How to Barbecue Sea Bass Perfectly

How to Barbecue Sea Bass Perfectly

If done right, barbecued fish is full of amazing natural flavours. And it's so quick and easy once you know how to do it too. Mike Tomkins shares his tips for cooking perfect fish on the barbecue, plus two recipes for grilled sea bass: whole sea bass cooked in foil and sea bass fillets grilled directly over the coals.


Fish on the BBQ seems to be one of those things that people shy away from but really shouldn’t. Cooking fish over fire is, in my opinion, the best. It releases lots of smoky flavours in a delicate piece of fish and accentuates the strong flavours in shellfish.


tips for cooking fish on the BBQ
Shop from your local fishmonger

When shopping for fish, I would advise heading to your local fishmonger. Your produce will be fresh (likely caught that morning), and they'll be able to give you some great advice on what's in stock, tell you what’s in season and provide cooking advice for your chosen fish. 

Cook to temperature

Fish is safe to eat at 60 °C. I generally cook fish to around 58 °C before taking it off the heat and allowing it to rest for a few minutes. Like any other food, there will be some carryover cooking, although this depends on the thickness of the fish!

Try different methods

Fish is great on the BBQ because it's so versatile. It can be grilled directly over flames, smoked, or wrapped in foil and poached in a cooking liquor. If I had to choose which I thought was best, I’d struggle. 

Know when to wrap

Wrapping in foil is pretty foolproof, whereas cooking directly over coals is great if you want crispy skin. It all depends on what final dish you have in mind.

Mackerel is perfect for cooking directly over flames. This is because it's an oily fish so it can withstand the direct heat from the grill. If you remove it at 58 °C it certainly won't be dry.

Sea bass, on the other hand, is delicate and fresh so it needs to be watched carefully when being cooked directly over the coals.

Only use oil when necessary

Whether or not you use oil depends on the fish you are cooking. Sea bass and bream are not very oily fish, so they need some oil on the skin or butter in the foil to ensure they don’t dry out. However, sardines and mackerel are amazing cooked directly over the grill and won't dry out. 


Season it right

I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to fish. I think you should let the ingredients speak for themselves, especially if you have really fresh fish. 

If I do use seasoning I opt for fresh herbs like thyme, bay leaves and basil. I always use plenty of lemon and season at the end with salt and pepper to taste! 


If you’re a bit more experimental, make sure you choose the right fish. A meaty fish like monkfish or salmon takes on flavour really well as it can stand up to the seasoning.


Different ways of cooking sea bass

Sea bass is a beautifully delicate fish that takes on tonnes of flavour. It couldn’t be simpler to cook if you're using temperature as a guide.


I'm going to show you how to barbecue sea bass using two different methods.


Method 1: Whole BBQ sea bass in foil

This method is perfect for sharing because the meat falls off the bone so easily. 


  • 1 sea bass
  • 4 sprigs of lemon thyme
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 80g salted butter
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Sea salt flakes, to finish
  • Set your BBQ up for 200 °C indirect cooking.
  • Place the fish onto a piece of foil and stuff the cavity with the lemon, butter and herbs.
  • Add the white wine to the foil parcel before wrapping. This will capture all of the moisture in the fish and prevent it from drying out.
  • Cook your fish away from the coals. This stops it from cooking unevenly.
  • Cook until the fish reads 60 °C on your Thermapen. It's really important to probe the whole fish because it has different thicknesses which will cook at different rates.
  • Serve with some nice crusty bread, just like in the Mediterranean!
Method 2: BBQ sea bass fillets

Sea bass fillets cooked directly over coals are lovely served with a fresh salad made up of tomatoes, fennel and basil. With a delicate fish like sea bass, you don’t want the flavours on the plate all competing with each other. As they’d say on MasterChef, the fish is the star of the show here so let it shine.


  • 2 sea bass fillets
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salad, to serve
  • Set up your BBQ for 200 °C direct cooking.
  • Score the top of the fillets and drizzle with olive oil. Scoring the skin will prevent the fish from curling as the skin tightens during the cook.
  • Place the fillets skin-side down over the coals. Don't move the fillets until they are cooked. This will protect the delicate fish from the harsh heat of the coals and ensure crispy skin.
  • As the fillets are approaching 60 °C, squeeze some lemon juice over them.
  • Once the fish reaches 60 °C on your Thermapen, remove them from the BBQ.
  • Serve with salad and a squeeze more lemon juice.
Products to help you achieve perfection
" Thermapen is one of those kitchen tools I can't live without – it's something I use every single day from making sauces, to bbq cooking, to private dining and events, it comes with me everywhere! A Thermapen will improve you as a chef and a cook by taking the guess work out of complex cooking."
Mike Tomkins
Masterchef 2021 Runner Up
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