grilled halibut

How to Grill Lean Fish

Grill lean fish just as easily as fatty fish with a little oil and know how. Check out these tips from Chef Chris Koetke for a perfectly seared lean fish.

This post was written for SABER Infrared Grills by Chef Chris Koetke of Let’s Dish.

When I was studying in French kitchens, it was drilled into my head that fatty fish are meant for the grill while leaner fish (halibut, bass, cod, red snapper, etc.) were better for sautéing or poaching.  The rationale behind this makes sense.

Fatty fish (swordfish, salmon, mackerel and blue fish) are assertively flavored and stand up to intense smoky flavors.  The fat in the flesh also prevents the fish from sticking to the grill or drying out as it cooks over the grill’s intense heat.

While this reasoning makes sense, it is not in sync with today’s dining preferences.  The fact is that many of us like leaner fleshed fish not only sautéed or poached, but grilled too.  We have come to love the assertive flavor profiles that grilling produces.  At the same time, because lean fish do not have high fat levels, they pose some grilling challenges.  For best results, follow these steps:

dry halibut fillets

1. Dry the fish thoroughly before grilling. If the fish is wet, chances are pretty good that it will stick to the grill grates.

2. Prep the grill. Clean the grates perfectly with a stiff brush. Even a small amount of particulate stuck to the grates can contribute mightily to sticking.  Once the grates are cleaned, rub them with a lightly damped, folded paper towel to remove the little bits of burned particles that the grill brush removed.  (Try SABER’s  Cool Touch Grill Brush – you’ll never use a wire brush again!)

3. Heat is your best friend when you want to grill lean fish.  So, heat your grill to maximum intensity before putting the fish on it.  This is where the SABER grill really shows its stuff as it gets really hot—just like the commercial grills we use in restaurants.


4. Rub a generous coating of oil on both sides of the fish and season them with salt and pepper, or your favorite fish seasoning. *Tip* Don’t skimp on the oil as it will insure that the fish doesn’t stick.  (In essence, the oil is replacing the fat that would inherently be in fattier fish.)

5. Immediately before placing the fish on the grill, quickly rub a folded paper towel that has been dipped in oil over the grill grates. This is a restaurant trick to help prevent lean fish from sticking to the grill.

grill halibut


Be very careful not to overcook the fish. Because lean fish lack fat, they tend to dry out quickly. So, keep the center of the fish slightly on the medium rare/medium side. Once the fish is off the grill, the carryover cooking will then perfectly cook the center of the fish. Remember, even a slightly overcooked lean fish will have a noticeably cotton-like texture.

To get the good grill marks on the fish without overcooking it requires really high heat.  This is one of the reasons why I love cooking on my SABER® grill.  Perfectly grilled lean fish is by definition moist on the inside with beautiful and tasty grill marks on the outside.

Winter Grilling

I live in Chicago where we have cold and snowy winters.  I am also a grilling fanatic.  So, winter cannot deter me from outdoor cooking.  There is a certain satisfaction that comes from bundling up to go outside, brush the snow off the grill, and then proceed to make dinner.

At the same time, winter grilling is strategically different from summer grilling.  The most obvious difference is that your equipment has to contend with cold outside temperatures that can prevent the grill from reaching peak heat.  For many grills, this poses a serious problem.  Not for SABER – its level of heat output can stand up to freezing temperatures and still produce enough heat to do some serious grilling.

There are three items to keep in mind when winter grilling.  The first is that you have to allow a bit more time for the grill to preheat.   Secondly, you will probably notice that the heat settings on the grill may be slightly higher than what you use during the summer.  Lastly and most importantly, keep the grill lid closed as much as possible.  One of the best features of a SABER grill is that you don’t have to close the lid to cook. This holds true even in cold temperatures. To minimize your time outside in freezing weather, it’s okay to close your SABER lid. Know that closing it will decrease the cooking time though, so don’t stray far!

Perhaps the best part of winter grilling is the immediate respect it garners from your neighbors.  Nature versus perfectly grilled food–you and your SABER win.

grilled halibut

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