Expert Grilling Techniques: How to Maximize the Flavor of Your Fish

Grilling Techniques

Thanks to your natural prowess (or at the very least, a summer of trial and error), you have just about mastered the art of the backyard barbecue. But you’re not one to just grill and chill. If you want to win over dinner guests or earn the admiration of hungry family members, give these three expert techniques a try—each will infuse major flavor into your grilled fish.

Rock the Plank

cooking fish on a cedar plank technique

Cooking fish on a cedar plank is an age-old technique that brings images of misty West Coast mountains and towering redwoods to mind. Fortunately, you can capture that same feeling in your own backyard with just a few essential ingredients. When soaked planks are thrown on the grill, the combination of steam and smoke will gently cook the fish and infuse complex flavor at the same time—and because your fish never touches the grate, it will come out moist and tender. This technique is especially great for delicate fish, like Tilapia, that can be enhanced by the earthy, smoky flavor.

What to do: Choose an untreated piece of cedar that’s about half an inch thick and short enough to fit on your barbecue grate. Though there are different types of wood planks available—you can find them at your local grocery store, barbecue accessory shop or lumber yard—when grilling fish, you’ll probably want to stick with cedar because it’s milder than other woods (oak and hickory, for example, are more appropriate to use when cooking heartier meats).

Before you cook your fish, soak your plank in water for at least 30 minutes. Next, preheat the plank on the barbecue while you season and/or marinate your fish (if desired) and then place fillets on the plank skin side down. You can also arrange slices of lemon, lime, onion or oranges on the plank and then place the fish on top to cook. Expect fish and other seafood to take twice as long as it normally would to cook.

The Big Smoke

smoking fish with wood chips technique

Another way to enhance your fish with smoky flavors is to put wood chips on the barbecue. Like planks, there are many different types of chips to choose from (maple, hickory, cherry wood), each with their own unique flavor profile. To avoid overpowering the fish, we recommend you choose a light flavor like alder or applewood.

What to do: If you’re cooking on a charcoal grill, soak chips for 30 minutes and then place them directly over the coals. For gas or electric barbecues, soak the chips for 30 minutes, put them in a smoker box (or a foil package with holes in it) and then place it on the grill. Add your fish once the grate is hot and cook over indirect heat.

Kebab Squad

grilling fish on kebab technique

Cooking seafood on skewers is one of the most versatile grilling methods—and because mild fish, like Tilapia, pairs well with many different herbs and spices, the sky’s the limit! Feel free to experiment with new combinations of veggies, garnishes, spices and marinades.

What to do: First, purchase metal or bamboo skewers at your local grocery or kitchen supply store. Next, chop your fish into one-inch cubes and then slide the pieces of fish onto the skewer, alternating with vegetables, fruit and other garnishes. (Pro tip: to ensure even cooking, be sure not to pack the ingredients too tightly.) Next, marinate or dress the skewers to your tastes. Finally, cook your kebabs on the barbecue, remembering to place them at an angle to prevent them from slipping through the barbecue grate.

Challenge Yourself for Mouth-Watering Results

Fish is a great addition to a healthy diet. Not only is it high in protein and low in fat, but it’s also incredibly versatile. In other words: there are countless ways to approach your next seafood meal. By experimenting with different grilling techniques, you can create fresh and flavorful meals—and your backyard barbecue will get a great workout!

Looking for more ways to flavor your Tilapia? Try these five regionally-inspired BBQ rubs or these easy spice rubs.

Photo Credits: Regal Springs, Joshua Resnick / Shutterstock Inc., ronstik / Shutterstock Inc., Jack Jelly / Shutterstock Inc.