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Chefs Explain the Differences Between Grilling Fish and Meat

Photo: LauriPatterson, Getty Images.

Grilling during the summer is as American as apple pie, baseball, and saving money by switching to a different car insurance provider. Most people know how to throw a steak on a grill, have the patience not to keep flipping it over, and cook it to a decent, edible state. These same grill masters have no trouble cooking marinated chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs. But what if you tried to use those same techniques to grill wood-planked salmon or swordfish steak? You might end up with overcooked, dry fish that isn’t worth serving to friends and family. Lucky for you, we are here to help.

Two New York chefs were gracious enough to explain the intricacies and differences of grilling meat and fish. Chef Jon Feshan from Kola House is here to up your grilled meat game and chef Mike D’Armi, executive chef at Avra Madison will end your days of dried out, inedible grilled fish.

Grilled Meat

Photo: Lauri Patterson, Getty Images.

Crave: What are the most common cuts of meat that are grilled? Any tips you’ve learned over the years?

Jon Feshan: The most common cuts of meat that are grilled are strip steak, skirt steak, and rib-eye. Tips I’ve learned over the years is to always check the marble in the meat. People don’t know that the marble in the meat actually shows what the cattle has been eating, what their diet has been. The more white you see, the worse the diet of the cattle has been, which means you shouldn’t grill it.

Also: New Ways to Grill Brats and Burgers

What’s the best meat for grilling? What’s your favorite?

The best meat for grilling is rib-eye. My favorite meat to grill is bone-in rib-eye because it comes from the best cut of the spine and the bone, where all the flavor, fat, and juice is most concentrated – adding flavor to the piece of meat.

Why does it seem like my meat shrinks when I grill it?

As burgers cook, the protein in the meat contracts, forcing out moisture. If the meat has more than 10 – 15 percent of fat, it automatically melts, like a candle.

How do I keep it juicy?

To maintain juiciness, handle burgers as little as possible during grilling. Every turn or prod forces out more juice, which is why you should never press a cooking burger with the back of a spatula in an attempt to speed up the grilling time. The temperature of the grill should be on medium-high, cleaned and oiled and grilled 70 percent on one side and finished to your liking on the alternate side.

What advice do you have for grilling novices?

When choosing your meat for grilling, avoid cuts that are extremely thick. Choose well-marbled pieces and trim off any extra fat to avoid flare-ups. Let the flavors mingle. Form a good patty by shaping each patty loosely by rotating it in your hands, using a light touch. Make sure the grill is the appropriate temperature, medium-low to medium heat is best. If it is too hot, the burgers will burn on the outside before getting done on the inside. Lastly, apply any sauce only in the final minutes of cooking, as the sugars in the sauce tend to burn and darken. Besides these rules, there is almost no meat that can’t be grilled to smoky perfection. From rib-eye to skirt steak or Kola House’s signature burger with jalapeños, the most important thing to keep in mind is how each type of meat benefits from different levels of heat.

What are some other tips to remember?

The preparation is crucial but often skimped out on. Check the marbling. If you don’t have Wagyu beef, which has a very high fat percentage, around 20 to 25 percent, use a ground beef with an 80/20 meat-to-fat ratio for the juiciest burger. Looking at the ratio is imperative because if you cook the burger above rare or medium rare, you’re going to melt all the fat that the butcher puts in. Also, never forget to clean your grills right after every use. Seems like a no-brainer but many people forget.

Grilling Fish

Photo: grandriver, Getty Images.

Crave: What are different types of fish that are great for grilling?

Mike D’Armi: I’m biased,but all the fish we serve at Avra Madison is perfect for grilling! For those at-home chefs, red snapper, wild stripe bass, salmon, branzino, sardines, scallops, and shrimp are all great fish options to grill.

What’s the best fish for grilling?

I’d say the best fish to grill, and my favorite, is lithrini, which is at Avra Madison. The best fish to purchase at your local market and then grill would be red snapper! Most people love Chilean sea bass, but be careful if you think you want to go grill it! It’s not the best type of fish because it’s extremely flaky and oily.

What advice do you have for someone grilling fish for the first time?

Grilling fish can be daunting at first but as long as your master a few details like befriending your fishmonger or local supermarket rep, selecting the right type of fish, keeping your grill clean, and knowing how to turn, you’re all set! When ready to get grilling, remove your fish of choice from refrigeration at least 15 minutes before you plan on grilling to ensure the piece of fish receives the proper crust or marks when placed. People often think fresh fish is dependent on where it’s purchased from, but even if it’s sold from the best place, if you see that the piece of fish isn’t shiny, bright, and firm, look again!

What temperature should fish be cooked to?

The challenges when grilling fish are twofold: your first thought is to sear the fish so that you achieve a crispy outside while ensuring the fish will be cooked all the way through; however, fish such as sea bass, tuna, salmon, halibut, and swordfish should be directly grilled on the grate or grill top at a medium heat to a temperature of 145 degrees.

What sides go well with grilled fish?

You want to accompany it with something that has a touch of acidity to balance the flavors, something light and refreshing! Even our signature Greek salad with vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onions, Kalamata olives, and feta works perfectly!

Tell us about Greek grilling.

Yes! If people are looking for healthy grilling, try grilling the Greek way! Contrary to what most people think, Greek grilling doesn’t follow exact measurements which is why I love to incorporate Greek inspirations. The piece of fish should sit on a cold plate for at least 10 minutes after it comes off the grill, letting it solidify. Then simply stuff it with a bouquet of herbs: thyme, oregano, and lemon for an herbaceous scent. I love to grill my fish with Greek inspiration, avoiding heavy sauces and marinades. Simple lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper is all you need and it’s healthy, too.

What are the benefits of cooking with parchment paper?

The beauty of cooking fish in parchment paper is getting all the health benefits! The fish and vegetables are able to cook in their own juices, eliminating the need for frying or other using other seasonings and bread crumbs.