Backyard barbecue season is behind us, but if you’re still firing up the grill, you might be wondering about the best fish to cook. We’ve done a bit of a deep dive with the help of steak and seafood master Akira Back to help you hook the absolute best choices. I would never turn down a grilled burger, marinated chicken thigh or rack of ribs, so don’t expect me to, but if you really want to send my heart aflutter, it’s grilled fish that does it. Most fish and can be grilled in some capacity but certain varieties certainly fare a bit better than others. So then we ask: Redfish? Bluefish? Which fish is the very best fish to grill right now?
We turned to an expert, Michelin-starred executive chef and restaurateur Akira Back, for some guidance on grilling fish. Akira, who was born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in the US now operates 16 restaurants around the world including the ultra seafood-focused Yellowtail inside the Bellagio, Las Vegas.
We’ll get to Akira’s picks for the best fish to grill in a minute, but first some helpful tips and techniques. Akira suggests grilling your fresh fillet skin-side down — if indeed your fish has skin — and cooking it until the skin appears crispy. Next, flip it once more on the grates to finish cooking the fish through or to your desired doneness. To get rid of any overly fishy smell or taste, Akira advises briefly soaking the fish in cold, salt-vinegar water with lots of ice before grilling. Dry it off well before putting it over the hot flames.
For seasoning grilled fish, a citrus marinade, blackened seasoning or simple salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon is generally plenty for a nice, fresh fillet. If you want to add some firepower, Akira loves marinating his fish in a spicy Korean bulgogi sauce before grilling and was kind enough to give us his recipe.
The best fish to grill
When selecting the best fish to grill, Back stresses looking for a firm and meaty fish, first and foremost. Some of his favorites include tuna, salmon, snapper, sardines and yellowtail amberjack since they all have skin that will crisp up while the meat stays moist and tender. Finding good grilling fish can be tricky especially if you’re landlocked, but we previously vetted a few of the best places to order seafood online to help bring some fresh catch to you.
To get your seafood on point, here are a few of chef Akira Back’s top picks for the absolute best fish to grill.
You know it. You love it. Tuna comes in many forms but a fresh fillet of fatty tuna is one of the best fish to grill. Tuna has tons of rich flavor, so a squeeze of lemon, dollop of wasabi or sprinkling of salt and pepper are all it really needs to sing. The worst tuna crime you can commit, however, is overcooking it, so do be careful. No more than 2 minutes each side depending on the thickness.
Salmon, while not quite as meaty as swordfish and tuna, does just fine on the grill. Some still prefer to wrap salmon fillets in foil or grill the fillets over cedar planks just to be safe. Grilling salmon really brings out the sweet taste and salmon takes well to a number of flavor companions including peanut sauce, lemon pepper, paprika rub or chile and lime. Arctic char is another fish in the same family that cooks and eats much like regular salmon. It’ll also work wonderfully on the grill.
Read more on Chowhound: Chef Akira Beck’s favorite marinade for grilled fish
Swordfish is as meaty as it gets and has a mild, clean yet buttery flavor. Blackened grilled swordfish served with citrus tartar sauce is true bliss. Swordfish also takes well to an herb marinade, or you can slice grilled swordfish and serve it in tacos with avocado and crema. Swordfish can be expensive, so look for it to go on sale at your local fish market or one of these great online seafood purveyors.
You might know this fish best from its award-winning role on sushi menus, but it also makes for great fish to grill straight up. It’ll likely be harder to find in fish markets than some of the others on the list, but if you do nab some it’ll hold form nicely on the grill with a texture similar to mahi mahi and flavor akin to tuna, but milder.
This meaty white fish makes a particularly good fish for grilling especially when cooked whole. It may sound daunting, but you can stuff the cavity with lemon wheels and cook it on the grill over low heat. The skin will do a great job of keeping the fish meat from drying out.
These salty little fish aren’t just for pizza. The best part is you barely need to prep them. Just wash your sardines and pat dry to be grilled skin-side down over the grill flames. Then serve with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for a perfect (and healthy) snack or main dish.
This plump white fish is probably the flakiest of the lot but still has plenty of meatiness to handle the scorching grill grates. Mahi mahi pairs well with lemon butter and capers, fresh herbs or done as fish tacos with diced pineapple, mango, fresh lime and some Mexican spice. You might also consider a marinade for this fish, too, and make sure to get those sexy char marks for bonus points and likes on Instagram.
Mako (shark) also makes a fine candidate for your next grilled seafood feast. Though it’s not as easy to find as some of the others on the list, many good fish markets do carry mako and it can also be ordered online. Mako has a sweet taste and firm meaty texture similar to swordfish that’ll handle a Cajun crust especially well (my personal favorite preparation). You can always do it up simply with salt and pepper and some fresh citrus or a tangy fruit salsa.