The Extra Tools You Absolutely Need For Grilling Scallops

Scallops are very versatile and can serve so many purposes; they can add a quick protein-boost to a weekday lunch salad, be elevated with an elegant classic beurre blanc, or laid over a creamy seared scallop and basil risotto. But for the many ways you can serve and spin your scallops, grilling them to perfection is reliably simple and satisfying. And while it's always a delight to have these swimmers fresh off the grates of your grill, it's a major disappointment to find that you've lost your precious shellfish to the coals below. 

The problem with grilling small bites like scallops is that you risk losing them through the grates. Fortunately, there are a few extra tools that can help you prevent this heartbreak. A skewer or grill basket, or even a cast iron skillet or griddle pan, will help keep a safe distance between your scallops and the fire below.

Why grilling is a great technique for scallops

There's a reason you often find scallops seared rather than subject to other, gentler cooking methods. Sea scallops (which are larger than bay scallops) run the risk of becoming chewy or rubbery if they're overcooked. Searing over high heat in a pan guarantees they'll cook quickly and have a crisp, golden-brown crust, caramelizing and concentrating your scallop's inherent sweetness, while yielding a buttery, tender interior. For perfect grilled scallops, crank up the heat and you'll get similar results to pan-searing — with the added bonus of a touch of smoke and char that contrast with the shellfish's naturally sweet flavor.

But even though sea scallops are a bit heftier than their bay-sourced brethren, there's still a chance they may slip through the grates on your grill. By threading your scallops with a skewer, using a wire grill basket, or setting a cast iron griddle or pan on top of the grates, you can safeguard them from falling through. Just be sure to brush the scallops with oil, regardless of which method you choose. This will help keep them from sticking, whether that's to the grill itself on a skewer, to the wire of a basket, or the surface of a pan. Also, if you opt for wooden skewers, always soak them for about 30 minutes before use to prevent burning.

More scallop grilling tips

Regardless of your cooking method, you always want your scallops to be as dry as possible. If your scallops are too wet, it's very difficult to achieve that perfect sear. Pat them down with a paper towel to be sure you have as little surface moisture as possible. You can also salt them and leave them uncovered in the fridge for anywhere from ten minutes to overnight, which will help dry them out, too. It's also advisable to always purchase "dry" rather than "wet" scallops. This means they haven't been chemically treated and are both more natural and — as the name suggests — drier to begin with.

Scallops also have an abductor muscle attached, which is what keeps it secure in its shell out in the wild. This is unpleasantly chewy to eat though, so simply separate it from the meat of the scallop before cooking and discard. When you're ready to get grilling, you want to cook your scallops until they're opaque, and you should turn them only once on the grill. Keep a close eye as they do cook quickly — within about five minutes. Regardless of the tools you choose, your scallops will be safe and sound and ready for you to serve and enjoy.