I recently cooked some whole 7lbs salmon on the grill, wrapped in fig leaves, and left them on a bit too long; they were a little dried out. So, based on the idea that I'm cooking "thick" whole fish such as salmon, striped bass, rockfish, etc., and I want to cook the fish all the way through to the spine, some questions:

  1. What's the best level of grill heat to cook the fish at?

  2. Around how long per pound size of fish does it take at that temperature?

  3. How much cooking time does wrapping the fish (in leaves or foil) add?

I know from online searching that there isn't an easily accessible guide to the above questions, and James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish didn't have anything. So guides from personal experience are great.

  • 1
    Do you have a thermometer? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing you could get ballpark numbers like this, but still have plenty of trouble getting it exactly right.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 14:20
  • Not one which is usable for a closed-lid grill.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 4:38

2 Answers 2


It's best to grill small whole fish, like striped bass or snapper, because the general rule about grilling fish is to do it quickly. Start by cutting 3 deep slashes across the top of each fish, and rub in any spice mixture or lemon zest, etc. that you are using to flavor the fish. Salt the fish lightly both inside and out. Medium-high heat is the best level of grill heat, which means you can hold your hand palm-down an inch or so above the grate for 3-4 seconds without it burning. According to the Jamisons' "Born to Grill", the hand test measures the temperature of the actual grilling surface, not just the air inside the grill. Make sure the grate is well-oiled, so the fish will not stick. Put the fish on the grill, with the tails away from the hottest part, so they don't burn. Cook 8-10 minutes per inch (not per lb.) of fish, but only 6-8 minutes for tuna and salmon or they will overcook. Add 2 more minutes per inch when cooking in foil or banana leaves. It's best to check for doneness by flaking the fish with a fork.


My experience is with salmon grilled on a Big Green Egg. I did not wrap the fish in anything, because in my opinion the way to check done-ness is to look at the fish. Details on that experience are below.

The problem with trying to do this "by time" is that there are just too many variables. Did the fish sit out on the counter at all? Are the portions thick? What is the overall density of the meat? What is its moisture content? Does your grill have hot/cool spots? And so on...

I've done actual calculus (being a physics guy) to determine how long to smoke brisket and Boston butt (Newton's Law of Heating/Cooling, if you're interested in the math, it is available here). Even then, I was off by roughly an hour for a 12-hour smoke. My lesson learned was that we have to do these things by temperature, not time.

I have a remote temperature gauge that I use with the Egg. It's very convenient, and cost about $40 at our local hardware store.

Notwithstanding, there are potential answers to your questions, don't lose hope!

1) I have had success keeping my Big Green Egg at 350F, putting the fish (full salmon fillets) skin-side down over direct heat. The distance from charcoal to the grill is about eight inches. The fatty skin will char, but it protects the flesh wonderfully. In addition, you get all those lovely juices flowing.

2) I did four of those fillets, so a total of about eight pounds, and kept it on the heat for 15-20 minutes (one came off at 15, two at 18, and the last at 20).

3) In my experience, wrapping can speed the cooking. The meat ends up being slightly steamed from its own moisture. But this all depends on the temperatures you are using. Although wrapping is good for keeping things moist, it is not so good for being able to tell when the fish should come off.

Solution: don't wrap the fish. If you're concerned about the fish going dry, use a nice marinade. I have found that marinading my salmon in equal parts soy sauce, lemon juice, adn brown sugar. Then, when its ready for the grill, I brush my salmon with equal parts melted butter and real maple syrup - it produces great results. I apply the brush before the meat goes on the grill.

Of course, use whatever marinade or brush you prefer. I'm just sharing what has worked well for me, and what I have received the best feedback about.

Wrapping fish is generally only needed when you're going to bury it in coals, and it acts to keep the fish clean and let it steam itself. Since you're not burying it in coals, I would lose the fig leaves and go by eye.

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