Grilling fish and shellfish can be intimidating — they are easy to overcook, and some varieties can be extra delicate. But with a little finesse and know-how, you can add a perfect smoky char to your favorite seafood and ensure it is moist, tender, and wonderfully flavorful. Read on for our foolproof tips!
Firm-fleshed, thickly cut fish, such as tuna, salmon, swordfish, halibut, grouper, or sea bass, cook best on the grill. Whole fish should have clear eyes; bright, intact scales and skin; and red, moist gills. They should also be gutted, cleaned, and scaled before grilling. Fillets and steaks should look moist and bright, and have a fresh, clean scent.
Choose firm, sweet-smelling fresh shrimp that are still in the shell when possible. (Most “fresh” shrimp have been previously frozen on the fishing boat, then thawed.) Purchase live lobsters—the feistier the better. Male lobsters will have slightly larger claws, while females have slightly bigger tails.
Look for creamy white or slightly pink scallops with a mild scent. The best are sold as “dry,” meaning they haven’t been treated with a solution to help them absorb more water. Oysters and mussels should have a mild, sweet smell as well, and their shells should be closed tightly and feel heavy with water. Never buy oysters or mussels that stay open when touched.
Trim off excess skin from fish fillets or steaks and remove any small bones with needle-nose pliers.
Refresh frozen shrimp before cooking by soaking in cold salted water for 10 to 15 minutes; rinse well. Shell and devein fresh shrimp, then rinse them under cold running water and drain them on paper towels before grilling. Cut lobsters in half lengthwise, exposing the tail meat, and remove the grain sac and white intestinal veins.
Rinse scallops and, if present, remove the small tendon attached to the side. Scrub the grit off the shells of fresh mussels with a stiff-bristled brush, then remove the beards. Discard any mussels that feel light, as they are likely dead, or any that are heavy with sand. Scrub oysters with a stiff brush and rinse well before shucking.
Make kabobs! Cut hearty fish into chunks, along with whole shrimp and scallops.
Use a hinged basket for delicate sole and trout fillets. Place the fillets on bed of sliced citrus to prevent from sticking to the grill rack.
Stuff whole fish with herbs, citrus slices, or other aromatics for extra flavor and moisture while grilling.
Grill salmon on a cedar plank to add an intriguing, smoky note.
Fish is done when the tip of a small, sharp knife can easily separate the flesh into broad flakes. Unless you are deliberately cooking to rare or medium-rare (as with tuna) the fish should be still moist at its center and the flesh should be just opaque and easy to flake. If it is already flaking without being prodded, the fish is overdone.
Lobsters are done when their shells turn bright red and the flesh becomes creamy white, with no trace of translucence. Shrimp are done when the shells just turn bright and the flesh is just opaque. Take care not to overcook shrimp, or they can become dry and rubbery.
Scallops should feel slightly firm when lightly pressed with your fingers, and the flesh should be moist and just opaque when done. Oysters and mussels are done as soon as the shells pop open; always discard any that fail to open.