Seafood on the Grill

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Not all holiday barbecues need to be heavy on the meat

You’re planning to have a barbecue get-together with family and friends over the holiday but are not in the mood for gorging on so much meat. Fortunately, seafood is just as delicious on the barbecue grill.

Make sure your seafood is fresh and the rest will take care of itself. Find out what type of seafood works well on the grill as some may be too delicate and fall apart, or turn rubbery. Browse the internet and cookbooks, or ask the fishmonger for help.

Luxury seafood

If you want to add a touch of class lobsters, crab, langoustines, large prawns, scallops, crayfish, oysters, tuna steaks and abalone can be on the menu.

There are many ways of cooking seafood and shellfish on the barbecue grill. You can wrap the items in banana leaf, lotus leaf, corn husk or foil. You can season lightly with just salt, toss them in a little olive oil and make dips and sauces to dunk them into. You can marinade for an hour with herbs, spices and oils before grilling. The more delicate the item the less treatment is required. Oysters and clams, for example, only need to be grilled in their half-shells for seconds, then drizzled with lemon or a light sauce before hitting your palate.

Never over cook seafood, and grilling on high heat charcoal for seconds to minutes will give a good char and seal in the juices.

The marinade must be light because seafood is delicate and we want the freshness to stand out. Again, balance is key. Cuttlefish takes seconds before it becomes tough. Prawns only need a little garlic, lime and a tiny amount of fresh chilli paste to shine. As soon as the prawns turn from grey to pink take it out and serve as the residual heat continues to cook them. Remember to take the seafood and ingredients off the grill earlier because it continues to cook with the residual heat.

Oil the grill before cooking seafood to avoid sticking and tearing. You can also get non-stick grills nowadays although that may detract from the flavours.

A little sugar is the secret behind the appetising blackened char on seafood. It is black and beautiful outside, as well as perfect and juicy inside.

Breads and paella

Make a Spanish paella in a large platter without the seafood and place it next to the grill. Your guests can simply spoon some rice onto their plates and top it with their choice of grilling seafood.

The charcoal flavours are sensational for grilling bread, mantou buns and baguette to eat with your seafood. You can cook a pot of chilli crab before the party and dunk the crusty bread into the delicious gravy.

Lots of vegetables and fresh salad

Potato, sweet potato and corn are favourite barbecue vegetables. To save time, pre-steam or pre-boil these first before finishing them off on the grill.

A refreshing salad is ideal for any seafood barbecue. For a light coleslaw mix yoghurt with olive oil and citrus instead of heavy mayonnaise. Make various dips, vinaigrettes, salsa and dressings for salads, and vegetables that are grilled. Grilling pineapple, bell peppers and halved lemons to squeeze is delicious.

How to barbecue

Whole lobster – Medium to high grill heat. Split the lobster lengthwise, brush shell and meat with melted butter or olive oil. Place cut side down and grill for 3 to 5 minutes or until the shell turns red. Turn over and baste with melted butter or olive oil, season and leave for an additional 4 minutes.

Crab – Medium to high grill heat. You can steam or boil the cleaned crabs till slightly under done then finish charring on the grill for about 2 to 3 minutes. This way the crab cooks evenly. Brush the shell with oil or butter to avoid drying out.

Clams and mussels – Medium to high grill heat. Make sure the grill gaps are small so that the clams do not fall through. Otherwise get some clean chicken wire and place on top of the grill. Spread out your clams in a single layer over the heat. The clams are cooked when the shell opens. Remove and eat immediately before they dry out and toughen.

Prawns – Medium to high grill heat. Leave the shells on for better flavour. Or you can skewer peeled prawns, brush with oil and grill for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Scallops – Medium to high grill heat. If scallops are small it is better to skewer them on soaked bamboo sticks or skewers. They’re done when the meat turns opaque – about 2 minutes.


1. Start with a clean grill. Removing old ashes ensures good air circulation, and cleaning away any old cooked bits of food results in better flavour and quality.

2. Be sure to wash everything after handling raw seafood. Don’t use the same plate for the cooked seafood that you used for the uncooked items unless you’ve washed it in between.

3. Brush grill with cooking oil to prevent food from sticking. Other high smoking point oils include grapeseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil and vegetable oil.

4. If the basting sauce contains oil, however, do not grease the grill; too much oil causes flare-ups.

5. Prepare the fire 30 minutes or more before grilling. For quick lighting, use a chimney starter with crumpled newspaper in the bottom and charcoal above. Charcoal is ready for cooking when it’s 80 percent ashy grey in daylight, glowing red at night. This usually takes about 25 to 30 minutes.

6. Toss in a handful of coconut charcoal and herbs such as lemongrass. This will create a new dimension of flavours.

7. Soak wooden skewers for an hour before using to prevent burning.

9. Use tongs to turn your seafood on the grill which will leave more flavour in the meat. Using a fork to pierce and turn the meat results in a lot of meat juices being lost and a greater possibility of overcooking.

10. A marinade is a seasoned liquid mixture used to add flavour to the food. A flavouring marinade enhances the flavour of seafood in approximately 15 minutes to 1 hour. Fresh seafood does not have to be marinaded for long. Avoid using acid such as vinegar and citrus juice in a marinade as they ‘cook’ the seafood. Instead, simply drizzle the juice over the cooked seafood.