How Long It Takes To Roast A Whole Fish Over A Fire

Tasting Table staff prepared a long list of the best foods to roast over a campfire besides the obvious marshmallow or hot dog on a stick. While you have to buy most food on the list from the grocery store, freshly caught fish is the exception that'll be as tasty as it is rewarding.

While fish filets take mere minutes, a whole fish will take between 10 and 20 minutes to cook all the way through. That said, it'll save you the time of cutting the filets. All you have to do is gut and descale the fish before starting the roast. You have various methods for roasting fish, and none of them require raging flames. The fish's skin will help prevent it from drying out while it roasts, but it's still a delicate protein that only needs the embers from your campfire to cook into a moist, flakey meal. You can gut and clean your fish while the campfire burns to create the embers or coals you need for roasting.

The time it takes to roast fish over the fire depends on whether the whole fish is exposed to the embers directly, wrapped in foil, or fried on a skillet. If you're using a stick, metal grill basket, or repurposed cooling rack, a whole fish will take about five to seven minutes on both sides. Foil-wrapped or skilled fried fish will be in the 15 to 20-minute range.

Tips on whole fish roasting methods

The different methods for roasting whole fish over a campfire all have their advantages. A stick is the most rudimentary method that requires the least amount of equipment and provides the clearest visual and tactile cue for doneness. Simply spear a whole fish through the center of its vertical body and roast, turning halfway through. A grill basket is similar to a stick, but the basket is easier to handle. With direct contact with the embers or coals, the fish will incur a nice smoky, earthy flavor. You can spray the fish with cooking oil or brush butter onto the skin and sprinkle with seasonings before spearing it. 

Foil roasting the fish takes longer and requires more equipment but gives you a vessel for more elaborate seasoning and ensures a moist, flakey texture. You can prepare a compound butter to coat the foil, rolling the whole fish over it to coat before wrapping, sealing, and roasting. You can also place sliced lemon rounds or other aromatic ingredients on top of the whole fish for even more flavor infusion. Furthermore, you can simultaneously roast raw veggies or potatoes in a separate foil pouch for a more well-rounded meal.

Skillet frying whole fish is the most high maintenance, requiring a heavy skillet, a grill grate, and plenty of oil or cooking fat. That said, it's a flavorful method that you're probably more familiar with. You can test its doneness with the poke of a fork.