Grilling tips for steak, fish from ‘Chopped’ finalist

Millions of Americans around the country are kicking off the grilling season, beginning with National Barbecue Day on May 16. 

Grilling could appear to be challenging for those with limited cooking experience.

However, with a few tips and grilling recipes to get started, many Americans will find barbecuing to be simple and a go-to preference once mastered.


Beginning with the type of grill, while many Americans buy gas grills, charcoal is ideal for flavor and cooking potential.

Chef Sean Olnowich recommends using a charcoal grill versus a gas one to get maximum heat and charred flavors for meats and vegetables. (Sean Olnowich)

« If you’re working with the grill, go with charcoal over gas, » Sean Olnowich, who is a seasoned chef of 20 years and president of S.O. Hospitality Group LLC in New York, told Fox News Digital during a phone interview. « Charcoal has a much higher heat cooking point as well as a charred flavor. A lot of gas grills don’t get hot enough. »

Tips for grilling a steak

In 2022, two in three Americans who were surveyed said they would have steak as their last meal.

When choosing your meat, Olnowich recommends fattier cuts with a beefy flavor, like rib eye and skirt steaks.

« I’m not a fan of a leaner, tender cut because it doesn’t have much flavor, » he said.

As for a perfect rare to medium-rare steak, Olnowich says to make sure the steak is cooked to a point where it ashes over to achieve the outer crust as a dominating flavor. Also, steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and reach 125 after being set on a countertop.


Four steaks

Fatty cuts of steak like rib eye and skirt steak are most ideal for grilling, says Chef Sean Olnowich. (iStock)

Olnowich said he is not a fan of meat thermometers because using one pierces the steak, releases juices and immediately begins drying it out.

« If your juices are coming out, it’s going to cook much faster, » he said.

Tips for grilling fish

« Grilling fish can be very tricky, » Olnowich said. « The heat is so important. You have to have it hot enough, especially if the fish is directly on the grill grates. »

He recommends fattier marine life like tuna, salmon and swordfish for direct contact with a grill.

« The flaky fish really falls apart, » he said. « Fattier, meatier fish tend to lend better to grilling than flaky fish. »

Olnowich recommends using the tinfoil method, which requires small holes to let air and heat flow through, for fluke, flounder and black sea bass because they will fall apart and stick to grates.

« You’ll still have grill marks coming through, » said Olnowich.

Olnowich also raves about konro grills for fish. The Japanese grill type is long and narrow and features various sized boxes meant for yakitori skewers.

« Usually, when you’re grilling there’s a lot of smoke, your clothes stink, your eyes are burning, » he said. « This burns really clean so you don’t have this excessive smoke. »

He said that lately, he’s been using it for whole butterflied fish and cooking skin down, with a dash of salt and olive oil, for two minutes without flipping.

« The flavor is unmatched, » he said.

salmon skewers

Olnowich says fatty fish like tuna and salmon grill well directly on grates. (Fulton Fish Market)


Best seasonings for grilling

A typical rub for grilled foods includes a simple smack-your-lips together combination of salt and black pepper. While many Americans use packs of savory seasonings, some prefer the flavors of the meat and char over an abundance of other pairings.

« I’m a bit of a purist when cooking on the grill, » Olnowich said. « I love a good quality sea salt and cracked pepper and maybe a little bit of virgin olive oil. »

Though his preference is uncomplicated, Olnowich recommends a pastrami spice rub for plenty of flavor without smokiness.

To marinade or not for grilled foods?

Typically, marinades add flavor, acidity and texture to meats, depending on the types of citrus, sweet fruits, seasonings, herbs and oils used to combine.

Often, salad dressings and a palatable combination of ingredients are used to make a marinade. However, infused meat won’t always get grillers the flavors they want.

« I’m not a big fan of heavy, thick marinades, » Olnowich said. « I feel it takes away from the quality of the beef you’re grilling. »

He added that marinades will cheapen the dry-aged, prime beef chosen to grill.

« You don’t want to over-flavor, » he said. « If you’re going to use a wet marinade, use a balsamic or soy sauce. » 

grilling food

National Barbecue Day falls on May 16, 2024. (iStock)


Acquire a well-pronounced charcoal flavor

There are apparent differences between cooking a cut of meat or a vegetable on the grill versus the stove versus the oven.

With the stove, you’re not going to taste the flavor of the pan, nor would you want to. If your intention is to grill, it’s likely because you’re looking for a charred flavor that arguably goes well with a cold beer and summertime.

To achieve a crispy mouthfeel and charred aroma, Olnowich recommends avoiding charcoal that burns quickly.

He also advises using mesquite or hickory charcoal, or cherry or pecan wood pellets, to create strong charcoal flavors in the food.

« It will infuse flavor into the meat, » he said.


Seasoning your grill

If it’s your first time using a grill, or you’re just breaking it free from the garage for a new season of spring and summer backyard gatherings, you’ll want to season your grill.

A widely popular technique for seasoning a grill, known as « season sauce, » is dipping a basting brush from a bowl of bacon fat into the grill grates.

« Bacon grease is delicious, » Olnowich said. « I love bacon. The only thing wrong with this is when you have your vegetarian or vegan friends over. »

Out of respect for consumers of meatless food items, Olnowich uses a clean canola oil. Conveniently, the oil also maintains a high smoke point, which assists in the perfect grill.

« It doesn’t impart any flavor either, » he said. « Don’t use anything like virgin olive oil because it’ll have a burnt oil taste. »

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