Your grill is meant for so much more than burgers and steaks. Learn the basics of how to cook fish on the grill so you can add fish fillets, lobster tails, scallops, and shrimp to your backyard barbecue menu.

By Andrea Beck
June 11, 2019
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Grilled fish recipes, with their smoky flavor, are a delish addition to barbecues. Sometimes we need a break from brats, burgers, and steaks. When you know how to cook fish on the grill in a grill basket, directly on the grate, or in a foil pack, you can enjoy your favorite seafood all grilling season. We’ve also included handy grilling charts that tell you how long to grill fish so the cooking process is even easier. You don’t need a recipe—just follow our instructions with your favorite fillet.

Prep Your Fish for the Grill

Before you fire up the grill, make sure your fish are prepped. Thaw your seafood if it’s frozen; rinse fish only if it’s necessary to get rid of a few lingering scales. To get the best grill marks, pat your fish and seafood dry with a paper towel, then season as desired. If you’re cooking fish fillets, place them in a well-greased grill basket (Weber Deluxe Grilling Basket, $21.99, Amazon). To grill whole fish or fish steaks, grease your grill rack and grill directly on the grates. For small seafood pieces like shrimp and scallops, the best way to grill is on skewers. Thread scallops or shrimp onto skewers, leaving a ¼-inch space between each piece.

Related: Learn How to Grill Salmon Like a Pro

Direct-Grilling Fish

When using the direct grilling method, you place your fish or seafood directly over the heat source and grill with the lid closed. This method works best for foods that grill in 30 minutes or less. Most fish and seafood cook quickly, so you can usually use either direct or indirect grilling. Since your fish will be directly over the heat source, flip it halfway through to guarantee even cooking.

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For a charcoal or a gas grill, grill fish and seafood, covered, over medium heat. To determine how long to grill fish, use our direct-grilling fish chart, turning once halfway through. You can also tell that fish is done if it flakes easily. Seafood should look opaque. For a little extra flavor, you can brush your fish with vegetable oil or melted butter after turning.

Download our Direct-Grilling Fish Chart

Indirect-Grilling Fish

To indirectly grill fish or seafood, position food on the grill rack with a drip pan underneath, with the heat source to the side and the cover on. This method is meant to work like an oven with the heat circulating around your food, so turning isn’t necessary. Usually, you’ll use indirect grilling for larger foods like a whole fish or large roasts, but we’ve included times for fish fillets, scallops, and shrimp in our indirect-grilling fish chart.

Buy It: Weber Original Kettle Charcoal Grill, $109.00, Walmart

First, prepare your grill for indirect cooking. For a gas grill, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for indirect grilling. For a charcoal grill, use long-handled tongs to arrange coals around the edge of the grill bottom (or to one side). Place a disposable foil drip pan (30-pack Weber Grills Compatible Drip Pans, $14.29, Amazon) in the middle (or on the other side). Place your fish or seafood over the drip pan. Grill, covered, over indirect medium heat. To know how long to grill fish indirectly, follow the time listed on our indirect-grilling fish chart. If you want, you can turn the fish halfway through cooking and brush it with vegetable oil or melted butter (but it’s not a required step).

Buy It: Stainless Steel Grill Tongs, $6.79, Target

Download our Indirect-Grilling Fish Chart

How to Grill Fish in Foil

No grill basket? No problem! You can make grilled fish in foil by wrapping up your fish fillets with veggies and tossing them on the grill. Here's how to do it:

  • Depending on what grill pack recipe you use, you might need to do some precooking before grilling. If you choose ingredients that all have about the same cook time, this step won't be necessary. But if you include an ingredient that takes longer, like potatoes, you might have to precook them a bit before wrapping them up with your fish.
  • Place each fish fillet in the center of a square of foil (about 12 inches long), along with a portion of your veggies and sauce.
  • To seal the foil packs, bring up two opposite ends of foil and double-fold them to seal together. Fold the remaining two edges together, leaving some space inside the pack for steam to build up. Follow the directions in your recipe for how long to grill fish (usually it'll be slightly longer than the time it takes to grill a fillet indirectly).
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