Every holiday has its signature dish. Thanksgiving has turkey. Christmas has ham. St. Patrick’s Day has corned beef hash. Fourth of July has burgers and dogs hot off the grill. But maybe it’s time to break the rules. Summer is the perfect time to serve up some fresh seafood while keeping the Independence Day grilling tradition alive.
The rules, of course, for grilling seafood are a bit different than red meat dishes. You’ll want to make sure your grill is extra clean and well-oiled because the delicate flesh of seafood—especially fish—tends to stick more quickly than meats that contain a higher fat content.
For flakier seafood like whitefish, a plank or aluminum foil cooking packet is required to keep the moisture in throughout the cooking process. However, if you want the full grilling experience, sear marks and all, you’ll want to choose seafood that can stand up to the high heat while maintaining their juicy flavors.
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High in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is an oily fish that can be grilled skin on or off and still lock in the rich flavors it’s famous for. However, it does tend to hold up a bit better with the skin on. Your filet should be at least one-inch thick and kept cold before hitting the grill. An indirect heat is going to give you the best sear without overcooking, so keep your burners on medium or pile charcoal to one side of the grill. If you do opt to keep the skin on, make sure to grill with the skin side up, so you get those nice grill marks in your plated presentation.
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Delicious when served rare to medium rare, tuna is the perfect candidate for the high heat of the grill. Because it’s a lean fish, you will want to brush on some oil or use a light marinade to keep the filet moist. Once the tuna is prepped, you can either cook it through on a high heat or crank the grill up even higher and go for a quick sear. It’s important to note, some gas grills lack the heat intensity to properly sear the tuna. So you may want to plan on using a charcoal grill or a cast iron skillet to concentrate the heat. Though, with the latter, you do lose those coveted sear marks. Once it’s cooked to that perfect rare to medium rare temp, plate it up and serve—there’s no need to let tuna rest.
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When making your oyster selection, keep in mind, larger ones will keep their moisture better on the high heat of the grill. The key to prep has little to do with the oysters and everything to do with the grill. Make sure to leave ample time for preheating. If your grill isn’t hot enough, the oyster shells won’t open on their own. Though, if you are open to the additional work, you can pop the top shell off before grilling. Shell off or on, when your grill is hot enough, place the oysters cup-side down. Once the oyster flesh is opaque, quickly remove them from the grill and serve. It doesn’t take much over-cooking to dry them out.
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These delicate, but firm, bivalves are made for grilling. As with many of the other dishes on this list, the bigger the better for scallops. Go with jumbo to avoid the rubbery pitfalls of overcooking. Before placing them on a well-oiled grill grate, make sure your scallops are as cold (without being frozen) and dry (dab with a paper towel) as possible. Skip the marinade with this dish. The flavor of scallops is too delicate to hold up to heavy marinades. Salt and pepper them before grilling and add a light glaze just before removing from the heat and plating.
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A classic and crowd-favorite, shrimp is the ideal seafood for grilling and it’s more affordable than some of the others on this list. Start with fresh—you guessed it—jumbo or colossal shrimp. They’ll stay succulent on the grill and be easier to skewer without splitting. Season with your favorite marinade or just a brush of olive oil and some salt and pepper before placing them on a preheated grill. Unlike many other seafood options, shrimp should be grilled over direct heat for just a few minutes on each side.
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Whole or tail, there’s something especially delicious about grilled lobster. The high and dry heat of the grill marries the flavors of the shell with the delicate lobster meat, adding sweet complexity to each bite. Prep your lobster by splitting open the shell and basting the meat with butter. To get the desired sear on the flesh, place shell side up over direct heat. If you’re cooking a whole lobster, move the tail off the direct heat the minute the meat is firm and white. Leave the claws cooking at the highest temps for another minute or two before plating your feast with butter and lemons.
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Another shellfish that’s tough enough to stand up to the heat—with a flavor delicate enough to complement the smoky char of a grill—is the delectable crab. If you’re a crab purest, you may opt to serve your dish with a squeeze of lemon and some butter, but if you’re a bit more adventurous, go ahead and experiment with a marinade. To ensure the crabs soak in the flavor, crack the shells slightly before placing them in the marinade overnight. Whether you’re using Alaskan king, blue or Dungeness, cook for about three minutes per side over direct, medium-high heat. When the shell begins to brown, you’re ready to serve.
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A voracious predator in the sea, the strength of the bluefish plays well on the grill. Firm and fatty, this fish brings a rich flavor that can stand on its own or complement more powerful profiles like chiles or ginger. You’ll want the grill hot and your fish cold, so keep the steaks in the fridge until the moment they hit the grill. Bluefish is also notoriously finicky when it comes to freshness, so plan to prepare it the day of purchase or shortly after. While the pros often recommend coating more delicate fish in olive oil before grilling, many chefs suggest using a layer of mustard or mayo with bluefish to keep it extra moist.
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This often underappreciated fish is a delicious option for grilling—plus grilled catfish is much healthier than the traditional fried catfish. It can be grilled whole, but because catfish skin is tough and difficult to remove, it might be best to stick with a filet. To prep your catfish for grilling, simply sprinkle the seasoning onto the catfish and then brush or spray on some oil to seal in the flavor and to keep the filet from sticking to the grill. To get even more of the barbecue experience, try using wood chips to infuse a smoky flavor that perfectly complements the mild flavors of the catfish.
Header Image via Neeta Lind