10 Tips for Great Grilled Fish & Shellfish
Expert Advice

May is spring and spring leads to summer and that means it’s time for a throw down with cold beer, hot tunes and SEAFOOD. Can you say Mahi on the grill? What do we tailgaters need to know when selecting, handling and cooking fish and shellfish? For answers, I turned to Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, co-authors of “Fish & Shellfish Grilled & Smoked.” “Always go to an active seafood counter,” says Adler.

If there is demand, then the product is turning over quickly. The seafood area and the seafood should smell clean like fresh saltwater air. The meat of the seafood should be supple. If you lightly press the middle of the meat with your thumb, the flesh should spring back. If your thumb goes through the meat, it is deteriorating and you don’t want to buy it.” What about frozen? Adler feels that FAS (Frozen At Sea) products are a good choice. When the label indicates FAS, that product was processed and frozen within minutes of being caught.

On safe handling: “Always keep the seafood cold until ready to grill,” Adler offers. “If you plan to marinate, do so for only a short period of time (30 minutes) and in the refrigerator. There is controversy over washing meats and fish because it can actually spread more bacteria, but if you rinse under cold water and place it in a container for the refrigerator, then rinse the packaging and throw that away, and clean up the sink area, it should be fine.”

On cooking: “Because fish and shellfish do not have any tough connective tissue, it cooks very quickly. And it continues to cook another five degrees or more after it is pulled from the heat. So if you cook it on the grill to the perfect doneness, by the time you remove it and it cooks a little more, you may overcook it. Just cook it until it begins to opaque, then pull it off the grill and let it sit for a few minutes as it continues to cook. Shellfish in its shell will take longer than ‘naked.’ Smoking can be done from 225 degrees up to 350 degrees. The lower temperature is preferred, since the shellfish will take longer to cook allowing more time to absorb the smoke.”

When shellfish is on the menu, Adler suggests including an alternative non-shellfish choice as well due to allergies. Shellfish allergies are the most common significant food allergy. Along with peanuts and tree nuts, shellfish are the most frequent triggers of anaphylactic reactions.

10 Tips & Techniques for Great Grilled Fish and Shellfish 

  1. Select only the freshest fish or shellfish. If it has been flash-frozen make sure it is still frozen when you purchase it.
  1. Handle fish and shellfish carefully, and buy the day you are going to cook it, preferably. Always keep it chilled. Discard any shellfish with cracked or open shells.
  1. Marinate fish and shellfish for only 30 to 60 minutes in the refrigerator.
  1. It is preferable to leave the fish skin on when grilling. Start the grilling process flesh side down, turn half way through the cooking time to the skin side. Just as the skin protects the fish, the shell on shellfish will help keep it moist.
  1. Grill just about any fish or shellfish you like.
  1. Grill over hot fire. If you can hold your hand 5 inches above the heat source for no more than 2 seconds, it’s hot.
  1. The general rule for grilling fish is 10minutes per inch of thickness. Exceptions are shark and shellfish. Shellfish cooking times vary with the type of shellfish. Rely on recipe cook times.
  1. Test for doneness by making sure the fish and shellfish are opaque and somewhat firm.
  1. Grill gadgets that rule: two long handled wide metal spatulas for fish steaks or fillets and long-handled tongs for shellfish. For delicate fish and small shellfish, it is best to use a perforated grill rack, disposable aluminum pans, Nordicware fish boat or aluminum foil as a base so the fish or shellfish won’t fall through the grates.
  1. Fish and shellfish may be substituted in recipes. Go for what is the freshest.