Fish with a mild taste, such as tilapia, is widely available and can be used for many different menu items. The thinness of tilapia fillets makes grilling them a challenge. When the flesh sticks to a grill’s grate, it is nearly impossible to remove it without tearing apart the flaky flesh. Grilling tilapia requires high heat and a barrier that prevents the delicate fillets from cooking onto the grill. Along with tilapia, we have created a guide that will help you choose the best fish for grilling.
Oil and Clean the Grill
Remove soot and dried bits of food from the grill grate with a grill brush. A clean, smooth grill grate is less likely to attract fish. Before or during the preheating process, brush the grill. After the grill has started heating, it is often easier to scrub old food off the bars if there is any stuck to the grate. Clean the grate thoroughly: It should be smooth. Use a clean towel, folded paper towel or heat-proof basting brush to apply cooking oil to the brushed grate. The oil acts as a barrier, preventing the tilapia from sticking.
Thoroughly Preheat the Grill
If the grill is sufficiently hot when you put the tilapia on it, the narrow bars will sear the flesh, creating those coveted grill marks. Fish that has been seared does not stick to its cooking surface. Set the grill to medium-hot, then let it heat at the target temperature for an additional 10 minutes to ensure it’s ready for the tilapia fillets.
Prepare the Fish
You should use the thickest pieces of tilapia you can find. Thaw frozen tilapia, and pat thawed and fresh fillets dry with paper towels. Season the fillets to taste. Put a light coating of cooking oil on both sides of the tilapia fillets. Wrap them in plastic wrap and let them warm to room temperature. Fish that is cold does not sear as well as fish that is room temperature. Tilapia fillets are relatively thin, so thawed pieces should reach room temperature within 15 to 20 minutes.
Grill the tilapia until the edges of the fillets are white and opaque. With a long, thin metal spatula, carefully slide the fillet between the grill grate and the fillet. Flip the fish carefully to prevent it from falling apart. If possible, do not flip the fish more than once. Grilling the tilapia takes only three to five minutes per side. Using a meat thermometer, cook the fish until its internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You should remove it from the grill immediately to prevent overcooking and unnecessary moisture loss, which could also cause sticking.
Barrier Alternative: Pouches
While brushing cooking oil on the grill can help keep the fish from sticking, there are other surefire ways to prevent it. Prepare aluminum foil or parchment paper pouches for each tilapia fillet, then grill the fish in the pouches. If desired, you can include thinly sliced vegetables in each pouch. In this way, the fish is effectively steamed in its own juices. It is still possible to achieve subtle grill marks on the tilapia depending on how hot your grill is.
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Barrier Alternative: Grilling Basket
You can also use a grilling basket, which is a hinged, flat metal tool with long handles that can be used for grilling fish and vegetables, as well as meats like hamburgers and chicken breasts. Tilapia can still achieve grill marks on a grilling basket since it has an open grid, similar to a grill grate. If you grill the fillets in pouches or a basket, you do not have to oil the grate or tilapia unless you want to.