This rustic approach actually protects the delicate meat during cooking for a juicier result.
There’s a general rule in barbecue and grilling that the thicker the protein, the easier it is to cook. Or perhaps that should be phrased as, the lower your chances of messing it up. It’s MUCH easier to cook a 2″ thick steak perfectly than it is to nail a thin cut one. The same logic applies to seafood. Big shrimp are going to grill better than teeny ones. And of course, whole fish is going to grill better than thin filets.
As a bonus, keeping the fish gutted but whole allows you to both crisp the skin up, and introduce aromatic herbs and citrus by stuffing the cavity. And you still end up with that phenomenal grilled flavor. My favorite way to devour the finished product is to serve it up on a platter and stand around with some cold beers. Don’t be shy, just dig in! And don’t forget to eat that amazing cheek meat, too.
The real secret to grilling whole fish:
Honestly, the secret hero of grilling whole fish (aside from starting with a lovely raw product) is spray oil. Lots of spray oil. There are other methods that involve special tools or very specific steps that may or may not work, but this is the most foolproof one I have come across. The biggest peril of grilling fish is having it cling to the grill, and tearing the delicate flesh. Lubricating with plenty of oil lessens that risk. Significantly. I coat the fish in olive oil to start, then spray both the side of fish AND the section of grill grate I am about to flip on to. And I don’t just do it once – but every time I plan on moving or flipping the fish.
Obviously, you will need to exercise a little caution when spraying pressurized oil near charcoal! If you’ve not done it before, it’s pretty much the same as spraying any aerosol directly in front of a lighter – you will get massive (although brief) flame flareups. So just use caution, short burst of spray, and keep your eyebrows removed from the action.
Set up two zone grilling for whole fish:
Your grill will need to be set up with two distinct zones for cooking – hot and cold. You can create this on both a charcoal and gas grill, but honestly, please cook over charcoal. Your food and tastebuds deserve it and it’s NOT difficult at all. Basically, the idea of a two zone grill is to only have the heat on one side. You start by using the hot side to sear the fish, then move it to the cool side to finish cooking without burning the skin. You can read more about how to set up your grill for two zone cooking here.
Best type of fish for grilling whole:
My absolutely favourite fish to grill whole is Red Snapper. It’s a great size for grilling and has a clean, fresh taste without being “fishy”. The pinkish hue of the skin is also more appetizing for many folks than grey skinned fish. You can also use Dorade or Bronzini, too. I source my fish from Fulton Fish Market – it’s shipped fresh from New York and is premium quality. If you want to try some of their stuff, you can hit their website and use code JESSP at checkout to get 15% off any new order over $175 (excludes their bundles).
How you know when the fish is ready:
The best way to grill this fish is to get a great sear and color to start, then allow it to finish cooking gently until done. To tell when your fish is ready, you can use two indicators. First, keep an eye on the inside of the cavity, particularly at the thickest part. Since the fish is gutted, you will be able to visually see when the flesh turns from transluscent to a more opaque shade of doneness. To be completely sure, you can use a fast reading thermometer. When the fish reads 140f at the thickest part, it’s done.Print