Here’s How to Easily Keep Fish from Sticking to the Grill

updated Jun 13, 2019
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Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

We’ve all been there — excited to finally be cooking outside, eager to serve fresh fish to friends, only to end up sweating over the grill grates trying to keep the delicate fillets from falling apart. All too often, the one thing that many of us look forward to grilling most ends up proving to be the most frustrating.

The first time my fish stuck to the grill, I was so discouraged that I swore off grilling fish fillets altogether. I didn’t want to risk serving torn-apart fish, and the amount of time it took to scrub my grill grates clean deterred me from ever giving it another go. I figured I could be happy with my grilled veggies and shrimp kebabs.

But then I did some research (and gained more confidence in my grilling skills), and learned a few very smart tricks for keeping fish from sticking. First, you’ll want to choose the right type of fish to begin with — firm and meaty swordfish, for example, is a much better choice than delicate tilapia. Then, you have a few options. You can brush both sides of the fillets (or whole fish) with mayo, which adheres well to the fish and provides a protective layer that keeps it from sticking. You can grill it on a cedar plank. Or, you can simply buy skin-on fillets and cook them skin-side down on the grill (without flipping), so that the skinless side (which is more likely to stick) never makes contact with the grates.

Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

My favorite trick, however, is to use thinly sliced citrus as a barrier between the fish and the grill. Not only does this keep the fish from sticking, but it also infuses the fillets with flavor.

You’ll prepare your grill as usual: Clean it, oil it, heat it to medium-high. Meanwhile, you’ll oil and season the fish and thinly slice some citrus — limes, lemons, or oranges are all great, depending on what flavor you’re going for (you’ll need about three to four slices per fillet of fish, depending on its size). Then, you’ll carefully place the citrus directly onto the hot grill grates (overlapping slightly), and place the fish on top. Cover the grill and cook until the fish is opaque and flakes easily — no need to flip. This technique also works in a grill pan on the stovetop.

There are endless ways to boost the flavor even more. You can place some fresh herbs between the fish and the citrus, top the fish with an herbed butter, or marinate the fish before it hits the grill. When the fish is done, you can use the grilled citrus as a topping, which will add a sweet, concentrated citrus flavor. Delish.