How to Grill Whole Fish

Written by Megan of Stetted.

How was your summer vacation? I had the good fortune to spend a chunk of August with my family in a cozy riverside house in Wisconsin, doing all that vacation entails: practically nothing.

One thing I made sure to do while we were vacationing was to have plenty of real food on hand (to help balance out all those fireside s’mores). We weren’t too far away from a couple of cities with farmer’s markets, making it easy to load up on veggies. And of course, we were housed at the perfect location for rounding out the meals – the river was full of fish.

At first I was a little … concerned about cooking whole fish. It turns out, though, that cooking whole fish is a breeze, and only slightly more messy than cooking a fillet.

Grilling is my preferred method for cooking the fish, but if you don’t own one or have already retired your grill for the season, whole fish can also be baked in the oven with similar preparation.

Choosing Ingredients

The basic formula for ingredients is:

Oil + Salt + Herbs + Acid + Fish

  • Oil  Olive oil is always a good choice, but if you want a mellower option, try grapeseed oil.
  • Salt – Kosher salt is my go-to salt, although sea salt is quite appropriate in this situation! Use whatever you have on hand, and make sure to salt the fish evenly.
  • Herbs – Use fresh herbs for the best flavor. Many herbs are suitable, especially when cooking mild freshwater fishes. Some suggestions are:
    • Thyme
    • Tarragon
    • Fennel fronds
    • Marjoram
  • Acid  Any citrus will do, lemon being the standard when it comes to fish. Branch out and try lime, orange, or tangerine.
  • Fish – The standard serving size for fish is 6 ounces. Plan for approximately a half pound of fish per person. Once you factor in the bones and other inedible parts of the fish, as well as side dishes, a 1-pound fish can feed just about two people.
    • If you’re not catching your own fish, your local fishmonger should have a few different choices available for whole, already cleaned fish.

Grilling Success

  • Fish can go directly on the grill, in a grill basket, or on foil. Be sure to use enough oil on the cooking surface to protect against sticking. Do not spray oil directly onto your hot grill. Instead, dampen a paper towel, and using tongs, rub it across the grate immediately before placing the fish.
  • Don’t worry if the fish skin sticks – your fish will still be delicious, just not quite as beautiful for the serving platter.
  • You can cut the gills out of the fish using a sharp knife or scissors, but if your kitchen lacks the proper tools (as our rental did), don’t fret. Just be aware that the gills can sometimes make the flesh bitter.
  • Diagonal cuts into the flesh will promote even cooking, but small, skinny fish cook fine without.
  • Remember to keep your hands clean!
The meat is easily taken off the bones, and trust me, by the end of the meal, you’ll just be picking at it with your fingers to get every last morsel.

Whole Grilled Fish

Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 76kcal
Author: Megan Myers


  • 2 1-pound fish gutted and scaled
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 bunch fresh tarragon
  • 1 large lemon


  • Heat a grill to medium high heat.
  • Rub olive oil generously inside and on the outside of the fish. Wash and dry your hands, then measure out 1-2 tablespoons of salt, and using one hand to hold the fish open, use the other dry hand to sprinkle in salt.
  • Stuff a few sprigs of fresh herbs into the cavity.
  • Slice half the lemon into rounds and divide the slices between the fish, placing in the cavity on top of the herbs. Add more herbs, if desired.
  • If using foil, add some nonstick spray, then place fish on top. (You can also lay the fish on a bed of herbs – fennel fronds work well for this.) Close up foil around the fish, leaving a small “funnel” in the middle to allow steam to escape.
  • If not using foil, wet a paper towel with oil and, using tongs, rub your (clean!) grill grate with the oil, and place fish directly on grate.
  • Grill for approximately 5 minutes per side, until fish unsticks from grate.
  • To flip the fish, use a large spatula and wiggle it slowly under the fish to help prevent tearing.
  • The fish is done when the flesh is easily pierced by a skewer or fork.
  • To serve, squeeze the juice from the other half of the lemon over the top.


Calories: 76kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 3490mg | Potassium: 97mg | Vitamin A: 85IU | Vitamin C: 15.3mg | Calcium: 30mg | Iron: 0.8mg


Have you ever cooked whole fish? What’s your favorite preparation?

About Megan

Megan Myers is a copyeditor and spatula-wielding mom seeking out the simpler life in Texas. Her blog, Stetted, focuses on her family’s journey from junk food addiction to a diet of local, organic, and whole foods, while exploring the many options farmers provide.

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  1. What a fun idea! I’ve never tried grilling the whole fish, but it certainly fascinates me. Thanks for sharing the basic formula too (oil+herbs, etc.)! Will keep it in mind.

  2. Thanks for a great the post – the photos were very helpful!

  3. Oh no… 🙁 you left the fish parts on the fish. (Daddy, he’s looking at me!) I think this would be fun to try if I caught the fish… and knew what to do from there… and had kids that might eat it.

  4. Purchase a whole fish from a fishmonger or from your local butcher. It is best to buy from someone who sells a lot of whole fish so that you can be sure they will know what they are doing. The fish should be fresh: Look for a fish with bright red gills and no fishy smell.

  5. I’ve never tried cooking a whole fish before. You make it look easy!

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