an unrecognizable pile of charred bits and pieces barely holding together. We've all been there, and it's a common problem for grillers everywhere that fish sticks to the grill, often ruining dinner plans. We are here to help with tips and techniques on how to keep fish from sticking to the grill.

There are two reasons why fish sticks to the grill:

  1. The actual proteins in the fish interact with the metal grill grates and fuse together.
  2. Some types of fish, like cod and trout, are very delicate and fall apart very quickly. When grilling, always use a hearty, firm fish like swordfish, halibut, mahi-mahi, or salmon.

Let's look at some easy techniques you can employ to help you grill the perfect-looking filet every time.

How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill: Spotless Grill Grates

How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill

The most important thing to keep fish from sticking is to make sure your grill grates are clean and spotless. More than a simple wipe before throwing the fish on, the grates can't have any black spots from charred food debris or grease. The crusted debris creates rough spots that are more likely to interact with the flesh of the fish. Make it a priority to do a deep clean of your grates periodically because it will provide a better grilling experience overall.

Once you have clean grill grates, a second tip is to take a short time to prep the grates by seasoning them, similar to a cast-iron skillet. Turn on the grill and rub canola oil on the grill grates with a paper towel and tongs. Repeat every 15-20 seconds five or six times to create a polymer coating on the grates. This coating will further reduce the chance of the fish and metal interacting and sticking.

How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill: Create a Barrier

Once the grill grates are ready, there are a few different techniques for cooking fish that yield stunning results. These techniques employ different ways of creating a thicker barrier between the grill grates and the fish to protect them from fusing.

Wood Planks

How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill

One of the most popular methods for cooking fish on the grill is to use a plank of aromatic wood like cedar or cherry wood. Using this method, you are essentially smoking the fish instead of searing it, but it still yields a moist and flavorful texture with even the most delicate types of fish. The wood becomes a thick barrier that keeps the filets protected, while the wood creates wonderful smoky that cooks and permeates the fish. Many types and sizes of planks are widely available for purchase, so you can see which you prefer.

Aluminum Foil

Another way to create a barrier between the fish and the grill grates is to use aluminum foil. While you won't get the iconic grill marks, the mesquite flavor of open flame is still infused into the fish. Many use butter or mayonnaise and spices to season the fish while it bakes for a succulent finish. Since grills can achieve blazing-hot temperatures, make sure you use a few layers of heavy-duty foil.

Slices of Citrus Fruit

The most exciting technique to keep fish from sticking to the grill is to use slices of citrus as a barrier. Make uniform slices of your favorite citrus fruit and place them on the grill grates. Then, cook the filets on the fruit to keep them protected and infuse the citrusy flavor and acid into the fish. This method doesn't require any flipping making it an easy way to grill the perfect fish. You can also customize it to your liking with different fruits, herbs, and spices.

How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill: Cooking Methods

How to Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill

For those wanting that beautiful sear with gorgeous grill marks, a barrier will not yield the desired results. In this case, plan on using one of the firmer types of fish, like swordfish or mahi-mahi, and try to find filets with the skin still on. The actual fish skin can act as a barrier to protect the fish from disintegrating on the grill grates.

Alternatively, many chefs have used mayonnaise to coat the fish and protect it from sticking. Liberally brush both sides of the fish with mayonnaise, and sear on a hot grill. The mayonnaise adheres well to the fish providing a protective layer that keeps it from sticking. The extra fat also makes for addictive flavor and decadence.

Grilling fish is a tasty and refreshing way to enjoy the summer, and there is an abundance of possible flavor combinations and nuances depending on the type of fish. Employing one or several of the techniques above will make grilling fresh fish easy and accessible. With just a little extra prep, your family can enjoy restaurant-quality seafood at home anytime.