How to Grill a Whole Fish

  • 01 of 07

    Clean the Grill

    Cleaning outdoor gas grill
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    Old residue and grease can make grilling your fish a lot more difficult as it could stick to the surface and break. Use a paper towel soaked in canola oil and clean the surface, carefully, while the grill starts to heat up. Use other tools like clean brushes to remove stubborn dirt and give the grill a last pass with an oily paper towel. Close it and let it heat up while you prep the fish. 

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  • 02 of 07

    Slash the Fish

    Biracial Chef Peparing Fish
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    Start with a scaled and gutted fish that has had the gills cut out. First, you need to slash the fish on both sides every three inches or so. This helps the whole fish cook evenly. By skipping this step, the thickest part of the meat would still be raw when the tail end might already be overcooked.

    Striped bass, like the one featured in our step by step, is great for grilling, as are bluefish, red drum, large walleyes, trout, landlocked salmon, Sockeye salmon, black seabass, porgies, white seabass, Pacific rockfish, weakfish, snapper, and grouper.

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  • 03 of 07

    Oil the Fish

    Oiling raw mackerel fillets
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    Grilling fish can be tricky because it tends to stick to the grill. To minimize this, first be sure your grill is very clean, very hot, and very well oiled: just before putting the fish down, clean the grill for the last time by soaking a paper towel in canola oil, and carefully wiping down the cooking surface.

    As for the fish itself, it should get a coating of olive or sesame oil. This helps prevent it from sticking to the grill and helps the seasonings adhere to the fish. Remember to keep one hand clean at all times, as the other might get oily from handling the fish. The clean hand is needed to handle utensils and plates. 

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  • 04 of 07

    Salt the Fish Well

    Close up of a chef sprinkling salt onto a fresh fish.
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    Salt your fish liberally with Kosher salt, including the head, tail, and the inside of the body cavity. It's important to avoid adding more seasonings, even black pepper, as they will burn on the grill and taste bitter when you eat the fish. Save the additional seasonings and herbs for when the fish comes off the heat.

    A quick herby sauce, gremolata, or aioli work great with grilled fish. 

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  • 05 of 07

    Grill the Whole Fish

    Fish grilling on a barbecue with lemon slices and rosemary
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    Lay the fish down on the grill with the tail facing farthest away from the main heat. Do not grill large fish over very high heat as they will burn to a crisp on the outside before the center is cooked through. Steady, medium heat is what you want.

    Cook for about 10 minutes per side on a 20-inch fish. The general rule is ten minutes per inch of thickness. Only flip your fish once; carefully lift the fish with two spatulas (or one long one), and gently flip it over. If you have done everything correctly, you will get little or no skin sticking to the grill. 

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  • 06 of 07

    Rest the Fish

    Whole roast trout with herb butter
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    You know the fish is done by looking inside at the exposed backbone in one of the slashes and seeing that it's cooked through. Lift it off the grill and set it on a platter to rest for 5 minutes.

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  • 07 of 07

    Serve the Whole Fish

    Grilled whole red snapper with salad and rice
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    To serve, slide a spatula under a section that had been scored and simply lift it out and onto a plate. For the section closest to the head, move the spatula into the top of the fish over the ribs, which start below the backbone, then around the top and down toward the ribs in a semicircular motion. This ensures a boneless piece.

    Tails, if not burnt black, are crunchy and nutty-tasting; cheeks are fatty and delicious. You can also pick at the meat between the ribs, as well as in the belly.