Our grilled sheepshead recipe results in a flaky, sweet fish you will be delighted to serve your family and friends. Sometimes called poor man’s lobster, this lovely fish is moist and tender. In under 10 minutes, you can make this delicious, crispy Grilled Sheepshead topped with garlic butter using a blazing hot cast-iron skillet.
🍽️ Why This Works
Naturally juicy. Sheepshead fish has a high healthy-fat content. As a result, it cooks up moist and tender.
Fast and easy. A simple seasoning and ten minutes on the grill is all you need. Your fish will be ready so quickly you will feel spoiled.
Best way to cook sheepshead fish. We love the simplicity of this recipe with salt, pepper and a compound garlic butter to finish it off. The moisture and flavor of the fish shine through when cooked in very hot cast iron with a closed grill and simple ingredients.
📝 Ingredient Notes
Sheepshead – A flakey and tender fish with a sweet flavor reminiscent of shellfish.
Olive Oil – Keeps the sheepshead fish from sticking as it grills.
Salt and Pepper – To taste.
Garlic Butter – This compound butter is made from garlic, butter, dried parsley, and lemon wedges. It takes the grilled sheepshead over the top. Use freshly minced garlic for best results.
What is sheepshead fish?
Sheepshead fish is a saltwater fish found in coastal waters along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, with the highest concentration off the Florida coast. It can grow as large as 30″ in length with a common size between 10-20″.
Sheepshead has a high moisture and fat content, with a flavor similar to shellfish. It is also called drum fish, or poor man’s lobster.
Where can I buy sheepshead?
While this fish is most often caught fresh and not bought, it can be purchased in some local seafood markets along the Atlantic coast.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
Cast Iron Skillet. Using cast iron cookware on the grill is wonderful because it gets so beautifully hot and creates a perfect sear. It allows you to cook things like this fish, which would otherwise stick to the grill grates or fall apart.
Step One: Get your grill heating up with a cast iron skillet in place. While it’s getting hot, fillet the fish if needed. Rinse to remove any debris from the filleting process. Pat the fish dry.
Step Two: Salt and pepper the fish to your taste.
Step Three: In a microwave safe container, melt the butter and add in the minced garlic and dried parsley.
Step Four: Once the grill and skillet are 500ºF, reduce the grill to 425ºF. Put the olive oil in the skillet.
Step Five: Place the fish on the hot skillet and close the grill. Grill the fish two to three minutes per side.
Step Six: Flip one last time and grill for one to three minutes. The fish should visibly pull up as it finishes, and be white and flakey with a crispy golden exterior.
Step Seven: Pour the garlic butter over the fillets and remove from the grill, putting out the charcoal coals for the night.
❗ Recipe Tips and Tricks
You will see the sides of the fish start to turn white and pull away from the cast iron. That is how you know when to flip it. Don’t flip too early.
The fish should be golden brown on both sides with a delicious crispy exterior created by the hot cast iron.
Don’t forget to put the cast iron skillet in the grill as you preheat it and get it good and hot. That’s what crisps it up so beautifully.
How to cook sheepshead on the stove if it rains. Grilling sheepshead is a great way to kick off summer, but if you need to bring it inside because of rain or other weather issues, try our stove top version for the sheepshead fish recipe. Using a similar method, heat up the cast iron in the oven at 500 degrees.
Once it is brought up to temperature, remove it, place on burner. Heat the stove to medium high heat and pour the olive oil in the cast iron. Place the sheepshead in the hot cast iron and cook for 2-3 minutes using the same method as grilling. Flip and then finish cooking for 1-3 minutes. Top with the garlic butter.
🧑🍳 Storage and Reheating
If you have leftovers, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one or two days. Move the cooked fillets to the freezer if you have too much and use it within one or two months.
Leftover sheepshead can be reheated in a skillet or used like crab meat in a dip, soup, salad, scrambled eggs, an omelet, etc.
You can clean and freeze the sheepshead you catch. Vacuum-seal the sheepshead or freeze it wrapped and sealed in airtight containers. It can be kept frozen for a few months.
Clean and fillet the sheepshead ahead of time to get it all ready to go, especially if you are grilling for a crowd. Rinse the cleaned fish, pat it dry, and keep it refrigerated until you are almost ready with a hot grill.
Measure the garlic and parsley directly into a glass measuring cup with the amount of butter needed, and set it aside as the fish is finishing up on the grill. This way you can delegate the task of melting the butter to a child or guest and it will be ready to go with a quick stir.
Clean, fillet, and freeze extra sheepshead if you’ve caught too much for one meal. Make sure to use airtight containers or vacuum-sealed packaging.
Additions and Substitutions
The sweet and delicious meat of sheepshead fish is definitely one you should try out when you get a chance. However, if you haven’t caught any or can’t find it in the market but just want to get some fish on the grill, you can use this same method and recipe to cook your favorite fish.
Add extra seasoning or use your favorite dry rub to change up the flavors. Just keep in mind that this is a sweet fish and will pair well with flavors that complement that sweetness. Here are a few of our favorite flavor combinations for grilled sheepshead.
- Lemon Butter Sauce
- Lime and Cilantro with a little heat.
- Garlic and Ginger with Brown Sugar
- Old Bay Seasoning with marjoram and rosemary added.
- Cinnamon and Oregano
- Taco Seasoning
- Teriyaki Sauce
Round out your meal by serving sheepshead fish alongside grilled potatoes or rice, cheddar biscuits, grilled beer corn on the cob, coleslaw, potato salad, mushroom risotto, or grilled veggies like zucchini or broccolini.
❓ Recipe FAQ
Your total cooking time will be around seven to ten minutes. You’ll want to flip the fish after two to three minutes.
Get your cast iron hot on the grill at 500ºF. Lower the grill to 425ºF and put oil in the skillet. Cook the fish for two to three minutes per side, flipping it one more time back to the first side to finish it off for a couple of minutes. You want it to be flakey and white. Finish it off with garlic butter.
While we do love sheepshead grilled in cast iron, you can also bread it and fry or bake it as well.
On a very hot grill, using a cast iron skillet.
Yes! In fact, it has been compared to lobster and is a rich and delicious meat.
Yes. Use care so that your fish doesn’t fall apart, but it will need to be flipped at least once halfway through cooking.
Yes! You will definitely enjoy the rich, sweet, shell-fish-inspired flavor of this moist and flakey fish. There is a reason eating sheepshead fish has been compared to enjoying lobster. It’s that good.
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Grilled Sheepshead with Garlic Butter
- Cast Iron Skillet
- 2 Sheepshead Fish
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 3 tbsp Butter
- 2 tsp Dried Parsley
- 2 cloves Garlic minced
- Lemon cut into wedges
- Heat up the grill to 500°F and place the cast iron skillet in the grill to heat up.
- While the grill is heating up, fillet the fish, if needed. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Once the grill is up to 500°F and the cast iron is hot, reduce the temperature of the grill to 425°F and pour in the olive oil and the place the fish in the skillet. **You may have to wait a couple minutes for the skillet temperature to come down.**
- Close the grill and allow to cook 2-3 minutes each side. You will see the sides of the fish start to turn while and pull away from the cast iron. That is how you know when to flip it. Don't flip too early.
- Flip the fish once and then continue to cook 1-3 more minutes, or until the fish has pulled up and white and flakey. The fish should be golden brown on both sides with a delicious crispy exterior created by the hot cast iron.
- Pour the Garlic Butter over the fish and remove from the skillet to serve.
- In a microwave safe container, melt the butter and add in the minced garlic and dried parsley. Stir and pour over the crispy Sheepshead.
Jason’s been firing up the grill for over 30 years after graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy. His love of finely-grilled steak and chicken led him to buy his first Weber grill to put on his apartment patio in 1992. Each military move led to a new grill (a mixture of gas and charcoal) until he fell in love with the Big Green Egg in 2008. Since then, he has added another 4 grills to the collection. Yes, he has a problem. Jason loves smoking in the ceramic BGE with exotic woods including olive wood from Egypt and hard to find varieties such as sassafras and orange wood. Jason takes the term “foodie” to a whole new level, jumping at the chance to take food tours and cooking classes during foreign travels. These have provided inspiration to incorporate new ideas into recipes when he gets back home. He has been featured in Fox News, Parade, Yahoo News, Kansas City Living and more. After retiring from the military and moving to southwest Florida, he has focused grilling and smoking locally sourced meats and fish (read: he likes to catch his own fish!)