Grilling a whole fish might seem like a fancy move, but it's actually easy to master at home. Use our simple method to get it right every time.

whole fish on grill
Photography by Christopher Testani
| Credit: Photography by Christopher Testani

No-Fail Grilled Fish

Five simple steps for tender, flaky whole-fish success!

1. Buy It For grilling whole, you want a fish that you can manage easily, so look for ones that are 1 to 2 pounds each. In most markets, that means branzino, sea bass, red snapper, or arctic char. Plan on buying 1 pound of fish per person. When you talk to the folks at your seafood counter, ask for the fish to be cleaned with the head on and they'll scale and gut the fish for you, so it's ready to cook. 

2. Brine It A quick saltwater soak ensures the fish will stay moist as it cooks and hold together so you can get it off the grill without a catastrophe. Cut 3 to 4 slashes on both sides of the fish, place in a large pan (a roasting pan works well), and add enough brine to cover. As a general rule, you need 1 tbsp. of kosher salt for every 2 cups of water. Let the fish sit in the liquid for about 20 minutes, which is about how long it should take for the grill to heat up. 

3. Stuff It While the fish is brining, thinly slice some citrus into rounds and wash a few handfuls of herbs. Lemon is a classic, but lime and orange are tasty options, too. As for herbs, we're partial to parsley, oregano, and basil. Remove the fish from the brine, then, using paper towels, pat until it's really dry. Stuff the fish with a few citrus slices and a handful of herbs, then use a couple of toothpicks or a small skewer to close up the opening. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. 

4. Grill It To prevent the skin from sticking to the grates, brush the fish with a high-heat oil like grapeseed; brush the grill grates with oil, too. Grill the fish until the skin is charred in spots, about 5 minutes for a smaller fish and 8 to 10 minutes for a larger one. Now it's time to flip! To make it easy, grab a barbecue fork. Insert the tines between the grates to gently lift and loosen the fish. Put down the fork and switch to a large grilling spatula (or two, depending on the size of your fish). Slide the spatula under the fish from the belly side and carefully roll it over. Cook until the skin is charred in spots and the meat is just beginning to flake, about 5 minutes for a small fish and 8 to 10 minutes for a larger one. 

5. Eat It! Transfer the fish to a large plate or a platter. Serve with citrus wedges.

Shop Right The best way to make sure you're choosing a sustainable fish? Download the free Seafood Watch app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It rates each species based on the environmental impact of farming and fishing and is updated monthly.

Extra Credit

Want to make your fish party-worthy? Serve it with one of these easy sauces.

Watermelon Salsa

fish with watermelon salsa
Credit: Photography by Christopher Testani

Recipe: Try our Watermelon Salsa

Simple Salmoriglio

fish with simple salmoriglio sauce
Credit: Photography by Christopher Testani

Recipe: Try our Simple Salmoriglio

TOP IT! A handful of microgreens (look for them in the produce section) makes a pretty, flavorful garnish.