BBQ Seafood: A Guide To Grilling Fish And Shellfish


Barbecue season is upon us, and what better way to enjoy the outdoors than by grilling up some delicious seafood? Grilling fish and shellfish can be a delightful culinary adventure, but it requires some finesse to get it just right. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know to master the art of BBQ seafood. From selecting the freshest catch to mastering the perfect grill marks, let’s dive into the world of grilling fish and shellfish.

Choosing the Right Seafood

Choosing the suitable seafood is the first step in mastering the art of grilling fish and shellfish. Here’s a deeper dive into what to look for when selecting the perfect catch for your BBQ:

  1. Freshness is Key: Freshness is crucial when it comes to seafood. Seek out fish and shellfish with shining skin, clear, bright eyes, and a clean, oceanic aroma. Avoid seafood that smells fishy or has dull, cloudy eyes, as these are signs of less-than-fresh produce.
  2. Consider Firm-Fleshed Fish: Firm-fleshed fish like salmon, tuna, swordfish, and mahi-mahi are ideal for grilling. Their sturdy texture holds up well on the grill, allowing you to achieve beautiful grill marks without the fish falling apart.
  3. Versatile Shellfish Options: Shellfish offers various grilling options. Shrimp, scallops, and skewered lobster tails are popular choices for BBQ seafood. Opt for more giant shrimp and scallops to prevent them from overcooking on the grill.
  4. Sustainability Matters: When selecting seafood, consider choosing sustainably sourced options to support healthy ocean ecosystems. Look for labels like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) to ensure your seafood is responsibly sourced.
  5. Local and Seasonal Varieties: Explore local and seasonal seafood varieties for the freshest flavors. Check with your local fishmonger or seafood market to see what’s in season and readily available in your area.
  6. Adventurous Options: Be adventurous with your seafood choices. Try grilling whole fish like branzino or trout for a rustic Mediterranean-inspired dish, or experiment with lesser-known varieties like mackerel or sardines for a unique BBQ experience.

Choosing the right seafood sets the foundation for a delicious and memorable grilling experience. Whether you’re a seafood lover or a novice grill master, selecting the freshest catch ensures your BBQ seafood will be a hit with family and friends.

Preparing the Seafood

Preparing the seafood ensures that your grilled fish and shellfish turn out tender, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. Here’s a detailed guide on how to prepare your seafood for the grill:

  1. Cleaning and Gutting (for Whole Fish): If you’re grilling whole fish, start by cleaning and gutting them. Rinse the fish under cold running water, inside and out, to remove any scales, slime, or residual blood. Make a shallow cut down the fish’s belly with a sharp knife to remove the insides. To remove any last remnants, give the cavity a thorough rinse.
  2. Scaling and Skinning (Optional): You may scale and skin the fish before grilling, depending on your preference. Scaling removes the small, hard scales from the skin, while skinning removes the skin entirely. Remove the scales from the tail to the head using a fish scaler or the back of a knife. To skin the fish, make a shallow cut behind the head and use a firm grip to pull the skin away in one smooth motion.
  3. Patting Dry: Once cleaned, dry the fish or shellfish with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Dry seafood ensures better contact with the grill and promotes a crispy exterior during cooking. Make sure to dry both the inside and outside of the seafood thoroughly.
  4. Marinating or Seasoning: Consider marinating the seafood in your favorite seasonings or a simple blend of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs. Marinades infuse flavor into the seafood and help to tenderize tougher cuts. For a simpler method, you may rub some dry salt and pepper on the fish or season it with those spices.
  5. Skewering (for Shellfish): If grilling shellfish like shrimp or scallops, consider skewering them to prevent them from falling through the grill grates. Thread the shellfish onto metal or soaked wooden skewers, leaving a small space between each piece to ensure even cooking. This also makes it easier to flip the shellfish without losing them to the flames.
  6. Preparation Tips for Delicate Seafood: Delicate seafood like fish fillets or shrimp requires gentle handling to prevent breakage. If grilling fillets, consider leaving the skin on to help hold the fish together during cooking. To devein shrimp, make a small cut along the back of the shrimp and use the point of a knife to remove the black vein.

Properly preparing your seafood for the grill sets the stage for a delicious and satisfying barbecue experience. Take the time to clean, dry, and season your seafood to ensure it cooks evenly and develops mouthwatering flavors. With these preparation tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to grilling seafood like a pro.

Preparing the Grill

Preparing the grill ensures your BBQ seafood cooks evenly and develops those irresistible grill marks and smoky flavors. Here’s a detailed guide on how to prepare your grill for grilling fish and shellfish:

  1. Cleaning the Grill Grates: Clean the grill grates thoroughly to remove any leftover food residue or debris from previous grilling sessions. After scraping away any tough material with a grill brush or scraper, clean the grates with a moist cloth to remove any last particles. Maintaining a clean grill guarantees uniform heating and helps avoid sticking.
  2. Preheating the Grill: For best grilling results, preheat your grill over medium-high heat, usually between 375 and 400°F (190-200°C). This guarantees that the seafood cooks evenly and acquires a gorgeous sear by enabling the grill grates to heat up uniformly. Before adding the fish, close the top and give the grill ten to fifteen minutes to preheat.
  3. Oil the Grill Grates: Before adding the fish, give the grill grates a quick oiling to help prevent sticking. Use a neutral-flavored high-heat cooking oil, like vegetable or grapeseed. Using tongs, coat the grill grates uniformly by rubbing a folded paper towel dipped in oil over them. Be careful not to use too much oil, which can cause flare-ups.
  4. Create Two-Zone Heat: Create two zones of heat on the grill by arranging the charcoal or turning on the burners on only one side of the grill. This allows you to have a hot direct heat zone for searing and a cooler indirect heat zone for gentle cooking. Arrange the seafood accordingly, moving it to the indirect heat zone if it starts to cook too quickly or if flare-ups occur.
  5. Add Flavor with Hardwood Chips or Cedar Planks: Consider using hardwood chips or cedar planks to infuse the seafood with smoky goodness. Soak hardwood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to a gas grill’s charcoal or smoker box. Alternatively, soak cedar planks in water for 1-2 hours before placing the seafood on top and grilling.
  6. Check for Even Heat Distribution: Before adding the seafood, check for even heat distribution across the grill grates. Use an infrared thermometer or hold your hand a few inches above the grates to feel the heat. Adjust the position of the charcoal or adjust the burner knobs as needed to ensure even cooking.

By properly preparing the grill, you create the perfect environment for grilling fish and shellfish to perfection. Clean grates, a preheated grill, and a well-oiled surface ensure that your BBQ seafood cooks evenly and develops those irresistible grill marks and smoky flavors. With these preparation tips in mind, you’ll be ready to fire up the grill and cook a seafood feast that will impress everyone at your next BBQ gathering.

Grilling Techniques

Grilling seafood requires careful attention to timing and technique to achieve perfect results. Here are some key grilling techniques to master:

  1. Direct vs. Indirect Heat:
    • Direct Heat: Place seafood directly over the heat source for a quick sear and charred flavor. Thinner fish and shellfish cuts work best with this technique.
    • Indirect Heat: To cook seafood gently and indirectly, move it to a cooler grill area or switch off the burners underneath. This method suits thicker cuts or delicate seafood that needs longer cooking times.
  2. Grilling Baskets and Grill Trays:
    • Use grilling baskets or grill trays to prevent smaller pieces of seafood from falling through the grates. These tools make it easier to flip delicate items like fish fillets without breaking them.
  3. Grill Lid Positioning:
    • Keep the grill lid closed as much as possible to maintain a consistent temperature and trap the smoky flavor. Only open the lid to flip or check on the seafood.
  4. Oil the Seafood, Not the Grill:
    • Instead of oiling the grill grates, brush the seafood lightly with oil before grilling. This helps prevent sticking and promotes even browning.
  5. Grill Flipping:
    • Use a spatula or tongs to flip the seafood halfway through cooking. Avoid flipping too frequently, as this can disrupt the cooking process and cause the seafood to fall apart.
  6. Grilling Times:
    • The table below provides approximate grilling times for various types of seafood. However, the fish’s thickness and the grill’s heat can affect the cooking duration.

Grilling Times for Seafood:

Seafood Type Thickness Cooking Time (per side)
Salmon fillet 1 inch 4-5 minutes
Tuna steak 1 inch 3-4 minutes
Swordfish steak 1 inch 4-5 minutes
Shrimp (large) Large shrimp 2-3 minutes
Scallops Large scallops 2-3 minutes
Lobster tail 6 oz tail 6-8 minutes
Whole trout 12 oz fish 5-6 minutes
Whole branzino 1 lb. fish 5-6 minutes

Adjust the grilling times as needed based on the seafood’s specific characteristics and desired level of doneness. You can always grill seafood perfectly with practice and attention to these techniques!

Flipping and Finishing

Flipping and finishing are crucial steps in grilling that ensure your seafood is cooked evenly and has perfect texture and flavor. Here’s an expanded guide on flipping and finishing seafood on the grill:

  1. Flipping Techniques:
    • Use a spatula or tongs to flip the seafood halfway through cooking. Forks should not be used as they can puncture the seafood and
    • release its juices. When flipping fish fillets or steaks, slide the spatula underneath the seafood, supporting it with your hand if needed, and gently lift and flip in one smooth motion.
    • Use tongs to carefully turn them over for delicate seafood like shrimp or scallops, ensuring they remain intact and don’t fall apart.
  2. Even Browning:
    • Aim for even browning on both sides of the seafood to achieve optimal flavor and texture. The side of the food initially placed on the grill should develop attractive grill marks and caramelization.
    • If one side is cooking faster than the other, adjust the position of the seafood on the grill or move it to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking evenly.
  3. Avoid Overcooking:
    • Keep a close eye on the seafood as it cooks to prevent overcooking, which can result in a dry, rubbery texture.
    • Fish is typically done when it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque throughout. Shellfish should be firm to the touch and opaque, with no translucent or raw spots remaining.
  4. Testing for Doneness:
    • Check the interior temperature of thicker fish or shellfish slices with a meat thermometer. For safety, fish should reach an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), while shellfish should reach 145°F (63°C).
    • Alternatively, use visual cues to determine doneness. Fish should be opaque and flake readily with a fork, whereas shellfish should be solid and opaque throughout.
  5. Resting Period:
    • Allow the seafood to rest for a few minutes off the grill before serving. This redistributes the juices throughout the seafood, ensuring juiciness and tenderness.
    • Tent the seafood loosely with aluminum foil to keep it warm while resting and to prevent it from cooling too quickly.

By mastering the art of flipping and finishing seafood on the grill, you’ll ensure that each piece is perfectly cooked, with succulent texture and irresistible flavor. With practice and attention to these techniques, you’ll be able to impress your guests with perfectly grilled seafood at your next BBQ gathering.

Serving Suggestions

Grilled seafood is versatile and pairs well with various vibrant side dishes and garnishes. Here are some serving suggestions to elevate your BBQ seafood experience:

  1. Side Dish Pairings:
    • Grilled Vegetables: Serve a colorful array of vegetables such as zucchini, bell peppers, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes for a fresh and nutritious accompaniment to grilled seafood.
    • Citrusy Salads: Toss together a refreshing salad with mixed greens, citrus segments (such as oranges or grapefruits), avocado slices, and a light vinaigrette dressing for a burst of flavor that complements the grilled seafood perfectly.
    • Crusty Bread: Serve a selection of crusty or garlic bread on the side to soak up the delicious juices or sauces from the grilled seafood.
    • Herb-Roasted Potatoes: Make a filling and delightful side dish of herb-roasted potatoes seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and olive oil with grilled fish or shellfish.
  2. Garnishes and Condiments:
    • Fresh Herbs: Garnish grilled seafood with freshly chopped herbs such as parsley, cilantro, dill, or chives for a pop of color and flavor.
    • Lemon Wedges: Serve lemon wedges alongside the grilled seafood for a bright, citrusy burst of acidity that enhances the seafood’s natural flavors.
    • Garlic Butter: Prepare a simple garlic butter sauce to drizzle over grilled seafood, adding richness and depth of flavor.
    • Chili-Lime Sauce: For those who enjoy a kick of heat with their grilled seafood, offer a spicy chili-lime sauce or salsa.

Serving Suggestions Table:

Side Dish Description
Grilled Vegetables Colorful assortment of grilled zucchini, bell peppers, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes.
Citrusy Salad Mixed greens with citrus segments, avocado slices, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
Crusty Bread Selection of crusty bread or garlic bread for soaking up juices from the grilled seafood.
Herb-Roasted Potatoes Roasted potatoes seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and olive oil for a hearty side dish.


Garnish/Condiment Description
Fresh Herbs Chopped parsley, cilantro, dill, or chives garnish grilled seafood.
Lemon Wedges Slices of fresh lemon squeezed over the grilled seafood before serving.
Garlic Butter Rich and flavorful garlic butter sauce for drizzling over grilled seafood.
Chili-Lime Sauce Spicy chili-lime sauce or salsa for adding heat and acidity to grilled seafood.

By pairing grilled seafood with vibrant side dishes and flavorful garnishes, you’ll create a memorable dining experience that highlights the seafood’s natural flavors while adding depth and variety to the meal. Try various combinations to find your best ones, then savor the delectable produce of the sea at your next cookout.


Fish and shellfish grilling is a delightful culinary endeavor that enhances the inherent flavors of the ocean. With the proper techniques and a little practice, you can master the art of BBQ seafood and impress your friends and family at your next cookout. So fire up the grill, grab your favorite catch, and get ready to savor the flavors of summer with this comprehensive guide to grilling fish and shellfish. Happy grilling!

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