How to Tell if Fish is Done

Since seafood can go from underdone to overcooked and dry in a matter of seconds, it's easy to be intimidated by how to cook fish. Our Test Kitchen is here with cooking temperature and preparation tips to help you avoid overcooked fish once and for all.

Follow the Flake Method

  • When fish reaches the proper cooking temperature, it becomes opaque and flakes. Here's how to tell if fish is done: poke the tines of a fork into the thickest portion of the fish at a 45-degree angle. Then gently twist the fork and pull up some of the fish.
  • Undercooked fish resists flaking and is translucent. If your fish is undercooked, just continue heating it until it is done. But remember, fish cooks fast, so be careful not to overcook it.

From baking to grilling to frying, you can customize the texture of your seafood using many cooking methods. Keep reading to learn how to master them all.

These 24 fish and seafood recipes make it easy (and delicious!) to eat a healthy dinner.

How to Grill Fish

Thaw fish or seafood, if frozen. Place fish fillets in a well-greased grill basket. For fish steaks and whole fish, grease grill rack. Thread scallops or shrimp on skewers, leaving a 1/4-inch space between pieces. For a charcoal grill, place fish on grill rack directly over medium coals for the ideal grilled fish temperature. Grill, uncovered, until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork (seafood should look opaque), turning once halfway through grilling.  If desired, brush fish with melted butter or margarine after turning.

Note: For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place fish on grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as above.

Get the recipe: Grilled Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream

How to Bake Fish

Baking fish is both fast and easy, but with the incorrect cooking temperatures or times, your fillets can quickly end up becoming overcooked fish. To ensure a delicious dinner every time, follow our instructions for calculating the right baking fish temperature and time.

1. Prep the Fish

  • If fish is frozen, allow enough time for it to thaw, covered, in the refrigerator.
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F for fillets or steaks or 350 degrees F for dressed fish.
  • For fillets with skin, use a sharp fillet knife to remove the skin from the raw fish if desired. You can also remove the skin after baking.
  • Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Place the fish in a single layer in a greased shallow baking pan. For fillets, tuck under any thin edges. Brush fish with olive oil, melted butter, or pesto to keep it moist, and season as desired with snipped fresh or dried herbs, spice blends, minced garlic, and/or salt and pepper.

2. Calculating cooking time 

How long to cook fish depends on the cut. Because fish cooks quickly and dries out if overcooked, use these guides to estimate minimum cooking time for fish. The cooking temperatures may also change depending on what type of fish you're preparing.

  • Dressed and pan-dressed fish: Dressed fish means ready-to-cook fish with organs, scales, and fins removed. Pan-dressed fish is a dressed fish with the head and tail removed. Weigh a dressed or pan-dressed fish before cooking, then bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 6 to 9 minutes per 8 ounces.
  • Fish steaks and fillets: A fish steak is a ready-to-cook cross-cut slice from a large dressed fish (usually 1/2 to 1 inch thick). Popular fish steaks include salmon, swordfish, tuna, halibut, and mako shark. Fish fillets are ready-to-cook boneless pieces of fish cut from the side and away from the backbone (may or may not be skinned). Favorite fillets include catfish, salmon, grouper, red snapper, and tilapia. For fillets or steaks, use a ruler to measure the thickness of the fish before cooking, then bake, uncovered, in the preheated 450 degrees F oven for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish.

Get the recipe: Lemon Baked Fish with Dill Panko Topping

These 25 seafood recipes will help you beat the dinner clock, no matter how busy your day is. (Psst: They taste amazing, too.)

How to Pan-Fry Fish

Pan-frying is just as tasty as deep-frying, but with a little less fuss and fat. Start with your favorite fillet and coating, then follow these instructions for pan-frying fish:

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. This keeps the cooked fillets warm while cooking additional pieces.
  • Choose a large heavy skillet and add 1/4-inch vegetable oil or shortening. Heat the fat over medium-high heat.
  • Add half of the coated fish fillets in a single layer to the hot oil in the skillet. The oil should be hot enough that it sizzles when you add the fish. Fry the fish until golden on the bottom. This will take about 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Once the first side is golden, flip the fish over using a large metal spatula and a fork to steady the fish. Take care to avoid splattering the fat. The fat should still be hot enough to sizzle when the fish is flipped.
  • Cook the second side until golden and the fish begins to flake when tested with a fork (3 to 4 minutes more).
  • Layer two or three paper towels on a dinner plate. With a spatula, carefully transfer each cooked piece of fish to the paper towels to drain. Flip the fish to drain both sides.
  • Keep the cooked fish warm on a baking sheet in the oven while cooking the remaining fish.

Get the recipe: Pan-Fried Fish with Peppers and Pecans

If you're craving crunchy deep-fried fish, click here for how-to instructions.

All About Salmon

After shrimp, salmon and tuna are tied as the second most common fish option on American menus. Salmon ranks high with our Test Kitchen since it's rich in omega-3 fatty acids (for joint and skin health), protein (one four-ounce serving offers more than half of your daily requirement of the muscle-builder), and selenium (a mineral that helps fight heart disease, among other ailments).

Not sure what temperature to cook salmon at or how to know when salmon is done? We can help! We have tips for how to grill, bake, and saute salmon (even how to grill salmon on a cedar plank), so your fillet will come out perfectly every time.

Our Favorite Fish Recipes

Now that you know exactly how to tell if fish is done, you can prepare each of these recipes just right! Whether you're in the mood for fish tacos or pan-fried tilapia, a restaurant-worthy dinner awaits.


Be the first to comment!

Better Homes & Gardens may receive compensation when you click through and purchase from links contained on this website.