Cooking Tips
3 Expert Tips For Grilling Whole Fish
Grilling whole fish is easier than you may think, especially if you follow these steps.
06-24-2021
Danielle Lapierre

Grilled whole fish is something many people avoid cooking in their backyard. It feels like there’s a lot of prep work. (Plus, some folks would rather not stare their food in the eye.) 

We don’t need to tell you that when grilled whole fish is done correctly, it’s worth it. Smoky, crispy skin, delicate and moist meat. It transports you to a Mediterranean seaside restaurant. 

All fish are not created equal, so there are different steps you need to take depending on the fish you are grilling. But, whether you’re cooking trout, red snapper, or sea bass, there are some cardinal rules you will want to follow for success.

So I reached out to Cook’s Illustrated senior editor Lan Lam, who developed our Grilled Whole Trout with Lemon and Marjoram recipe, to pick her brain for tips.

  • If you want to avoid prep work, go with trout. Whole trout tend to be sold already cleaned, scaled, and with their backbones and pin bones removed. Also, they’re pretty small, about 10 ounces, so they work well for single servings.
  • Preheat your cooking grate to avoid sticking. This is an especially important step if you’re cooking on a gas grill, since they have a tendency to stick more than charcoal. If you place your fish on a grill that isn’t hot enough, your fish will stick right to the grate and could fall apart. Don’t shortchange this step! Soak paper towels with vegetable oil, grab with tongs, and season your grill grates generously.
  • Whole fish can be very delicate and require support. When flipping or transferring to your platter, don’t use tongs, but instead two spatulas.

How to Flip a Whole Fish

illustration of two spatulas going under fish on grill
1. Slide spatula scant 1 inch under backbone edge and lift edge up. Slide second spatula under, then remove first spatula, allowing fish to ease onto second spatula.
illustration of flipping fish on grill with two spatulas
2. Place first spatula on top of fish so it’s oriented in same direction as second spatula and flip fish over.

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