How to Keep Fish From Sticking to the Grill

Patience and a well-oiled grate are the key to excellent grilled fish.

  • Kenji Lopez-Alt

    Help Me, Kenji

    Kenji Lopez-Alt is the chief creative officer of Serious Eats, where he writes The Food Lab, unraveling the science of home cooking.

  • Step 1: Clean

    Step 1: Clean thoroughly

    Cover the grill and heat the rack for at least 10 minutes; then brush clean—the intense heat helps remove debris.

  • Step 2: Oil it up

    Step 2: Oil it up

    Swab the clean grill grate repeatedly with an oil-dipped paper towel to build a nonstick layer.

  • Step 3: Be Patient

    Step 3: Be patient

    Resist the urge to poke or flip until the fillet is well-seared. The more you move it, the more likely it is to fall apart. Use a very thin metal spatula when turning for extra control.

Question: How can I keep fish from sticking to the grill?

Answer: Here's the thing: When you grill fish, interactions take place between the proteins in the fish and the metal in the grill grates at a molecular level.

The fish and grill quite literally become fused. So how do you prevent this?

The first step is to make sure your grill grates are spotless. Burned-on debris can create a rough surface, making it more likely the fish will stick. To clean your grill, build a nice hot fire, cover the grill, and let the rack heat up for at least 10 minutes before scraping clean with a brush.

Next, season the rack to build a nonstick coating, just like with a cast-iron pan. Using tongs, rub the clean grill rack with a paper towel dipped in canola oil. Repeat 5 or 6 times, once every 15 seconds. As the layers of oil heat, they form plastic-like polymers that help minimize contact between the fish and metal. Rubbing a thin layer of oil on the fish will also help minimize contact. (If the fish has skin, start skin side down.)

Before you add the fish, make sure the grate is very hot. This allows radiant heat from the grate to begin cooking the fish before it even makes physical contact. Once the proteins have been set with heat, they will no longer react with the metal, making it easier to lift them. –Kenji Lopez-Alt

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