What Are the Best Tips for Grilling Calamari?

T. Alaine

Calamari is often synonymous with its popular manifestation as breaded, deep fried rings of squid, but there are actually several other serving options, such as grilling. Generally, squid is purchased already cleaned and meat prepared, which means there is relatively little work involved with grilling calamari. Keeping the flavors simple highlights the flavor of the seafood, and grilling over high heat for a short period of time ensures that the texture will be plump and tender, not tough and chewy.

Fresh squid.
Fresh squid.

When calamari is purchased at the grocery store or seafood market, most of the preparatory work has already been done. The squid will have been cleaned and the tentacles separated from the body; some people are squeamish about the tentacles, but they can be grilled and eaten just like the less intimidating bodies. Usually the tentacles can be grilled as is, but the bodies should be cut in one of a few possible ways before grilling calamari.

Squid can usually be purchased from the market already washed.
Squid can usually be purchased from the market already washed.

Grilling the squid bodies whole can be problematic if the insides are not wiped dry enough before cooking, so it is usually advisable to dissect them in some way. Most simply, a single cut can be made all the way from the top to bottom of one side of the body so that it can be spread out flat on the grill. Another option for leaving the calamari as intact as possible is to slice the bodies as if cutting them into rings, but stopping just before the edge so the rings are all still connected; this will keep the strips from falling through the grill while creating a vent for liquid to escape from the middle of the body. Grilling calamari that is sliced into its familiar rings can be tricky because the rings might slip through the grate and into the fire, but is certainly possible with a careful hand and acceptance of the possibility of a few lost pieces. Otherwise, a perforated grill top vegetable pan will work, but will probably not lend much color or leave the often desired charred grill marks.

Before grilling calamari, it can be subject to any number of possible marinades and flavors. A simple, popular choice is a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper; the calamari can be marinated for a few hours before grilling. Even if the squid is marinated in oil, it is important to brush the grill surface with oil before grilling calamari to make sure it does not stick. Since calamari only cook for one to two minutes per side, the grill should be very hot to make sure they develop slight browning or charring where the flesh meets the surface; Grilling calamari over too cool of a surface will take longer to develop grill marks, and the resulting squid will be overcooked and tough. Calamari is done when it is plump, slightly firm, and just opaque.

Grilling the whole body of a squid can be problematic, which is why seafood markets and grocery stores do the prep work before selling them.
Grilling the whole body of a squid can be problematic, which is why seafood markets and grocery stores do the prep work before selling them.

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Discussion Comments


Some people grill calamari whole without cutting and cleaning. I guess they enjoy it like that but I find it very unappetizing. Mine have to be properly cut and cleaned. I also like it grilled on sticks like shish-kebabs with veggies and onions in between. It's quite good this way.


@burcinc-- I've made grilled calamari steak a few times, which is the body of the squid cleaned and split into halves. You can usually find frozen calamari that's already ready to go at grocery stores.

When grilling calamari, it's best not to overcook. You want to cook it just a few minutes to get it nice and tender. I do a little bit of tenderizing and marinating before I put it on the grill. Tenderizing a little bit, and making some cuts into the surface will keep the calamari from curling on the grill and becoming squishy.

Serve it with some grilled veggies on the side.


I've made both fried calamari and baked calamari before. But I've never grilled calamari. Somehow, I think it may be more tricky than both frying and baking.

Aside from cutting the squid in ways to make sure that it doesn't fall through the grill, do I need to pay attention to anything else? How long should I barbecue for and what about the heat?

If anyone has grilled calamari before, I'd love to hear your experience and any tips you may have for me.

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