The grilling process cooks foods over a heat source, either directly, indirectly, or a combination of both. Grilling temperatures typically reach as high as 650ºF, but any temperature above 300°F is suitable as a grilling temperature. The high heat of grilling sears the surface of fish, creating meat with a flavorful crust. The required cooking temperature and the method of grilling (direct, indirect, or a combination) depends on the size of the fish or the pieces. It is important to cook the fish to its proper doneness but not to overcook.
There are many different types of grills available today that can be used when grilling fish. For information on the different types of grills, see Types of Grills. It is important that the grill is set up properly and reaches the appropriate temperature for the type of fish that is being grilled to ensure that it produces a moist and flaky finished product that is cooked to the proper doneness. For information on setting up a charcoal or gas grill, see Outdoor Grill Preparation.
A medium heat should be used when grilling fish, whole or pieces. Using too high of a heat will cause some parts to cook too quickly and dry out while other parts will not be done all the way through. To check the temperature of the grill, use the palm of your hand for testing, see Outdoor Grill Preparation for testing method. The thicker the piece of fish the farther away from the heat source it should be or the heat source should be at a lower temperature to prevent the outside of the cut from burning before the inside is properly cooked. You will also have to decide whether you will use direct or indirect heat during the grilling time. Depending on the type of fish and size, you may use both. A whole fish or a thick piece may require direct heat to seal the outside and indirect to allow the cut to cook thoroughly to the center.
Cooking with indirect heat occurs when you use an area of the grill that is not directly over the heat source. Using indirect heat slows the cooking process down, which allows the center of the fish to cook thoroughly without burning the outside. On charcoal grills, coals are pushed to one side of the grill or banked into a ring around the outer edges. On gas grills, the side of the burner, which is below the area where the food will be placed, is turned off after the grill is preheated. Using one of the indirect setups will provide an area on the grill that is a low heat source. The fish is placed over the area in which there are no coals or over the burner that is turned off on a gas grill. Indirect heat is good for cooking whole fish or larger pieces.
To prepare the grill for indirect heat, see Methods of Grilling for setup.
See general instructions below for cooking fish using indirect heat.
Cooking with direct heat occurs when you cook the meat directly over the heat source. The fish is cooked quickly over medium or high heat coals or over burners set to medium or high heat on a gas grill. Direct heat is used when grilling thinner fillets and steaks. Thin fish will cook quickly when grilled using direct heat. Because they are thin, the direct heat will cook them thoroughly through to the middle.
For more detailed setup information on grilling, using direct heat, see Methods of Grilling.
Fish cooking temperatures are important to monitor in order to insure meat is safely cooked to the proper temperature. When preparing fish, use the chart below as a guide to check doneness.
There are several methods that can be used to check for the doneness of fish. Some methods work better on some types of fish than others. Similar to meat, fish continues to cook after removing it from the heat. So for a more flavorful result, begin checking for doneness a few minutes before the end of the estimated cooking time. Since the meat of the fish is somewhat translucent, it begins to become opaque as it cooks, which is one method of visually checking for doneness, especially for fillets that are most often not as thick as fish steaks.
The best procedure for checking doneness is to use a cooking thermometer, checking to make sure the fish has reached an internal temperature of 145ºF. To cook fish steaks that are slightly translucent in the center, remove the steaks from the heat when they reach an internal temperature of 135ºF to 140ºF. The fish steaks will continue cooking with the retained heat if they are covered and left to stand a few minutes prior to serving.
Listed below are other methods that can be used to check for doneness.