How to Cook Snakehead

Northern Snakehead is an invasive fish that also happens to taste great. Native to Asia, the northern snakehead arrived in the U.S. in 2002 when it was introduced to a pond in Crofton, Maryland. The fish has spread prolifically since then and can now be found in many parts of the east coast. The population is still centered in the Maryland and Virginia area, with the highest concentration of snakehead being in the Potomac River system. There are tons of different ways to cook snakehead.

Snakehead fillets are firm, white and flaky. They also grow pretty large so you can get good size fillets off them. The meat is great for grilling and frying. Personally I like blackened snakehead sandwiches and fish and chips style fried snakehead.

snakehead fishing
Northern Snakehead caught in a Potomac River tributary

First Step: Catch Snakehead

Snakehead are not sold in grocery stores. So the only way to get snakehead fillets is the old fashioned way, with a fishing rod (or in some cases a bow). We’ve written a ton of posts on how to catch snakehead to help you get started. Here’s a quick list of some of our relevant posts:

The quick summary of the above links is that you should target tributaries of the Potomac with a variety of bass lures. Live bait also works great for snakehead fishing as long as you can keep your hook from snagging in the vegetation.

Snakehead fishing
Freshly caught northern snakehead

Fillet Your Snakehead

Since your snakehead didn’t come from the store, the only way to get the meat is to clean the fish yourself. Cleaning snakehead is just like cleaning other fish and everyone has their own way of doing it. I usually gut it first. Then I cut in behind the gills and down the length of the spine. I stop before I reach the tail, flip over the fillet, and then cut back along the fillet to remove the skin. This should result in a solid fillet without any bones. The most important thing about cleaning fish is having a strong and sharp fillet knife. A sharp knife is much safer to use because it is less likely to snag and slip. Snakehead have thick skin so a nice knife makes a huge difference when you’re cleaning them. There are many good brands and types of fillet knives out there. We use THIS ONE in particular and it works great for us. It’s not super expensive but it’s high enough quality to get the job done well.

how to clean snakehead
Cutting out a nice fillet

How to Grill Snakehead

You can either grill snakehead straight on the grill or you can wrap it in tin foil. I usually go with the straight on the grill approach. Grilling fish is actually pretty simple. Season your fish and preheat the grill first. You want to make sure your grill is running in the medium to high heat range. This will help the fish cook evenly and keep it from sticking to the grill. How long you cook the snakehead depends on the thickness of the fillet. A good rule of thumb is to grill each side of a fish for about 3-4 minutes for every inch of thickness. However, this can vary for different recipes. Don’t give in to any temptations to continually flip this fish as it cooks. This will lead to it breaking apart. You should only flip the fish once during the grilling process. There are tons of different recipes out there for grilled fish. Some recipes call for marinating while some only call for dry rub seasoning. Reveiw all the recipe steps before you throw the fish on the grill.

how to cook snakehead
Some nice fillets ready for the grill

How to Fry Snakehead

Like most other species of fish, fried snakehead is also delicious. There are tons of great recipes out there that you can adapt to using snakehead with. We even have our own delicious Fried Snakehead Recipe. I’m typically a fan of Cajun fried catfish recipes and beer battered fish when I’m in the mood for fried fish. Any of those types of fried fish recipes will work well with snakehead fillets. I always cut the fillets into catfish style nuggets before I fry them. This helps them cook at the same rate and results in a nice fried texture.

Fried Snakehead
Frying is a great way to cook snakehead

How to Blacken Snakehead

Blackening is another classic method of preparing your fresh caught fish. Blackening spices bring out a strong, delicious flavor from the fillet. We also have a great Blackened Snakehead Recipe. You definitely don’t have to follow our recipe though, there are tons of blackened fish recipes out there. You can adapt most of them to using snakehead fillets instead of the fish they call for. I’ve modified a couple blackened fish recipes that called for mahi mahi with snakehead fillets. This always worked great and the fish turned out delicious. The usual blackening process is to dip the fillets in melted butter, rub on the spices, and then cook quickly in a pan on high heat.

blackened fish
Blackened is a great way to cook snakehead

Enjoy Your Freshly Cooked Snakehead

Last thing to do in sit down and enjoy your freshly caught and cooked snakehead. Cooking snakehead is pretty similar to most other fish with the caveat that you’re going to have to catch it yourself first. I think that just makes it more fun anyways, plus you know where your food is coming from. For some more reading on eating snakehead, check our on post on the topic here: “Can you Eat Snakehead?” There are a couple important things to note in that article, particularly about fish consumption advisories.

Creating a market for snakehead fillets is a great way to combat the spread of this invasive species. We always hear how overfishing has led to sharp declines of different fish species around the world. If the popularity of eating snakehead grew to the level of some other gamefish, it could do a number on their population and help protect the native species in our waterways. Not to mention fishing for snakehead is a blast anyways! Let us know in the comments below what your favorite ways to eat snakehead are.

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