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So I want to grill a whole fish

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I am going to order a cleaned and scaled sea bass or grouper and plan to grill it whole. I was going to stuff the cavity with fennel fronds, whole scallions, lemon slices, S&P. Do I need to do anything else to it beyond throwing it on a well heated grill? Like oil it or line the grill with foil, or both? For a 3 pound fish, how long should I cook it? TIA!

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  1. You've pretty much got it. I like to cut small slits on the outside of the fish, and also rub oil on the outside (canola is fine for this).

    I tend to cook directly on the grill grate. If it is hot, the fish tends not to stick. if you are worried about sticking, though, use a fish basket. I tend not to put foil down since part of the reason for grilling is getting the smoke into the food. Even on a gas grill, you want food drippings to fall into the grill, and create smoke that rises back up.

    Regarding grilling time, don't go by weight. Go by thickness. A *very* general rule of thumb is 10 minutes per inch (measured at the thickest part of the fish). This rule of thumb was supposedly developed and tested by the Canadian Dept of Fisheries.

    Now, clearly, actual cooking time depends on the shape of the fish, the heat level, the cooking medium, the air temp, and of course your own personal taste. Use the above rule of thumb as a guide, or starting point, if you will. You can also gently press the fish to get an idea about its firmness. If you make slits in the skin, you'll clearly see inside the fish if it is done. You learn by experimentation.

    Report back!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Darren72

      Agree with everything here. Be sure to oil the fish and grill well--it will really want to stick.

    2. Unfortunately the best way to check for doneness is to poke a fork into it. I don't like to do this. Mostly I have a feel for when it's done. I've grilled enough fish in my days. 10 min's per inch is pretty good and don't worry about pulling it 2 minutes early or something like that. Immediately wrap in foil and let sit around 10 minutes. You should be rewarded with a very moist, juicy and flavourfull fish.
      Other than serving it as is, with leftovers (Especially grouper, should there be any) you can make a po' boy. Basically it's a sub or hero with a Cajun tartar sauce (Or chipotle mayo) lettuce, tomato and slivered onion. Tasty like you wouldn't believe.

      Enjoy

      DT.

      1. When I grill a whole fish, I like to do as little to it as possible. A coating of olive oil, some salt and pepper and maybe (just maybe) some lemon slices inside the fish. If it's a good, fresh, flavourful fish it doesn't need anything else. Then I sandwich it between two cake-cooling racks so that I can place it on the grill and actually close the lid. Those fish baskets all have long handles that stick out and prevent the lid from closing properly. Turning the fish over to do both sides is a simple matter of grasping both racks (with heavy mitts) and flipping it over.

        To see if the fish is done, I usually cut a slit into the thickest part of the flesh right near the spine. If it's flaky there, it's done. No one will see the cut, especially if you're cutting it to serve anyway.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Nyleve

          Nyleve,

          I'm intrigued by the idea of using two cake racks instead of a fish basket. We don't use our basket for exactly the reason you mention - the handle sticks out too far. But how do you handle the two cake racks? Do you tie them together so it's a single unit? If they're separate I can imagine having a hard time getting them plus the fish off a hot grate.

          1. re: cheryl_h

            First I oil the fish well - and usually spray the first rack (the one that will be on the bottom) with Pam. Place fish, prepared however you like, onto the Pammed rack and place the whole thing onto your BBQ grill to cook the first side. When you want to turn the fish over, Pam the second rack, brush the top of the fish with oil and place the rack on top of the oiled fish. Using heavy mitts, take hold of the two racks, sandwiching the fish securely in between, and just flip over. You can lift off the rack that is now on top of the fish if you want. That's pretty much it.

            You don't have to keep the fish trapped inside of any rack contraption. You just use the two racks to facilitate the turning-over process. Works for me.

        2. did similar meal the other night (thread below) and my fish stuck like the dickens to the grates, even with a well heated grill and oil on the outside. although the fish was unbelievable i will definitely use a fish basket next time.
          i would love to hear how long a 3-pounder takes because i plan on lots of grilled whole fish this summer.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jfood

            while other people like to oil the fish itself, i think it works better to oil the grill grate. the grill is clean of course, and i heat it up, and just before i put the fish on, i use a sponge or towel to quickly swipe a little oil directly on the grill. obviously, you don't want to use any kind of spray oil for this operation when the grill is hot! :) depending on the fish preparation, some edible leaves laid under the fish are also helpful. i use grape leaves a lot. i've jury-rigged grill aides out of cooling racks etc too & agree that most fish grilling baskets are designed stupidly. new metal screen material can also be shaped into containers for very delicate grilled foods like small fish & seafood and small veggies.

          2. How about if there is a layer of lemon grass on the grill as the fish goes on- less stick, flavorful smoke?

            1. All good advice. 1 thing to keep in mind is that you need to thoroughly clean or burn your grill top. Otherwise, the fish taste will get into the next thing you cook on the grill..unpleasant on steak, etc. Good reason to use the fish basket.

              We grill a lot of fish; but it's really impossible to give timing advice...heat of fire is an unknown..better to undercook than overcook..and it cooks for 5-10 mins after you take it off the fire.

              1 Reply
              1. re: 9lives

                Just a quick aside. To really clean you grill well, get it nice and hot and put a layer of aluminum foil down on the grate(s) and close the lid for about 15 minutes or so. It should turn everything stuck to it into ash. It easily brushes off.
                The lemongrass idea is a fantastic one. I'll have to try it.

                DT

              2. FIRST, WHEN BUYING FISH, GET IT GUTTED LEAVING THE HEAD, TAIL AND SCALES ON. THAT'S THE CHEAPEST WAY TO GO. CUT OFF THE HEAD, TAIL AND FINS AND ANY UNWANTED PARTS TO DRESS THE FISH. USE EVERYTHING YOU CUT OFF FOR FUMET LATER. UNLESS YOU WANT TO EAT THE SKIN, DO NOT HAVE THE FISH SCALED! WASH THE FISH THOROUGHLY THEN PAT IT DRY. OIL IT (EVO) AND SALT AND PEPPER IT - VERY GENEROUSLY ON THE OUTSIDE - AND LIGHTLY ON THE INSIDE. MAKE LIGHT CRISS-CROSS CUTS (1" APART) THROUGH THE SKIN. THIS MAKES FOR BETTER COOKING AND ALLOWS THE FATTY LAYER NEXT TO THE SKIN TO DRAIN OFF. ALSO, WHEN YOU SALT AND PEPPER THE FISH - USE KOSHER SALT - THE SALT WILL ADHERE BETTER IF THE FISH HAS NOT BEEN SCALED. STUFF THE INSIDE WITH ABUNDANT FRAGRANT HERBS, ONION (SCALLIONS) AND LEMON SLICES. SEAL THE BELLY WITH TOOTHPICKS. USE A FISH BASKET BUT BE SURE THAT THE OVERALL SIZE DOES NOT EXCEED THE DIAMETER OF YOUR GRILL! YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO CLOSE THE GRILL IF IT DOES. THAT'S A NO-NO. COOK TEN (10) MINUTES PER INCH OF THICKNESS (MEASURED EACH SIDE). COOK ONE SIDE THEN TURN THE BASKET AND COOK THE OTHER SIDE. IMPORTANT: AFTER GRILLING, LET THE FISH REST IN THE BASKET FOR FIVE (MINUTES). OPEN THE BASKET, THE SKIN SHOULD COME OFF EASILY. PLACE YOUR MEAT CARVING BOARD (WITH A WELL) OVER THE FISH BASKET. INVERT THE WHOLE SHEBANG SO THAT THE FISH HAS DEPARTED THE BASKET AND IS ON THE BOARD WITH THE SKIN SIDE UP. REMOVE THE SKIN FROM THE SECOND SIDE. THE FISH IS NOW SKINLESS, COOLED AND READY TO CARVE.
                PLACE YOUR PLATTER NEXT TO THE CARVING BOARD. THERE IS THIN LINE ABOUT MIDWAY ON THE FISH RUNNING FROM TAIL TO HEAD. CUT ALONG THAT LINE TAIL TO HEAD. SLIDE THE MEAT FROM THE MIDPOINT TO THE BOTTOM OVER THE BONES AND OFF THE FISH. MAKE ANOTHER CUT THE LENGTH OF THE FISH ALONG THE TOP OF THE BACKBONE. SLIDE THE TOP PORTION OF MEAT FROM THE MIDWAY LINE TO THE TOP OF THE BACKBONE OFF THE FISH AND ONTO THE PLATTER. YOU SHOULD NOW BE STARING AT RIB CAGE, TAIL TO HEAD, FULL OF ALL THE STUFF YOU PLACED IN THE CAVITY. STARTING AT THE TAIL WORK A BUTTER KNIFE OR SPATULA UNDER THE BONES AND GENTLY LIFT UP WORKING TOWARD THE HEAD. IF THE CAVITY IS TOO FULL, YOU MAY REMOVE SOME OF THE STUFFING AND DISCARD IT. YOUR OBJECTIVE IS TO KEEP THE RIB BONES IN TACT WHILE REMOVING THEM FROM THE FISH FLESH. IF YOU HAVE BROKEN THE SKELETON, NO PROBLEM. I KEEP THE SKELETON ALONG WITH THE HEAD, TAIL AND FINS FOR MY FUMET. WITH ANY LUCK YOU HAVE NOW DEBONED THE SECOND SIDE IN TACT AND YOU MAY TRANSFER IT TO YOUR SERVICE PLATTER. AT THIS JUNCTURE YOU MAY WISH TO SAUTEE SOME ONIONS, TOMATO AND BREAD CRUMBS ALONG WITH SOME OLD BAY SEASONING FOR GARNISHING THE FISH. COOKING TIMES ALWAYS VARY IN A WEBER GRILL BECAUSE OF THE AMOUNT OF THE SIZE OF THE FISH, THE AMOUNT OF CHARCOAL, HUMIDITY AND WIND VELOCITY. THE AMOUNT OF SEASONING IS ALSO A MATTER OF EXPERIMENTATION AND VARIES WITH THE TYPE OF FISH. THAT'S IT. BON APETIT!

                1. that sounds good but you can make a whole foil pouch and steam them on the grill with all of those ingredients for 15 minutes there are some great recipes and tips at www.cookingandgrillinoutdoors.com