Best Way To Cook Snapper

Snapper are a sought after food fish. There is a significant commercial fishery for snapper. Snapper is also a sought after recreational fishing target.

Their delicious flesh is flaky and does not have an overpowering fishy flavor.

This lack of strong fishy flavor is one of the things that makes snapper so sought after. 

Best Way To Cook Red Snapper

Red snapper is one of the larger species of snapper. You can cook them in many ways. The great thing about snapper is that they’re flexible and delicious no matter how you cook them

1. Baked Whole Red Snapper

Baked Whole Red Snapper

This is definitely one of my favorite dishes of all.   One of the benefits of cooking a red snapper whole is that you truly get all the flavors. 

There’s really no describing it. You just have to try it. Another benefit is that you’re saved the work of filleting it.

Make sure that you start off with a gutted and scaled snapper. There should be no guts, gills or scales. You’re then ready to prepare the snapper for baking.

Make sure you have a pan or pyrex big enough to hold the fish. You can line it with foil for easy cleanup. Make sure you put some oil on the pan or foil to prevent sticking.

You’ll want to season the snapper to your liking. I’ll give you a great seasoning example here.

You don’t need to go overboard with the spices. You can add salt, pepper to the inside cavity and to the outside as well. 

Add 2 pats of butter for a 16 inch snapper. This will help the fish keep moist while it bakes.

If you like herbs, you can also put your favorite such as thyme or rosemary in the cavity.

I like to add slices of lemon. 

Inside the cavity you can also add onion slices and potatoes. You can also add these around the fish for a delicious meal. Make sure you add some olive oil inside the fish and around the fish as well.

Other spices like garlic and peppers can be added if you wish. 

You can bake the snapper at 400 – 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Now this is a pretty wide range in temperature.

If you go on the high end, at 450, a 1 pound snapper should be done in about 15 -20 minutes.

Food safety recommendations are that you get the snapper to at least 145 degrees. The lower your oven temperature is, the longer it will take to cook. But sometimes, when I’m not in a hurry, I like to lower the temp and cook the snapper more slowly.

I think that baking the snapper and potatoes slowly helps to better retain the juices. Try it a few times as an experiment. Trust me, it’s a very delicious experiment.

Once the snapper is done, serving it can be a challenge. If you try to lift the whole fish without supporting it, it may fall apart.

You have the option of removing pieces of the meat as individual servings.

A tip here is the one side of the meat will easily come off the backbone. It comes off almost like a fillet. Once you get one side of the meat off, you can then remove the backbone and serve the pan side of the meat.

And now we get to the only drawback of this dish. The bones.

You’ll need to take care as there will be fish bones in the meat. If you remove the meat carefully though, you can keep this to a minimum.

The entire backbone and it’s spines are actually pretty easy to remove. The hard ones are the ones that are not attached to the spine. So take care to look for any stray bones when you enjoy this dish.

2. Deep Fried Whole Red Snapper

Dee Fried Snapper

While this is not my favorite way to eat red snapper it’s definitely a crowd favorite. 

Deep fried whole snapper is a delightful treat if you like fried food. 

If you have a smaller red snapper, you can deep fry the whole fish in oil. While this may not be the healthiest option, it is certainly delicious. 

To deep fry a whole red snapper you need to start off with a snapper that will fit in your deep fryer. Make sure the snapper has been gutted and scaled.

Make sure to slice the fish down the middle vertically. The cut should go about half way down to the backbone. This cut will allow oil to cook the inside of the fish more quickly and evenly. Make sure to cut both sides.

You can use breading or go without it. I like to go without it, but I recommend you try both.

Heat your oil to about 365 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make sure to use oil with a high smoke point such as peanut oil or canola oil.

Before you dip the snapper into the oil try to pat it dry as much as possible.

When you’re ready to lower it into the oil  be careful. Oil can splash and pop up at you. 

If you have a deep fryer and you can submerge the entire fish, then it should only take about 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

You want to look for a golden brown color on both sides. If you want to use temperature as a guide, then an internal temperature of  at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once it’s done, you can lay the fish on a plate with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.  Feel free to add some salt and freshly ground pepper at this point. 

This dish goes well with potatoes or white rice.

3. Pan Fried Red Snapper Fillets

If you don’t want to deal with frying up an entire fish, but still want some delicious fish fry, try pan fried red snapper fillets.

First you need to get some red snapper fillets.  I will be writing up an article on the subject of filleting fish. Once it’s done, I will link it here. 

Once you have some nice fresh snapper fillets, it’s time to get your ingredients together.

For pan frying, I recommend a breading that you can customize to your liking.

The basic ingredients for a breading are:

For about 1 pound of snapper fillets

  • 3/4 cups of flour
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of black pepper

This is the foundation. You can add to this and make the recipe your own. Here is what I like to add to give it my own personal style.

To the batter I add:

  • 2 tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp of onion powder

Once you’ve added all the ingredients for your breading, put them in a bag and shake them up to combine them.

Then, put some of the breading on a plate and set it aside.

To make sure the breading sticks to the fish, you have a couple of options.

Option 1: Dip the fillets in egg yolk first then afterwards dip them in the breading. 

This option is a bit messier and if you’re allergic to eggs, it’s a no go. The benefits are that the breading sticks much more effectively to the fish. It also creates a thicker breading layer on the fish.

Option 2: Dip the fillets in milk first. This is not as effective as the egg bath, but it can help the breading stick to the fish without having to use egg.

Option 3: Just dip the fillets right into the breading with no steps in between. You can try it this way and it could turn out fine. If you have trouble with the breading coming off while cooking, then try one of the options above.

Once you get your fillets nice and breaded, you’re ready for the oil.

For thin fillets that are only about half inch thick, you’ll only need about 1/8 inch of oil in the pan.

Remember to use a high smoke point oil like peanut oil or canola oil. Olive oil has a lower smoke point and may burn.

Get the oil nice and hot to the point that it runs almost like water.

Lower the fillets into the oil carefully. 

Beware of splash when conducting this step. 

Once you get the fillets in, cook them for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

You’ll want a temperature of at least 145 degrees.

When they’re done, you can place them on some paper towels to absorb excess oil.

4. Grilled Red Snapper Fillets

You may be wondering, how can you grill snapper fillets without them falling apart?

Well you have two options.

Option 1:

Season the grates with oil. This would be a similar technique as you would use with a cast iron skillet.

You’ll need to coat a hot grill grate with oil repeatedly until the oil penetrates the grate. Then you should also oil the fish as well.

These techniques will prevent the fish from sticking to the grate and then falling apart when you try to remove it.

Option 2:

You can use a fish basket. This is basically a thin wire basket that you can put the fish fillet into. You then close the basket and put it on the grill. 

Make sure you still put some oil on the grate and the fish too.

With this basket you can easily flip the fish over by rotating the basket. 

This will allow you to quickly and uniformly cook booth sides.

One of the only drawbacks is that you might not get the grill marks that some chefs like.

For thin snapper fillets, you should be able to cook them over medium heat in about 45 seconds to 1 minute per side.

Try your favorite seasonings. I like to go with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and some lime juice.

If you like heat, you should definitely try some cayenne pepper on grilled fish.

Best Way To Cook Yellowtail And Mangrove Snapper

Yellowtail and mangrove snapper are species of snapper that are very similar to red snapper.

When cooked, you’ll have a very hard time telling the difference between the different tropical snappers.

If you find red snapper hard to find at your fish market, don’t worry.

Look for some yellowtail or mangrove snapper. 

Many markets will carry these species instead. They are just as delicious as the reds.

Snapper Habitat And Distribution

Snapper can be found throughout the southern US Atlantic coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico. When snapper are young, they live in shallow nearshore mangrove islands and shallow reefs. As they grow, they tend to move out towards deeper waters. They inhabit deeper reefs that provide ample structure.

This structure of often composed coral reefs. These coral reef ecosystems provide food and shelter for snapper.


Atlantic snapper of all types are a delicious food fish. You can find snapper served at some of the finest seafood restaurants. They’re known for their mild flaky meat.

So, if you get a change get some snapper and cook it up in one or more of the ways I’ve described here.

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