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Photo by <a href=''>Chad Coppess</a> of SD Tourism.
Photo by Chad Coppess of SD Tourism.

Grill Your Next Catch


Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the Sept/Oct 1988 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.

Fish will never replace steaks and burgers on South Dakota barbecue grills, but when we talked to him in 1988, Sioux Falls restauranteur Dave Thompson suggested that more people charbroil the fish they catch in our rivers and lakes. 

Thompson learned about barbecuing fresh fish on trips he made to the coasts. He said that considering South Dakota's growing reputation for fishing, it's time more people tried grilling their catch.

Fish need to be firm and solid to be charbroiled. "Most of the fish we charbroil are swordfish, tuna and red snapper — fish that have a more steaky-like firmness to them. The softer fish... just fall to pieces," he said. Salmon and walleye, favorite Dakota gamefish, are also just right for the outdoor grill. He said many people don't like to barbecue oily fish like catfish because the meat can become mushy.

Although he had never tried to charbroil carp, the barbecuing process can help eliminate the "fishy" taste. "You get the charcoal marks on it (fish) and you fry the seasonings in real well. A lot of the fishy flavor comes from where the skin is; get the skin off the fish, that will help."

Thompson said some fish are just fishy. "It depends on the time of the year it's caught and size of the fish. Big walleyes aren't as good as 1 1/2-3 pound walleyes. You get up to the big 7-8 pounders and they are not near as good eating as small fish."

For the calorie conscious, Thompson said fish is low in calories, depending on what you add. Butter, sauce and other treats will tip the calorie scale. He said teriyaki sauce and lemon pepper butters seem to be the perfect partner for fish.

To begin grilling, grease the grill and fish with oil, to prevent sticking. On an open grill, fish should be cooked on each side. To determine the time, measure the fish at the thickest part (behind the head) and allow 10 grilling minutes for each inch. Cooking time will also depend on how hot the coals are and the distance between the coals and fish. Spread chive butter, teriyaki sauce or lemon pepper butter on each side while grilling. To accompany the freshwater cuisine, Thompson suggested an icy draft beer, wine spritzers or white wine of any kind.

Thompson said fish should be prepared and cooked the same day or the following. "If you keep fresh fish at all, you need to keep it between two ice bags to keep the temperature down so bacteria can't grow."

Whether you call it barbecuing, grilling or charcoaling, the searing coals will spice up the taste of fish. "You get that smoky flavor, the same way a steak picks it up from the charcoal or the wood that you're using to give it a woodsy-outdoor type of flavor, rather than just a broiled piece of fish that might be kind of flavorless."

Stuffing the fish with herbs and flavorings such as basil sprigs and sliced lemons will also perk up the flavor. Intensify the smoky flavor by putting various aromatics, such as mesquite, hickory or cherry wood chips on the hot coals.


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