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Tandoori Fish on the BBQ

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You can use any fish for this tandoori fish recipe. If it sounds good, cook it!

Today I decided to fire up my Kamado Joe and cook a whole tandoori fish directly on the grill. You might have had bad experiences trying to do this as if not done correctly, you will lose all that delicious crispy skin. Read on and see how it’s done and I have also included a few links to side dishes that will go really well with your tandoori fish feast.

Tandoori fish

About the marinade

You will find this to be a simple marinade as you don’t want to overpower the natural flavour of the fish. You can make the marinade in a couple of minutes. Just whisk it up and set aside.

How to apply the marinade

There are many recipes that call for smothering the fish in marinade before placing it in a fish basket to grill over fire. That works well and is a popular way of cooking tandoori fish. When you have a fish this big, however,  small fish baskets aren’t necessarily an option. 

This time around, I had an amazing whole wild sea bass and didn’t want to add too much marinade. You just can’t beat the natural flavour of a whole wild sea bass, after all. You will also achieve a crispier skin when cooked directly on the grill if you don’t apply the marinade to the skin.

So for this recipe, you only marinate the inside cavity of the fish. You then lightly brush the skin when the fish is almost cooked on the barbecue. 

You might want to try some one of these popular sides with your tandoori fish.

Before getting into how you cook this tandoori fish to perfection, you might want to plan some good side dishes. You could just go for a side of Basmati rice or mushroom fried rice.

If you’d like to make naans, why not try one of these?  Instant naans, Peshwari naans, stove top naans, keema naans, garlic naans, tandoor naans (if you have a tandoor oven), or karahi naans.

Dal is always nice so you might want to try tarka dal or the slowly cooked and rich dal makhani.

Want to start your tandoori fish feast off with a bang? How about fried shop bought poppadoms or if you’re feeling ambitious, make your own poppadoms from scratch and serve them with coriander chutney, red onion chutney, and/or tamarind chutney.

Preparing the fish skin for cooking

You need to get the skin of the fish really dry. The best way for you to do this is to take a sharp knife and scrape it down the skin of the fish. 

When you do this, you will literally see all the excess moisture in the skin come off. Do this a couple of times per side. Tandoori fish or any grilled fish will be much better when the skin is properly dried.

After you do this, make shallow slits down the length of the fish. This will help it cook evening and make it easier for the basted marinade to get into the flesh.

How do you prepare the grill for cooking a large tandoori fish

You want to build a hot, direct heat fire. Open the bottom and top vents of your barbecue completely and add sufficient charcoal. I use top quality lumpwood charcoal from Big K. You want to use that or something similar as good quality lumpwood produces the required high heat. 

When your coals are white hot and it is uncomfortable to hold your hand 2 inches (5cm) above the cooking grate for longer than 2 seconds, the heat is perfect.

Take a cloth and dip it into some vegetable oil. You need to rub this hard all over the cooking grate. Do it once and then wait a couple of minutes and do it again. Repeat 3 more times. You will essentially be seasoning the cooking grate so that the fish skin doesn’t stick to the surface.

Grilling the tandoori fish

Season the skin generously with salt and pepper to taste. You can now place the fish directly on the hot grill. The cooking time of your tandoori fish will depend on the size of your fish but it’s easy to check for doneness.

Allow your fish to cook on one side until you can see the fish meat turning from a raw pinkish colour to white. Just lift the cavity and look close to the head. The tandoori fish will turn easily when the skin has crisped up.

Do not force the fish when you turn it over!! If you do, you are likely to lose all that delicious crispy skin.

How do you turn the fish on the grill?

You need two metal spatulas or one metal spatula and some tongs. Very carefully, begin to ease the spatula under the skin, pressing down hard on the cooking grate. When the fish is ready for turning, you will be able to get your spatula under the fish. If the skin is sticking at all to the grate, let the fish cook a little longer until it comes free.

Have patience! If you try to turn the tandoori fish too early, you will lose the skin.

Once you know that the fish is free of the grill and not sticking at all, you can turn it. Using two metal spatulas or one spatula and some tongs, carefully flip it over. You do not need to lift the fish. Just carefully fold it over to the other side to cook.

Finishing off the cook

At this stage, you can lightly brush the charred skin that is now facing upwards. Close the lid to allow the thin layer of marinade to cook. Do not add too much marinade as you want to be able to see that beautiful char.

When the underside of the fish comes free from the grill easily, turn the fish again and apply a thin layer of marinade to that side too. Cook for a couple more minutes and turn the fish again. All done!

Very carefully, transfer the fish to a serving platter to serve. I like to serve tandoori fish like this with coriander chutney and karahi naans.

Can you cook this tandoori fish in a pan instead?

Yes. You just need to follow all the instructions for ensure that the skin is really dry. This will produce a crispier skin when fried.

Then you just need to heat a frying pan over medium high heat and add a couple tablespoons of oil. Follow the instructions above for applying the marinade and place the fish in the pan.

Fry until the skin is crispy on the underside and then flip it over to continue cooking. Baste with the marinade each time you turn the fish.

Step by step photographs of tandoori fish on the barbecue

Ingredients for tandoori fish

Get all your ingredients together before starting. It’s a lot easier that way.

The prepared marinade

Finely chop the chillies, garlic and ginger and whisk with the other marinade ingredients.

Scraping a knife over the skin of the fish to extract excess moisture.

Take a knife and scrape it down the fish to extract any excess moisture in the skin.

Fish with scored skin and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Score the fish several times on both sides of the fish. Then season the skin with salt and pepper.

Seasoning the inside of the fish with salt and pepper.

Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper.

Inside cavity of the fish seasoned with salt and pepper and the marinade and sliced lemons.

Then rub with the marinade and add a few slices of lemon if you like.

Placing the fish on the grill

Place the fish over the hot coals. You can watch the progress by opening the cavity and looking at the meat near the head. It will first be opaque but will turn white as it cooks.

Turning the tandoori fish.

When you can easily turn the fish with your spatula, flip the fish over. Do not force this or you will lose the crispy skin.

Basting the fish with marinade.

Apply a thin layer of the marinade. Not too much. Just enough to make a thin coating.

Turning the fish again

When you can easily turn the fish with your spatula, turn it again and brush that side with marinade.

Covering the barbecue to bake the fish

Cover the barbecue to allow the fish to bake until completely cooked through. Then open the lid and turn one more time.

The charred skin of the tandoori fish.

The skin will be nicely charred and intact. No need for a fish basket!

Finished tandoori fish.

Great served with naans and coriander chutney.


Yield: 2 - 3

Tandoori Fish on the BBQ

Finished tandoori fish.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes


  • 1 large sea bass or other fish of your choice
  • 3 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tsp rapeseed (canola) oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • 2cm (3/4 inch) ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 green finger chillies, finely chopped or smashed into a paste
  • 1 tbsp tandoori masala powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced (optional)


  1. Place all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk until creamy smooth. I like slightly larger chunks of garlic in the marinade as they do char nicely. Set aside.
  2. To prepare the fish, take a sharp knife and scrape it down the skin a few times on both sides. This is important as you want to scrape as much excess moisture from the skin as possible.
  3. Score the skin a few times on both sides and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then open the cavity and season it generously with salt and pepper too.
  4. Apply a thin layer of the marinade inside the cavity. If you like, you can also add a few slices of lemon too.
    Prepare a direct heat fire in your barbecue using good quality lumpwood charcoal. When it is uncomfortable for you to hold your hand 2 inches (5cm) above the cooking grate for longer than 2 minutes, your coals are ready for cooking.
  5. Dip a clean cloth in some vegetable oil and rub the cooking grate hard, all over with it. Wait a couple of minutes and then do it again. Repeat three more times. This will season the cooking grate so that the skin of your fish does not stick.
  6. Place the fish on the seasoned grate and cook until the bottom side has turned from opaque in colour to white. You can easily check this by opening the cavity and looking at the meat as it cooks between the head and body.
  7. Using a metal spatula, carefully and gently start to move it under the fish, pressing down hard on the grate as you do. Do not force it under the fish. The fish will come free easily when it is cooked. If you rush this, you will lose the skin.
  8. When you can easily do so, use two metal spatulas or one metal spatula and some tongs to turn the fish over. Lightly baste that charred skin with the marinade. Not too much!
  9. Cover the barbecue to bake the fish and freshly applied marinade for a couple of minutes. Open the lid and when you can easily turn the fish without losing the skin, do so.
  10. Apply marinade to the fish again and close the lid for a couple of minutes to bake. Lift the lid and check for doneness. Turn the fish once more and when the meat is white and not at all opaque, carefully transfer your tandoori fish to a serving platter to serve.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 158Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 51mgSodium: 175mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 2gSugar: 4gProtein: 25g

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I use a Kamado Joe Classic 11 barbecue to cook this tandoori fish. The work surface around the Kamado Joe was supplied by Kamado Space and it really is an excellent addition to my outdoor kitchen. You can’t go wrong with Big K charcoal.

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