Grilled fish is delicious, but if you’re not familiar with the process, it can be a disaster. Learn how to grill fish in this easy tutorial.

Close up of salmon fillets on grill.

When summer hits, the grill is the best place to cook dinner. And nothing beats a nicely grilled fillet of fish! But without proper care, your fillets are likely to fall apart during the process; this is a common problem. The good news? It’s easy to avoid. By following these easy steps, you should have a flawless grilling experience—and delicious fish to celebrate with!

Things you’ll need:

  • Grill brush (never use a wire bristle brush; they can be dangerous)
  • Cooking oil with a high smoke point (canola, peanut, vegetable, sunflower, or avocado oil are ideal)
  • Metal tongs
  • Paper towels
  • Metal fish spatula (a generic grill spatula will also work)
  • Meat thermometer

Here’s how to grill fish:

Overhead shot of fillets of salmon being brushed with oil.

Heat it and grease it.

Always make sure you’re starting with extremely clean grates on your grill. Once your grates are clean, heat the grill. Once the grill is hot, lightly dip a wad of paper towel into cooking oil with tongs, and glide it over the grates to create a slick surface. What you’re doing here is seasoning the grill, much like you would season a cast iron pan. Repeat this step 4-5 times until your grate is slick.

Brush both sides of the fillets with olive oil or vegetable oil.

A good coating of oil on the top and bottom will prevent your fillet from sticking.

Season the fillets.

Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper on your fillets. Or, if you have a dry rub that you’re using, season the fillets with that. If you’re using a sauce, it’s usually best to slather it on after the fillets have been removed from the grill. Especially if the sauces contain sugar. Sugar burns easily and will leave you with burned bits and a messy grill.

Place the fish skin-side down onto the grill, diagonal to the grate slats.

This makes the fillet easier to flip and remove.

Reduce the heat to medium and cover for 2-4 minutes.

Don’t mess with your fish and try to move it around. Let it cook and do its thing.

Check on the fish by lifting it with a spatula.

After a few minutes, you can carefully lift the fillet with a spatula. If the fillet doesn’t separate easily separate itself from the grate, leave it alone. Let it cook some more, and check it every 30 seconds until it releases itself. Fish and seafood won’t release from a cooking surface until that side is properly cooked—something to keep in mind.

Flip the fish.

Two spatulas are useful when it comes to flipping a fish, that way you can set it down more carefully. If you’re using tongs, don’t press too hard on the fillets. 

Cover and cook until the fish is done.

A fillet of fish is ready to eat once it hits an internal temperature of 145º F and the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Grilled salmon fillets lined up on a cutting board.

Now that you know how to grill fish, check out these grilled fish recipes:

Want to learn how to grill fish on a cedar plank? Click here.

Check out the fish and seafood guide for more information.