It’s the grande finale of backyard BBQ season and if your goal is lighter fare, you might be wondering about the best fish to grill this Labor Day Weekend. We’ve done a bit of a deep dive (pun!) with the help of steak and seafood master Akira Back to help you hook the absolute best fish to grill.
I would never turn down a grilled burger, marinated chicken thigh, or rack of ribs during these dog days, so don’t expect me to. But if you really want to send my sweatin’ summer heart aflutter, it’s grilled fish that does it. Most fish and seafood can be grilled in some capacity but certain varieties fare a bit better than others. So then we ask: Redfish? Bluefish? Which fish is the very best fish to throw on a hot grill this summer?
Akira Back, for some guidance on grilling fish. Akira was born in Seoul, South Korea but raised here in the States and now operates 16 restaurants globally including the very seafood-focused We turned to an expert, Michelin-starred executive chef and restaurateur Yellowtail inside the Bellagio, Las Vegas.
We’ll get to Akira’s picks for best fish to grill in a minute, but first some helpful tips and techniques. Akira suggests grilling your fresh fish 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, then drying it off well before putting it over hot flames.
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For seasoning grilled fish, a citrus marinade, blackened seasoning, or simple dusting of salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon is generally plenty for a fresh fillet. If you want to add some firepower, Akira loves marinating his fish in this easy homemade Korean bulgogi sauce before grilling.
The Best Fish to Grill
When selecting a fish to grill, Back stresses looking for a meatier fish first and foremost. Some of his personal 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 keep your seafood summer in full swing, here are a few of chef Akira Back’s top picks for the best fish to grill this summer.
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 work. The worst crime you can commit, however, is overcooking it so do be careful. Just a minute or two on each side, depending on the thickness.
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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 and will work out wonderfully on the grill.
Wildwood Grilling Ceder Planks, $9.99 at Macy's
For imparting some extra woody flavor on your grilled salmon.
Swordfish is as meaty as it gets and has a mild, clean, and buttery flavor. Blackened grilled swordfish served with citrus tartar sauce is true summer bliss, in my opinion. Swordfish also takes well to a herb marinade or slice the 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 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 shape 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 done whole. It may sound daunting, but you can stuff the cavity with lemon slices and cook it on the grill over low heat and 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 at all. 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) summer snack or main course.
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, and make sure to get those sexy char marks for bonus points and likes on Instagram.
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Mako (shark) also makes a fine candidate for your next grilled dinner. 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 favorite preparation). But you can always do it up simply with salt and pepper and some fresh citrus or fruit salsa.
Everything Else You Need to Know
Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Lingxiao Xie .