The Key To Perfectly Grilled Fish Is In The Prep Work

Anyone who's hacked away at dislodging a disintegrating fish from the grill could use some encouraging words, and thankfully, we have them from an expert. Tasting Table spoke to chef, author, and podcaster Rick Martinez and asked him about this potentially sticky topic, wondering if there's a foolproof method for grilling fish. "Clean and season your grill," Martinez advised, "or get a fish basket."

Martinez knows what he's talking about: A New York Times bestselling author and James Beard Award winner, his intimate dishes from across Mexico depend heavily on both grilling and fish. Check out the Pescado a la Talla recipe from his new book, "Mi Cocina"  — whole red snappers covered in a paste made with guajillos and árbol chilies, onion, garlic, orange zest, and herbs — for definitive proof. The smoky tenderness of the fish combined with the herbal, fruity kick of the paste will pretty much define summer cooking for the rest of your life. Before you fire up the grill, first a primer on keeping it clean and seasoned. After all, great cooking is all about the prep work.

How to clean and season your grill

It's easy to assume that the extremely high temperatures involved in grilling might carbonize any leftover food particles, but every grill needs regular cleaning — especially if you're using charcoal instead of gas. There are many safe grill-cleaning options (including pumice stones, coil-shaped, bristle-free brushes, crumpled aluminum foil, or even half a lemon) but for goodness' sake never use a wire brush: The bristles can and do break off and embed themselves in your food. 

Before using your grill for the first time as well as after each use, be sure to season your grill. This is best done before turning on the gas or lighting the coals by rubbing a folded paper towel coated with high-heat cooking oil onto the grates. Be sure to wipe off any excess oil before heating the grill for about 20 minutes. Once you're done cooking and the grill has cooled, repeat this process of cleaning and seasoning. 

As Rick Martinez says, if this sounds like too much work, get a fish basket. By simply enclosing the fish before being put on the grill, they're super easy to use and obviate any flipping or sticking issues. No matter which fish grilling method you use, take it from us — it's always a good idea to leave the skin on.