Grilled Whole Fish

James Beard

Author and Educator

This recipe can cover anything from a fresh sardine or smelt to as large a salmon as your grill will accommodate. If the fish has a substantial skin that is rich in fat, basting will not be necessary, though it does no harm. For large fish, have a more moderate fire than for smaller fish. 


For the fish:
One whole skin-on fish
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice
Melted butter
White wine
Lemon wedges for serving
Optional: melted butter, white wine, fresh herbs, soy sauce, sherry, olive oil

Tarragon Butter Sauce:
2 tablespoons chives
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons tarragon
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
1/2 cup toasted breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon lemon juice


Sprinkle the inside of the fish with salt of with pepper and lemon juice before broiling. It may be split or not, depending on its size. 

Put on a well-greased grill (or in a greased hinged broiler) and brown the fish carefully on both sides, basting if you wish with equal parts of melted butter and white wine, or with melted butter flavored with lemon juice and tarragon or thyme, or with a mixture of soy, sherry, and oil.

A fish weighing about 5 or 6 pounds will take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. It will be done when the internal temperature is 150°F, or when the flesh flakes easily with a fork or toothpick. Small whole fish will cook in 15 minutes. When serving, remove bones, if you wish, but do give each guest some crisp charcoal-flavored skin. Serve with lemon quartered the long way, and with tarragon butter.

Make the tarragon butter sauce: crush the chives, parsley, and tarragon in a mortar, and combine with the hot melted butter, toasted crumbs, and lemon juice. This may be made in a blender, too.


6 to 8 servings