Cúrate's Katie Button offers expert tips.

Grilled Fish with Tapenade and Smoky Ratatouille
Credit: © Con Poulos

Summer is drawing closed, leaving just precious weeks to cross projects off your grilling bucket list. Whole fish, your time has come.

We get it. It’s intimidating! What if those slippery, scaly skins get stuck to the grill grates? Or all the aromatics you stuffed into the fish fall out mid-flip? Those are big barbecue party fouls.

Katie Button, the Ferran Adrià-trained chef of Cúrate in Asheville, North Carolina (and F&W Best New Chef 2015) understands the struggle. Here are her five tips to grilling perfectly moist and flavorful fish this weekend.

1. Pass on gas. “The whole reason I love grilling is the wonderful flavor that a hardwood charcoal gives to the food,” Button says. “You just can't achieve the same amazing smokiness by using a gas grill.”

2. Heat it up. You want your grill as hot as possible before laying on the fish. This way, you can easily clean up the grates with a dry wire brush ahead of time. “Don’t try to clean your grill while it’s cold,” Button says. “It will take way too much effort.”

3. Put the pedal to the metal. Similar to a cast-iron pan, your grill grate needs seasoning. “Using some long tongs and a paper towel that has been lightly coated in oil, rub the grates,” she says. This little maneuver will also help prevent fish skin from sticking.

4. Bust out your home-ec skills. Instead of fussing with a fish basket, Button threads the fish closed. “I like to stuff them with herbs and wheels of lemon and hold them shut by using a wooden or metal skewer,” she says. And if you rely on the former, read ahead: “If you use a wooden skewer, soak it in water for 30 minutes beforehand,” Button explains. “That will help keep it from burning and splintering.”

5. Get stuck in the middle. Button suggests piling coals one side of the grill and nestling the fish in the center. “I’ll put the fish down with the fatter portion towards the coals,” she says. “I just don’t want the fish right on top of the coals because the skin tends to drip fat and cause flare-ups.” Crisis averted.

6. Resist the urge to tinker. Now that the fish is on the grill, it’s time to mingle with guests, make yourself a drink or maybe find a book to read because you need to let the grill do it’s thing. “Then the most important thing is once they go down, don't move them,” Button says. “The fish will let you know when its time to be flipped when it releases easily from the grill.”