Keep it Simple When Grilling Fish

Grilling whole fish can present a host of problems, from turning a too-big fish to the skin sticking and tearing when moved.  The best way to handle some of these problems (there are more too) is to start simple, with whole smallish fish that get turned once or not at all. Some cooks leave the scales on to further protect the fish when it grills, removing the scales after cooking.  In any case, fish should start off with a nice film of oil before being placed on a very hot grill. Then let them cook without moving, touching, or turning them. When it’s time to turn them don’t lift and flip but rather check first to see if they are sticking at all to the grilling grate then scrape a little with a spatula and turn them on the backbone without every actually lifting them off the grill.

These two small fish pictured are ideal for a fast grill.  You may not necessarily have these particular fish available to you so use whatever is the freshest whole fish of like size.  I like the contrast between the mild tasting white flesh of porgies, also called scup, and the darker, denser meat of the mackerel.  Since fifty percent of the weight of a whole fish is lost in the trimming these four pounds of fish will yield 2 pounds or less of fillet. The red fish in the photo is a Pacific fish called idiot fish, kinki fish, or shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus).  It has delicious soft flesh.

Parsley-stuffed Grilled Whole Fish
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Seafood
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Serves: 4
  • Two 1-pound mackerel, scaled, cleaned and gutted, tail and fins removed, heads left on
  • Two 1-pound porgies (scup) or kinki fish, scaled, cleaned and gutted, tail and fins removed, heads left on
  • 12 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes.
  2. Stuff 3 parsley sprigs into each fish. Coat the fish with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and grill until the dorsal fin could be pulled off with a tug, 15 to 16 minutes in all, turning once. (The fish will be done quicker if within an inch or two if the fire). Serve sprinkled with the mint.


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