How To Cook Sheepshead Fish

When we talk about sheepshead, a lot of things go into our minds and one of them is a delicious shepherd dish. And anything goes when it comes to cooking sheepshead. This fish belongs to the porgy family and is very versatile. There are several ways to cook one.

One of the easiest methods of cooking sheepshead fish is by dipping the fish inside the coat, egg, with bread crumbs and frying them until they become golden brown. They can also bake and broil quite well. The backbone and the rib structure of this fish a bit complex so it would be challenging to prepare them as fillet.

I you want to filet sheepshead for yourself prior to cooking them, spend some time to really clean them. In this post, we will discuss the several ways in which you can cook sheepshead fish. So read on and learn how you can enjoy a delicious dish with this fish.


All About Sheepshead Fish​

Located along the west coast of Florida, Sheepshead is well-known bait stealers. Throughout most of the year, these tiny-mouthed fishes inhabit coastal rock and oyster bars, rock jetties and dock pilings seeking their preferred prey – crustaceans, including small shrimp, crabs, and even barnacles.

It is these smaller fishes that are extremely hard to catch because their ability to mash bait, consume the meat, and spit the exoskeleton out is incomparable. Tiny hooks and baits, like fiddler crabs, and cut shrimp to pieces, are important in catching these close-to-shore fishes. Patience helps as well.

Learning to feel a sheepshead’s signature bite takes time and you will likely miss a couple before you get acquainted with their rhythm. While a sheepshead’s size limit is 12 inches, a fish that size produces very little meat.​

It is the larger spawning sheepshead, frequently found during early spring or late winter, that excite catchers. These fishes, located mostly in deep water and around old navigation markers and rock piles, sometimes reach 10 pounds or more.​

Once their spawning ritual starts, these large sheepshead will pound around the structure and then seemingly consume any bait present. Chumming with crushed shrimp heads, oysters or crabs will heighten the feeding frenzy but do not over-chum.

They are voracious, but do get full! As spawning fishes are bigger, their mouths are larger, and many anglers rely on a whole living shrimp as bait. A “knocker” rig and a strong number two hook are enough, but numerous anglers simply thread the shrimp, tail-first, to a jig head.

The introduction of the braided line has affected the sheepshead population recently, enabling anglers a much better feel for what is going on below. A lot of sheepshead “experts” think that you need to prepare the hook on the sheepshead before it bites, or you will miss the hook-up!

Check this video to get a closer look at how to catch Sheepshead fish:

Sheepshead is tasty and delicious to eat (grilled or fried), but as hard to clean as they’re to catch. Heavily scaled and large boned, sheepshead’s meat-to-total weight ratio is very low (approximately 33% yield of meat), and most anglers choose electric knives.

And, regardless of how great the meat, cleaning the unreasonable legal limit is a routine. Eat what you can that night and never the fifteen-fish limit, remember that large spawning sheepshead fishes represent fishery’s future.Getting The Most Out of Cooking Sheepshead​

Ice the sheepshead right after it is caught. This is a general rule for almost any fish, but it is especially crucial with sheepshead fishes, whose high-oil content will cause a mistreated fish developing a nasty “fishy” flavor faster than low-fat perch or walleye.​

If you are buying the fish, be particularly careful to keep them well-chilled before cooking. Filet and skin the sheepshead once you are back at home or the dock. Sheepshead isn't best-enjoyed whole, on the bone, or head-on, and split since lots enjoy the underutilized white bass as well.​

Unless you are seeking strong flavor, you need them boneless and skinless, with the lateral line (it’s red) and belly meat removed. Additionally, on bigger sheepshead, there can be red meat between the flesh and the skin. Remove that as well. Essentially, trim off all red meat, bones, and skin.

This is particularly important with bigger sheepshead.​


Consume them fresh. Another common rule of eating fish, but one that is especially relevant with sheepshead. Due to their high oil content, sheepshead does not keep as well as walleye or perch. While they can be well frozen for a few months, we do not highly recommend it.

Make use of the proper recipe for the right fish. Smaller fish (12-15 inches) are treated just as walleye: batter or dredge and fry, and never overcook them. Skinned and then trimmed, if you want the fish, you would be hard-pressed to not revel in the smaller ones.

Kelch has suggested on how to utilize the larger fish (20+ inches), they also include creating shrimp dishes and mock lobster. We particularly want the two recipes featured for cooking with bigger sheepshead. The smaller ones have a tender texture and not as much of red flesh to remove.

The larger fish need more trimming and present a texture much like that of tuna or swordfish.

Here’s more information about sheepsheads if you’re interested: All about Sheephead.​

Various Ways to Cook Sheepshead

1. Broiled Sheepshead

Clean the sheepshead and make a couple of deep cuts on the sides. Broil (seasoning it with pepper and salt to taste) and then baste with oil. Melt some butter, add little lemon juice, and anchovy essence (2 tbsps.). Pour the mix over the broiled sheepshead and serve.

2. Boiled Sheepshead

Clean the sheepshead, salt it, and then for one hour, soak it in cold water. After an hour, take the fish out from the water, dry wipe it, and slice both of its sides. Place the fish on a fish kettle’s drainer, squeeze some lemon juice over it, and then pour a 50-50 mixture of water and milk.

Add minced parsley, salt, and pepper to taste, and then cook over low heat, simmering lightly, until it’s cooked. Drain the sauce from the kettle to serve individually.

3. Fried Sheepshead

Clean fillets and then dip into salted milk. Apply flour lightly to the fish fillets and immerse them into beaten eggs. Coat the fillets with seasoned crumbs and then deep fry until it’s finished. Serve the dish with sauce.

4. Steamed Sheepshead

sheepshead-fish-with-balsamic-stung-currituck-strawberries/Clean the sheepshead, season it with pepper and salt, and then steam it for one hour. Once it’s steamed, carefully put it on a plate, garnish with lemon and parsley, and serve with drawn butter sauce.

Drawn butter sauce - Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a double boiler. Add two tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon of paprika, and stir. Then slowly add 1 cup water and then cook until the mixture is thickened.

Before pouring over the fish, mix in a teaspoon lemon juice and two tablespoons of minced parsley.

5. The Finished Fish

As soon as the fish is finished – you’ll know by checking the exposed backbone and seeing that it is cooked -- take it off the grill carefully and put on a platter to rest. Enjoy the reaction of your visitors.

6. Serving a Whole Fish

Grilled red snapper with rice and saladTo serve, insert a spatula under a portion that had been sliced and just take it out and place on a plate. For the portion nearest to the head, simple slide the spatula into the fish’s top over the ribs, which begin below the spine, then around the fish’s top and down to the ribs. This guarantees a boneless piece.

And do not forget the fish’s cheeks, which are my fave. They’ll be orbs of delicious fish right under every eye. And if not burnt, the tails are nutty-tasting and crunchy. Also, you can pick at the meat stuck between the ribs, and in the belly well.

Consuming a whole fish produces a primal, totally satisfying meal. Perhaps, it isn’t dainty, but it certainly is good!


Regarding cooking sheepshead, nearly anything goes. This is an extremely versatile and can be cooked many ways. You can never be wrong with this dish. While you have read some of the ways to cook sheepshead, majority of people just dip pieces of the fish within the egg, roll in a coating and fry until its golden brown.

Depending on you or your family’s needs, you can choose one recipe to several. I like to keep it simple and a bit spicy so I like it steamed. Which among the choices above is your favorite recipe? Please share your thoughts in the comments.​

How To Cook Sheepshead Fish
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