How To Grill

Our textbook
Season 1

Show 105: Fish Meets Grill

More people are flummoxed by grilling fish than any other type of food. With good reason: fish often sticks to the grate or falls apart when you try to turn it. Moreover, fish has a nasty tendency to go from undercooked to overcooked in a matter of seconds. Well, if you've had trouble with fish on the grill, tune in: the Professor shows you some great ways to do it.

Today's menu:

  • Salmon with mustard glaze
  • Halibut in a basket
  • Trout grilled over a campfire
  • The big Kahuna: whole salmon on the grill.

Tips - How to Grill Fish

Grilling is one of the best ways there is to cook fish. Just ask a pit master in Mexico, Provence, or Bangkok. Follow these simple tips and you'll have perfect grilled fish every time.

  • First, choose the right fish. The easiest fish to grill are steak fish, such as swordfish, tuna, and salmon.
  • Small whole fish are easy to grill, especially sardines, small snappers, and trout. For fish weighing more than 1 pound, make a series of parallel slashes in each side of the fish to the bone to allow the heat to penetrate to the thickest part of the fillet, assuring even cooking.
  • When grilling large whole fish, like salmon or bluefish, use the indirect method.
  • Use a fish basket, a hinged wire baskets designed to hold the fish, exposing the maximum surface area to the fire. The virtue of the fish basket is that you turn the basket, not the fish, which eliminates sticking and keeps the fish from falling apart. Just don't forget to oil the basket with spray oil.
  • Use a fish grate - a wire or perforated metal plate you place on top of the grill grate. It's smoother and flatter than a conventional grill grate, which makes sliding a spatula under and turning the fish a snap. Just remember to preheat it on the grill and oil it well before you put on the fish.
  • Grill the fish on a cedar or alder plank, using the indirect method. Soak the plank in water for a couple hours to keep it from catching fire.
  • Start with a hot clean grate and oil it well before adding the fish.
  • Lightly brush the fish with oil before putting it on the grill.

Trout on a Stick / Trout in a Basket printer-ready version

Method: grilling over a campfire/ direct grilling
Serves 4

Tips: In the most primal version of this dish, you'd simply impale the fish on sticks and cook them, marshmallow-style, over a campfire. I've upscaled the recipe slightly by stuffing the fish with scallions and butter and swaddling it in bacon. But such niceties are optional. So is the campfire, for trout are excellent cooked on a grill. Ideally, you'd work on a charcoal grill stoked with wood chunks instead of charcoal. But even a gas grill will give you superior trout. A fish basket reduces the risk of sticking and facilitates turning. One good brand is made by Charcoal Companion and is available at grill shops and hardware stores.

  • 4 whole trout (each 12 to 16 ounces)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 scallions, trimmed
  • 8 slices bacon
  • lemon wedges for squeezing
You'll also need: butchers string; 4 sticks (1/2 inch in diameter, 2-1/2 to 3 feet long); or 1 fish basket for small whole fish; wood chunks for building a fire or for tossing on the coals or 1 to 2 cups unsoaked wood chips.

Wash the trout inside and out and blot dry. Make a couple of diagonal slashes to the bone in each side of each fish. This speeds up the cooking and allows for the absorption of the smoke flavor. Generously season the trout inside and out with salt and pepper. Smear a little butter inside each trout and place a scallion in the cavity. Smear a little more butter on the outside of each fish. Place on strip on each side of the trout, running lengthwise. Tie the strips to the fish in three places, using butchers string.


Build a campfire and let it die down to glowing embers. Impale the trout on a stick. (A forked stick works best for this: insert one end of each fork into the cavity.) Holding the trout about 10 inches above the coals, grill until the bacon and/or skin are nicely browned and the fish is cooked through, 6 to 10 minutes per side. Move the trout as needed to dodge any bacon fat fires.

If you don't have sticks, place the trout in a fish basket you've previously sprayed with oil or greased with bacon fat. Grill the same way.


Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. For the best results, you'd build a wood fire. Alternatively, toss some wood chunks or unsoaked chips on the coals in a charcoal grill or place in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch on a gas grill.

Arrange the fish on the grill grate and grill until the outside is browned and the fish is cooked, 6 to 10 minutes per side, turning with tongs. Leave plenty of open space on the grill, so you can move the trout in the event of flare-ups.

Snip the strings if using and serve the trout with the bacon and lemon wedges for squeezing.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort