Want to grill a whole fish? We show you how easy it is!
Whether you buy it or catch it yourself, cooking fish on the grill is a special treat.
The hardest part about grilling a whole fish is just mentally deciding to grill one. Oh, and possibly finding a whole fish.
That is, of course, the first step. You need to find (or catch) a fish that’s good for grilling. Personally, I love grilled trout. I find them to be the perfect size (around a pound) and you can get them fairly easily these days.
But if trout isn’t your thing, you can grill almost any fish. I would just try to keep the fish in the one pound range, which is easy to manage. Any bigger than that and it can get unwieldy! If you have a good market or fishmonger, they will also probably clean the fish for you, but be sure to tell them to leave the head and tail on!
Other than the actual fish, you really only need some butter, salt, lemon and a grill. The fish is so good, you don’t want to mask it with a lot of added flavors and spices.
Cut some thin lemon slices and stuff them in the fish along with a few pieces of butter. This will keep the fish juicy as it grills and also lightly season it with citrus. It also looks really pretty to have some slightly charred lemon pieces.
Give the fish a good sprinkle of kosher salt as well, on all sides.
As for the grill, you can use gas or charcoal. Charcoal is really nice for this, though. You want the grill to be very hot, so direct heat is the way to go regardless of your grill.
Let the grill heat for 5-10 minutes to make sure the grates are very hot and burn off any old stuff stuck to them. Then rub the grates with some neutral oil right before you add the fish. This will smoke, but that’s okay because you’re outside!
Once your grill is hot and oiled, just lay the fish right on the hot part of the grill. Not rocket science!
Depending on a lot of things, the fish will need to grill from anywhere from 6-10 minutes per side before it’s cooked through. As the butter melts in the fish, you might get a few flare-ups under the fish. If this happens, you can use a little spray bottle of water to put them out.
Try not to move the fish too much though, or they might fall apart. They're pretty fragile once they start cooking.
Once the fish is starting to get some nice grill marks on it and you can see that the meat is mostly white on that side, give the fish a flip. My tips for this are to A) flip toward the spine of the fish and kind of roll it. Hopefully your fish doesn’t stick, but if it is sticking a bit, loosen it gently with a spatula. B) Flip with confidence!
Hopefully you will be well rewarded with a beautiful piece of fish.
Let the fish grill on the second side for another 6-10 minutes. You just have to keep an eye on it and check the thicker parts to see if the meat is flaking apart. If it is, then it’s done. Sometimes you can see how the meat is starting to pull away from the bones a bit and that’s also a sign that the fish is about done.
These guys don’t really keep well. Ideally you would transfer them from grill to plate to mouth.
They are so delicious right off the grill – you can even eat the crispy skin.
Just watch out for bones!
Nick is so happy it’s grilling season! Check out his blog, Macheesmo, and follow him on his Tablespoon Profile.