If you have trepidation about grilling whole fish, try this recipe from grilling expert and cookbook author Elizabeth A. Karmel. The fish is seasoned simply with olive oil, salt and pepper, and stuffed with fresh herbs. It is then wrapped in center-cut, hickory-smoked bacon. The bacon serves two purposes: It adds flavor, but it also prevents the fish from sticking to the grates. Keeping the head and tail on the fish while it grills results in more flavor and helps keep the fish intact during the cooking time, Karmel says. Karmel likes to make this dish with trout, but other small, white-fleshed fish, such as snapper or branzino work well, too.

One tip: This is not the time for thick artisanal bacon. Use thin, center-cut bacon, which has less fat and will not shrink as much when cooked. Make sure the strips are at room temperature, so they will easily wrap around the fish and stay in place. For more advice, read our

Bacon buying guide: What uncured, center-cut and other package terms really mean.

Total time: 30 mins, plus 15 to 45 mins for setting up gas or charcoal grill, respectively (see NOTES)

Make Ahead: The fish can be oiled, seasoned with pepper, stuffed with herbs, wrapped in bacon and then tightly wrapped and refrigerated up to 1 day before grilling. Do not season with salt if preparing in advance because this will cause the fish to dry out.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to 2 days.



Tested size: 4 servings

  • 4 whole trout or branzino (about 1 pound each), gutted and cleaned (see NOTES)

  • olive oil

  • Fine salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 to 8 sprigs fresh tarragon, plus more for serving

  • 12 slices center-cut hickory-smoked bacon, room temperature, plus more as needed

  • 2 zucchini (about 1 1/4 pounds total)


Pat the trout dry. Brush each trout inside and out with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Divide the tarragon into four equal amounts and place them inside the fish.

Starting with the head of one fish, just behind the eye, begin to wrap the bacon around the circumference of the fish, slightly overlapping each layer so cover the fish skin. Each fish should take about 3 pieces of bacon to wrap; more if your fish is larger. Stop wrapping when you reach the last inch of the tail. Repeat with the remaining fish.

Wash, trim and halve the zucchini lengthwise. Slice each half lengthwise again, into 1/4-inch thick pieces, then cut each piece in half, for easy handling. Place on a plate or platter, brush with oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Place two clean platters near the grill. Preheat the grill for indirect-heat, medium-heat grilling (see NOTES).

Place the fish in the center of the cooking grate over indirect heat and arrange the zucchini slices around the fish. Cover and grill for 10 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to a platter and cover it to keep it warm. (Or, if you want the zucchini very soft, flip it and continue cooking.) If necessary, rotate the fish (see NOTES), and continue to cook for about 10 minutes more, or until the bacon is crisped, the fish flakes and is cooked through.

Transfer the fish to a platter, sprinkle with tarragon leaves, and serve family-style with the zucchini.


If your fish are larger than 1 pound, they may need to cook for a bit longer and you may need an additional strip of bacon or two.

It is best to put the fish in the center of the grates, so it has even heat on the left and right, and air can move evenly around the food, like a convection oven. If the size or configuration of your grill makes that impossible, you may find that the fish is browning too much on one side after the first 10 minutes. If so, move and rotate the fish so the cooler side is near the heat source (hotter coals). It is not necessary to flip the fish, but you can if you like.

To prep your gas grill for indirect-heat grilling: Cover and preheat with all burners on high. When ready to cook, if using a three-burner grill, turn the middle burner off and reduce the heat on the other burners to medium-high. Many two-burner grills are set up for indirect heat, so you can simply place the food in the center of the cooking grate. Heat one burner to medium-high and leave the other one off. The temperature of the grill should be about 400 degrees.

If using a charcoal grill, fill two chimney starters with charcoal, light them, and when the coals are ashed over, arrange them on either side of the pan, leaving an empty spot in the middle. If your grill is too small to allow for an empty spot, push the coals to one side, leaving the other side empty. Replace the cooking grate, and set an oven or grill thermometer on top. Cover the grill. You are aiming for a temperature of between 400 to 450 degrees.

If using a convection oven: We prefer this fish grilled so you get the smoky flavor, but it can be made in an oven with a convection setting. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Place the bacon-wrapped fish on a rack set on the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees on the convection setting. Roast the fish for 10 minutes, then flip it over and roast for another 10 minutes. If the bacon is not quite crisp enough, turn on the broiler, raise the rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler and broil the fish for about 2 minutes on one or both sides, watching carefully so that it does not burn.

Recipe Source

Recipe adapted from grilling expert and cookbook author Elizabeth A. Karmel, co-author of the newsletter whats4dinner.

Tested by Ann Maloney.

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Email questions to the Food Section at food@washpost.com.


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