Master Your Grill this Summer with Chef David Bancroft’s Grilling Tips

With great weather comes great seafood.

And when you’re here in Alabama, there’s no excuse not to fire up the grill and enjoy the sunshine while cookin’ up a healthy, hearty meal.

But don’t settle for the standard burgers, steaks, and chickens—spice up your menu with some fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood.

Grilling Gulf seafood requires a good game plan, of course. So we asked Chef David Bancroft—owner of Acre in Auburn, AL and a 2017 James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: South—to give us a few tips to share. Novice chefs and seasoned grillmasters alike, take note.

If you’re planning on grilling Gulf seafood, how much preparation is needed, and when should you start prepping?

First, and most important (if you’re the fisherman), make sure you know the legal size, limits, and seasons for your menu before you wet a line!

If you plan to purchase straight from a local fishmonger or grocery store, you can usually convince the monger to break down your fish to your specifications. When I buy shrimp, I source the freshest whole head-on shrimp available…so fresh that their scent is almost sweet.

Next, make sure your grill grates are properly cleaned when grilling fish. Dirty residue can cause your filets to stick to the grates and break apart. Make sure your grill is cooking hot enough so that the fish will sear on the grates, also preventing it from sticking. Pam spray is a chef’s secret weapon. Spray the grill grates down. Some chefs even spray the filet before placing on the grill.

Preparation times will vary from dish to dish and from family to family. What I will suggest is, don’t overcook your seafood no matter how long the USDA recommends you cook your protein. Poor fish is already dead, don’t char it to death!

What grilling tools to you find essential for grilling Gulf seafood?

Lump hardwood charcoal, laser sharp filet knife, oyster knife, tongs, fish spatula (this will change lives), and Pam spray.

Should you marinate fish/shrimp before or after grilling?

A lot of marinades are high in sugars. Certain marinades can cause fish to stick and burn to the grill grates. I usually like to add fresh herbs, kosher salt, and fresh cracked pepper to some olive oil and pour it over the fillets before grilling. However, I almost always prepare a buttery sauce or fresh vinaigrette to finish a nicely grilled piece of fish.

Shrimp typically don’t stick near as bad as fish filets. Especially if they are whole or with the shell still on. I love marinating fresh head-on Gulf shrimp with a marinade of a dry BBQ rub, Worcestershire, peanut oil, and lemon. The smell of whole barbecue grilled shrimp is alluring!

When it comes to Gulf fish, what are your favorite(s) for the grill?

Whatever fish I can catch! The most nostalgic answer is probably Redfish. I was a deckhand in New Orleans during the summer months while attending Auburn University. We would start the charcoal grill, filet redfish right off the hook, and prepare barbecued ‘Redfish on the half-shell’ for the fishermen and slather the dish in a lemony-garlic butter. When we prepare this dish during Redfish season, a few Auburn locals arrive like groupies.

How much should you clean/dress Gulf fish filets before throwing them on the grill?

Most grilled fish preparations are served skin-off. The skin tends to stick to the grill or fall off during cooking, damaging your perfect grill marks. I also like to remove the bloodlines from the filets because they add a slight iron-like off-flavor. When grilling, I usually split my filets down the center, remove the bloodline, and cut portions from just the top loin or just the bottom loin. I do not like to cut across the bloodline creating a fillet containing both the top and bottom loin. The two sides, divided by the bloodline, usually want to separate and fall into two pieces.

Should Gulf shrimp be grilled head-on and in-shell or peeled first?

Whole. Head On.

Is it okay to grill Gulf oysters in the summer months?

Thanks to the wonderful research and production of triploid oysters from Dr. Bill Walton and his amazing team at the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory, we can enjoy delicious bivalves all summer long! Triploid oysters maintain their quality and remain firm, full ,and sweet during the summer because they are basically sterile and cant spawn. I am not a scientist. But this Bitter Southerner piece will tell you all about it.

Is grilling a viable option for Gulf crab cakes?

I normally do not because I enjoy frying them in butter too much. You can grill them carefully over medium heat sandwiched in a grill basket for about 6-8 minutes on each side. This also provides lesser amounts of the aforementioned butter situation.

What sort of health benefits does grilling provide vs. other preparation methods?

Grilling fish and seafood usually allows you to avoid using heavy amounts of butter and oils. However, some of the valuable oils in the fish are sacrificed when they incinerate by dripping down into the fiery coals. These fish oils are good for you as they provide a natural source of Omega 3 fatty acids.

If you’re inviting over a large group, what’s a good Gulf seafood meal plan?

Force your family and friends to gather around the table and share stories. If you need a break from the grill, a Low Country Boil works every time!

Ready to fire up the grill? Check out some of our recipes and see what’s in season.