Sizzle and Smoke: Summer Grilling Tips from Utah Chefs

Nothing shouts summer like the smell of a hot grill the moment you lay down a steak over the coals or rapidly char some green beans over an open flame. Still trying to figure out where to start? Or are you a grill master looking to up your game? We’ve gathered some gastronomic tips and tricks from three Utah chefs to help elevate your grilling game. So grab your tongs and apron, and prepare to embark on a gastronomic journey that will transform your backyard barbecue into a five-star culinary experience. 

Hooked on Grilled Fish: Expert Tips from Chef Zach Wojdula from Current Fish and Oyster

Chef Zach is the new Chef de Cuisine at Current Fish and Oyster in Downtown Salt Lake City. He is passionate about grilling fish and shellfish. 

Whole Fish:

• Pick a fish that isn’t too big—sea bass, branzino and whole trout are the perfect size. If they are too big, the skin will burn before the fish cooks on the inside. 

• Oil, salt and pepper are all you need on the exterior of the fish. Be sure to oil both sides of the fish, or it will stick when you flip it.

Chef Zach Wojdula

• Add slices of lemon, fresh herbs or a compound butter into the cleaned cavity. It will flavor the fish from the inside out.

• Get your grill lines on the skin, and then finish the whole fish on indirect heat to keep the skin from burning and the fish from falling apart.

Fillets of Fish:

• Pick firm fish—like salmon, tuna or swordfish for direct heat. They won’t just fall apart on the grill. Most white, flaky fish won’t hold their structure. 

• For more delicate fish, grill it on a cedar plank or indirect heat on a cooler part of the grill. You can also put it in a tinfoil packet.


• All shellfish cooks fast—don’t walk away or get distracted, or they will be rubbery and overdone. 

• Oysters on the half shell are delicious grilled. Shuck them, but leave them in the shell; add a garlic-y herby compound butter to the shell and put them on a medium grill. Close the lid, leave it for a minute or two, and serve them hot.

• For smaller shellfish, like shrimp or scallops, it can be helpful to skewer them so they don’t fall between the grates. 

• Lobster can be sliced in half, cleaned and grilled whole. Just use lots and lots of butter. 

Current Fish & Oyster, 279 E. 300 South, SLC, 801-326-3474

Meat Your Match: Pro Tips from Chef Nick Zocco

Chef Nick Zocco is the Executive Chef at Urban Hill near Downtown Salt Lake City. He loves the ancestral feeling that comes from grilling over a wood-fired flame. And he’s lucky enough to have one such grill in his restaurant kitchen. Chef Nick offered up some sage advice for grilling meat at home.

Chef Nick Zocco

Grilling With Wood

• Pick clean-burning options like oak or apple wood if you are grilling over a wood-fired grill. They won’t put off a ton of smoke, which can ruin your food’s flavor. Instead, when they burn down, they should end up as very hot, clean-burning coals.

• The wood itself doesn’t add a ton of flavor by itself, surprisingly. If you want to add flavor, add a little mesquite charcoal. 

• Heat your grill. The grates must be very hot so the meat doesn’t stick to them when you lay them down. You might need to start your fire an hour or two before to let the wood burn down and allow the grill to heat up and retain that heat.

Preparation is Key

• You should never put cold meat on a grill. Instead, pull your meat out of the fridge, let it rest and come up to a warmer temperature. Cold meat will stick to the grill. 

• Have everything ready that you need by the grill before you start cooking. That includes tongs, seasoning, oil, paper towels and a clean platter (because we don’t put cooked meat on the same platter with raw meat on it, right?). If you have to run inside for something you forgot, your food very well may burn.

• Set up grill “zones”—some areas where your charcoal is built up and hot and areas where the grill is cooler and you can cook with indirect heat. For example, sometimes you want to start your meat off on high heat and then move it to cook slower on a cooler part of the grill. 

• If you’re grilling fatty meat or burgers, watch for flare-ups if the fat drips onto hot coals. Move the meat away or off the grill so you don’t have big flames which will ruin your meat. Have baking soda on hand in case you need to put out a grease fire.

• If you are cooking a thick steak, pre-season it in advance with salt and let it sit on the meat for at least an hour. It takes time to get the seasoning into the meat. 

Urban Hill, 510 S. 300 West, SLC, 385-295-4200

One of many Utah Chefs kicking up the heat is David Chon at Bar Nohm, read more about his use of an in-house binchotan grill here!

Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinez is a freelance food, travel, and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake Magazine, Suitcase Foodist, and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee. Do you have food news? Send tips to

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