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Want to Grill Fish This Weekend? Here's What Experts Recommend

Skip the burgers and hotdogs this weekend. Here's the best fish to grill instead.

three grilled sardines with potatoes on plate
Grilling fish can be easier and faster than making burgers or chicken.
Lingxiao Xie/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

While holiday weekends often mean a good burger, steak or barbecued chicken, there's really nothing like grilled fish on a warm evening. Plus, fish is typically healthier than most other classic grill meats, and it also cooks faster, hopefully giving you more time to actually enjoy your guests and the meal. Grilling seafood is an excellent way to mix up your summer menu, but some fish are much better to grill than others.

So with all this upside to grilling fish, we must ask: Redfish? Bluefish? Snapper or tunafish? Which are the very best fish to grill? We turned to an expert for some help in selecting the best seafood to top your grill grates this season. Chef Akira Back owns several seafood-centric restaurants including Yellowtail in Las Vegas and is certainly no stranger to grilling fish and other seafood. He gave us the skinny on which fish to grill along with helpful tips for nailing your summer seafood spread.

Read more: Best Seafood Delivery Services for 2022

How to grill fish: Some tips

Back suggests grilling your fresh fillet skin-side down (if 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. 

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To get rid of any overly fishy smell or taste, Back 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 marinadeblackened 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, Back loves marinating his fish in a spicy Korean bulgogi sauce before grilling.

As far as tools for grilling a fish you'll need, well, a grill. Less obvious gear includes these handy grill mats that make grilling and cleanup easier, especially when working with flakier fish such as salmon. I also love using a basket like this $14 grill basket from BBQ Guys which will allow the flames to kiss the fish's skin and flesh without the risk of losing it through the grates.

Man Crates makes a fish-grilling kit, complete with a grilling basket to secure your fish, a 7-inch filet knife, and cedar and alder grilling planks to impart some extra flavor, plus a spice mix and lemon-based marinade.

The best fish to grill

When selecting the best fish to grill, Back stresses 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 Back's top picks for the best fish to grill. 

Tuna

sliced tuna over cucumber salad

A fresh fillet of fatty tuna is one of the best fish to grill.

Chowhound

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 two minutes on each side and cooking time will vary given the thickness of your filet.

Salmon

two salmon filets on grill

Salmon is healthy and versatile, making it a popular option. 

Chowhound

Salmon, while not quite as meaty as swordfish and tuna, does very well 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 one in the same fish family that cooks and eats much like regular salmon. It'll also work wonderfully on the grill. 

Swordfish

swordfish steaks with mango salsa

Swordfish is a great option for people who like meatier fish. 

Chowhound

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.

Yellowtail amberjack

yellowtail filet on a white plate

Yellowtail isn't just great for sushi. It's tasty on its own, too. 

Getty Images

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. 

Red snapper

red snapper with seasoning and lime slices

Red snapper is one of the best fish for grilling. 

Chowhound

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 (I'd suggest a grilling basket if it's your first time). The skin will do a great job of keeping the fish meat from drying out. 

Sardines

These salty little fish aren't for everyone but they do quite nicely when cooked on the grill. 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.

Mahi-mahi

mahi mahi fish tacos on a plate

Mahi-mahi is delicious by itself or dressed up with all the fixings on a taco. 

Chowhound

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 up 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

mako fish on ice

Mako is not the easiest fish to find, but it's meaty and delicious when you are able to find it. 

Fulton Fish Market

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 (one of my personal favorite preparations). You can always do it up simply with salt and pepper and some fresh citrus or fruit salsa.

More for hungry readers

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.