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Fish on the Barbie

Turn off the oven and enjoy the taste of outdoor grilling

JUNE 2022

by Joel Gilbert, Contributing Columnist

We all know the benefits of cooking outdoors in the summer. It makes a fun social event, plus food cooked over an open fire is tasty and keeps heat out of the kitchen.

Grilled tuna

This year, skip the steaks, burgers or chicken and try tackling fish. Few people consider doing fish because it seems so intimidating. Won’t the fish fall apart and end up on the coals? Not necessarily. Let’s take a closer look.

First, rule out some fish that do poorly on an outdoor grill. Unless you use a pan on the grill, filets of flounder and tilapia simply fall apart and catfish requires a gentler heat than most grills can achieve, becoming like leather. Some fish like halibut and Chilean sea bass also break apart, so we suggest only the most experienced grillers attempt them.


Tuna is the best choice for first-time grillers. You can treat it just like a steak. In fact, if your doctor has told you to eat less red meat, tuna is your best choice. Properly prepared, tuna looks and tastes a lot like a tender steak. Other fish that do well are mahi-mahi, shark and the larger saltwater species like king mackerel.

Marinate it the same way you would any other piece of meat and be sure to coat it with olive oil before you put it on the grill. Carefully wipe the grilling surface with an olive-oil-soaked rag before you fire it up and again just before placing any fish on the grill. Be careful that oil does not drip on the coals, or it will flare up and could burn you. Grill until the amount of rare center section is to your liking. Don’t cook tuna all the way through unless you really like it that way.

Next on the list would be salmon. Get it with the skin on and cook it that way, starting on the flesh side first to get some nice grill marks. Then turn it over and cook it for a while on the skin side. The skin will likely separate easily, and you can cook it some more to leave grill marks on the skin side.


A marinade of garlic and equal parts melted butter and olive oil works well on all these fish choices. Place the fish in a plastic bag an hour ahead of cooking it. Once again, be careful when you put this on the oiled grill because extra marinade will drip onto the coals and flare up.

To leave the prettiest grill marks, coat the fish again with olive oil to be sure it will not stick as you turn it 90 degrees to get the second set of cross-hatched grill marks. If you prefer your salmon fully cooked, kill the heat on the grill in this last step and let it finish cooking on low. The exact amount of time depends upon the grill temperature. On the other hand, if you like a nice bark on the outside but a raw center, get the grill running as hot as you can … over 500 degrees is fine.

Once you feel you have mastered salmon, try Chilean sea bass. It is a white, flaky, fish that does not need marinade. Unlike salmon and tuna, it must be cooked all the way through and, as it does, it releases a lot of oil, which tends to make the flames flare up if you have the lid open.

Finally, using skewers, you can cook scallops the same way you would cook shrimp. Marinate the scallops using the same methods. Scallops are tricky to get right because they must be fully cooked, so stop cooking once you are sure they are done. If you overcook them, they get rubbery. The best way to check them is by eating, so plan to cook more than you hope to serve to others. Let’s get outside, stay cool and put some fish on the barbie.

Joel Gilbert is president and chief software architect at Apogee Interactive, the software firm that provides online energy calculators and energy-saving tips for cooperatives throughout the mid-Atlantic.