Campers and fisherman have been grilling fish outdoors for eons. Many of them cook their catch-of-day over an open fire in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. There is nothing that tastes quite as good as freshly-caught fish cooked outside, except fish grilled outside.
Before you begin your fish grilling adventure, do a little homework and learn some of the more useful techniques for grilling fish successfully. The fish that barbecue chefs have most success with on the grill are steaks or filets of tuna, salmon and mahi-mahi, and sturdy whole fish such as trout and bass. If your menu calls for tilapia, blue gill or flounder, bring out the seasoned cast iron skillet to cook them in because if you try to grill them, they will probably break apart and fall through the grate into the fire. These fish just don’t hold together well enough to grill them successfully.
After you’ve cleaned your fish, brush them with olive oil and season them with herbs and other seasonings per your recipe, or you can marinate them overnight. Brush the grate of your grill thoroughly with cooking oil. This is critical so your fish won’t stick to the grill.
It doesn’t take very long to grill fish, so make sure you plan your meal schedule carefully so the fish are ready to eat when you are, and when all the other food is ready. Fire up your grill so it is as hot as you can get it. The hotter the grill, the juicier your fish will be because the heat seals in the juices. On a hot grill, it takes about 8 minutes per inch of thickness of fish steaks, and about 10 minutes per inch of whole fish. Raw fish looks glossy and somewhat translucent on the inside. A fish that’s properly cooked flakes easily with a fork – undercooked fish does not – and the gloss is gone. A properly cooked fish looks opaque.
To add special flavor to your fish, you may want to cook them over mesquite wood chips. Soak the wood chips in water for at least an hour, then wrap them in a foil packet that will lay on top of the fire. Poke holes in the packet to let out the steam that will flavor the fish.
Cooking fish on wood planks are another way to add unique flavor to your fish, and they provide a solid base, solving the problem of tender fish that fall through grill grates.
To cook fish on a cedar, maple, apple or cherry wood planks, you will need to add at least 50 percent more cooking time. Make sure your wood is scrubbed clean and has not been treated with chemicals. You can buy the planks online or in gourmet food stores, complete with instructions. Soak the wood planks in water for a minimum of an hour. Brush olive oil lightly on the top side of the board where the fish will lie as it is cooking. Then brush on lemon juice, herbs and seasonings both before and during grilling. The fish is not turned while it is cooking on the plank, unlike all other types of cooking fish.
Make sure the wood does not catch fire while you’re cooking. You do want the board to start smoking while the fish is cooking, though, because the smoke is what gives the fish the wood flavor. If the board gets a little too hot and actually starts to burn before the fish is cooked, have a spray bottle filled with water handy to extinguish the fire.