Grilled Whole Snapper with Escovitch Sauce

Tender, sweet, smoky, and spicy Grilled Whole Snapper with Escovitch Sauce is a celebration of the sea. Coming together with just a few simple steps, this grilled fish recipe combines a simple process with fresh, vibrant ingredients.

Whole Grilled Snapper with Escovitch Sauce

There is something impressive about a grilled whole fish. It will have friends and family gathering around the fire, anticipating that first tender and flaky bite. While it is a bit of a dramatic cook, it’s also an easy and forgiving cook perfect for any level of griller. Living in Florida I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing Caribbean ingredients and flavors. Like Jamaican Jerk Clams this snapper recipe draws form those fresh, vibrant, and tropical flavors.

What Is Jamaican Escovitch Fish?

Escovitch fish is a Jamaican dish with roots that come from the dish escabeche. Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American, and Filipino cuisines all have variations of this dish consisting of fish or other proteins marinated or cooked in an acidic sauce.

Escovitch Fish

Jamaican escovitch fish is usually seasoned with scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, pimento, and sometimes dusted in seasoned flour before being pan fried. The pickled vegetables are poured over the top of the hot, cooked fish along with some of the brine and allowed to marinate. The most common fish used for this dish are parrot fish, mullet, snapper, king fish. It’s usually served on the weekends for breakfast but is perfect any time of day. Just add some mimosas or a rum punch and you have the ultimate brunch.

Why’ll You’ll Love This Recipe

Grilled Whole Snapper
  • Easy Process – Your seafood monger is your best friend. Most seafood markets will gut, scale, and gill your fish for you making the actual prep of the fish a breeze. The grilling of this fish is straight forward and will work on both a charcoal grill or gas grill. It’s all about direct heat and cooking hot and fast.
  • Budget Friendly – Buying whole fish is often much more cost effective than buying fileted fish. You will want about one pound of whole fish per person. Most red snappers start around two pounds making it great for two people. It’s also just as easy to throw a couple of snappers on the grill as it is just one.
  • Quick Cooking – Unlike some larger pieces of meat grilling a whole snapper only takes around twenty minutes, depending upon the size of your fish.
  • Make Ahead – Not only can you make the escovitch vegetables ahead of time, but they also get even better after curing for a day or two.
  • Texture – Grilling over direct heat will give you super crispy skin while stuffing the cavity with aromatics and cutting slits in the skin will give you tender, steamed meat.

Ingredients for Grilled Whole Red Snapper

Most of the ingredients for this grilled whole red snapper with escovitch sauce go towards the pickled vegetables. You can also customize the vegetables towards your favorites.

Red Snapper
  • Red Snapper Red snapper is a mild, sweet, and nutty white fish that is found all over the world, but especially from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Aromatics – Lemon and lime slices, and scallions are used to stuff the cavity of this fish.
  • White Vinegar – Used with water to create the brine for the pickled vegetables.
  • Water – Dilutes the vinegar in the vegetable brine.
  • Whole Allspice Allspice is native to Jamaica and comes from the pimento tree. The wood of the pimento is used to cook jerk while the ground berries are one of the key ingredients to Jamaican jerk. The berries are used as part of the pickling brine and are also added to the coals while grilling the fish.
  • Ground Allspice – Used to season the fish.
  • Black Peppercorns – Adds earthy spice to the brine for the escovitch sauce.
  • Vegetables – Onions, bell peppers, carrots, and celery make up the mix of vegetables for the escovitch.
  • Scotch Bonnet Pepper Adds fruity heat to the brined vegetables. You can control the heat.
  • Kosher Salt – Used in both the brine and also to season the fish.
  • Brown Sugar – Balances the tang of the sauce while enhancing the natural sweetness of the vegetables.
  • Thyme – Used in both the brine and also to stuff the fish. Adds a fresh, citrusy note.
  • Garlic – Gives a savory, sharp bite to the pickled vegetables and brine.
  • Cilantro – Adds an herbaceous pop to the pickled vegetables and also used to stuff the fish.
  • Bay Leaves – Used as part of the pickling process. Adds a slightly floral note.
  • Olive Oil – Keeps the outside of the fish moist and allows the seasoning to adhere. Also helps prevent the fish from sticking to the grill.
  • Black Pepper – Gives the fish a mild, earthy heat.

How to Make Grilled Whole Snapper with Escovitch Sauce

Don’t be intimidated by cooking a whole fish on the grill. Because the cavity of the fish is stuffed with aromatics and it has its skin on, it can take the high direct heat. Unlike fish filets you’re actually less likely to over cook the fish. The process for this recipe can easily be broken into three simple steps, making your sauce, preparing your fish, and then grilling. You can even prepare your fish ahead of time, earlier in the day making this red snapper recipe come together that much faster!

Grilled Whole Fish
  • Mise en Place – Julienne your vegetables. The carrots and celery you can use a vegetable peeler to slice into ribbons if desired. Divide your vegetables between two mason jars, adding a couple of cilantro sprigs to each jar. Add your scotch bonnet pepper slices to each jar. For less heat add only a couple. You can also pierce your scotch bonnet pepper with a fork and place it whole in the jar for only a slight kiss of heat.
  • Brine – Add your water, vinegar, allspice, peppercorn, bay leaves, salt, sugar, and thyme to a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Let simmer for an additional minute. It shouldn’t be boiling. Divide the brine between the two mason jars. Let cool and then cover.
  • Slice – Let your fish come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Pat your fish dry. Use a sharp knife to cut three to four slices on each side of the fish. You want to cut through the skin to the bone at a slight angle. This will allow your seasoning to penetrate through the meat, allow the meat to steam, and help prevent the skin from sticking.
  • Season – Rub the outside of your fish with olive oil as well as the inside. Season generously with salt and pepper, especially the skin.
  • Stuff – Add your thyme, cilantro, citrus slices, and scallions to the inside of the fish. If you are worried about the stuffing coming out while grilling, you can secure the body of the fish with butcher’s twine..
Stuffed Snapper
  • Grill Prep – Prepare your grill for direct grilling. I grilled this on my PK grill. Charcoal really works best for this recipe for flavor, but you can also do this on the gas grill. To prepare your charcoal grill make sure that your grates are thoroughly clean. Prepare your charcoal and once ashed over spread them out into an even layer for direct grilling. Sprinkle a handful of allspice berries over the hot coals if desired. For grilling on a gas grill prepare your grill for direct grilling, heating your grill to 400-450. Mak sure your grates are clean.
  • Grill – Place your fish over direct heat. Cooking time will vary by how large your fish is, but it will be between 6-10 minutes on the first side. If your fish seems to be sticking, it is not ready to flip. Once it easily releases, flip your fish and allow it to cook another 6-10 minutes. The skin will be charred, the internal temperature should be between 140-145 degrees, the flesh will easily flake with a fork, but most importantly the eyes will be white.
  • Serve – Immediately transfer your fish to a serving platter and pour some of the brine and pickled vegetables over the hot fish.


Living in Florida I have easy access to scotch bonnet peppers. They have a similar heat to habaneros. Scotch bonnet peppers are a little fruitier in flavor, but for easy accessibility this same recipe can be made with more citrus flavored habaneros.

In addition, you can swap out the red snapper in this recipe. Other types of snapper would work such as lane, mutton, or yellowtail snapper. Branzino and sea bass are also great options. Use what looks good at your fish market.

How to Prevent Whole Fish from Sticking to the Grill

Grilled Whole Fish
  • Clean Grates – The most important key to preventing your fish from sticking to the grill is to make sure your grates are thoroughly clean. I like to clean my grates after cooking when they’re still hot. It makes for easy cleanup.
  • Oil Your Fish & Grates – Make sure your rub the outside of your fish with oil. You can also oil your grates just before grilling.
  • Hot – Make sure your grill grates are fully heated before adding your fish.
  • Score – Scoring the skin of your fish serves multiple purposes. It allows the seasoning to penetrate, the meat to cook evenly, and also helps with sticking.
  • Don’t Force the Flip – If your fish doesn’t easily release from the grates when you slide your fish spatula under it, give it another minute or two. Don’t force it!


The Jamaican escovitch pickled vegetables are a great make ahead as they get better after they have cured. This recipe will easily fill two pint sized mason jars or one large mason jar. They will keep for up to two weeks stored in the refrigerator. Because these are a quick pickle, they need to remain refrigerated when not being served.

Escovitch Sauce

While there probably won’t be any leftover fish as people will be eating it the second it hits the serving plate, leftover fish can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Tips From the Beach

Don’t be intimidated by purchasing a whole fish from the seafood market. With just a few simple tips on what to look for and also what to ask for, this will become a new favorite protein to grill. It’s a great blank canvas to play around with flavors, from your seasonings to the aromatics you stuff your fish with.

Whole Grilled Snapper
  • Eyes – The eyes are not only the perfect indicator of when your fish is done, but also the key to the freshness of your fish. They should be clear and not cloudy.
  • Color – Fresh fish should be brightly colors and shiny with no discoloration. If possible, check behind the gills. They should be bright red.
  • Smell – Avoid any fish that has any sort of odor, whether it’s fishy or a chemical scent. The fish should smell clean, briny, and faintly of the sea, but nothing more.
  • Scale – Ask your fish monger to scale your fish for you. While this is easy to do at home with either a scaler or a butter knife, it will save you the work. This is a service that all seafood markets offer.
  • Cleaned – Also ask your fish monger to gut and gill your fish for you. They do this every day and it’s actually worked into the price of the fish. If you are squeamish about cooking a whole fish, you can also have them remove the head for you, but this is really a great way to both serve your fish and tell when it’s done.

How many red snappers do I need for two people?

You will need about one pound of fish per person. This is the weight of the fish precooked, whole. A two pound fish will feed two people.

How do I know when the whole fish is done?

The easiest way to tell your fish is done is that the eyes will turn white. The skin will be charred, the meat will be white, opaque, and easily flake, and the internal temperature should be between 140-145.

Do I need to cut slits in the fish?

Yes. This allows the seasoning to permeate into the meat, helps the meat steam as it cooks, and also helps prevent the fish from sticking.

Can I use habaneros in the escovitch instead of scotch bonnet peppers?


How spicy is the escovitch sauce?

It is pretty spicy. On a scale of 1-10 it’s about a 7. However you can control the heat. Only add a couple slices of deseeded peppers to your jars. You can also add a whole pepper that has been pierced a couple of times for only a hint of heat.

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Grilled Whole Fish

Grilled Whole Snapper with Escovitch Sauce

  • Author: Nicole Stover
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 2-6 1x


Grilled whole snapper is stuffed with aromatics and served escovitch style with tangy, spicy pickled vegetables. 


Units Scale

Grilled Whole Red Snapper

  • 12 2-3 pounds whole red snapper, gutted, scaled, and gilled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • lemon and lime slices
  • 45 sprigs of fresh cilantro per fish
  • 34 sprigs fresh thyme per fish
  • 23 scallions per fish, cut into 2” sections
  • 1/3 cup whole allspice, optional

Escovitch Sauce

  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 carrot, peeled and juilienned or shaved into ribbons
  • 1 celery stalk, julienned or shaved into ribbons
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 12 scotch bonnet peppers or habaneros, sliced, deseed for less heat if desired
  • 1 sprig of thyme per jar
  • 23 sprigs of fresh cilantro per jar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns



Whole Grilled Red Snapper

  1. Allow your fish to come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Thoroughly pat it dry.
  2. Score your fish with 3-4 slices at an angle on each side, cutting through the skin to the bones.
  3. Rub the outside and cavity with olive oil. Season the cavity and skin with kosher salt, pepper, and allspice, making sure to get into the scored sections. 
  4. Stuff your fish with citrus slices, thyme and cilantro sprigs, and pieces of scallions. You can secure the stuffing with butcher’s twine if desired.
  5. Prepare your grill for direct grilling. Make sure your grates are clean. If using a gas grill heat it to 400-450 degrees. If using a charcoal grill pour your ashed over coals into a single layer. Oil your grates if desired.
  6. Scatter the whole allspice over the hot coals if desired. This will perfume the fish and give a faint flavor of grilling over pimento wood.
  7. Place your fish over direct heat. Depending upon the thickness of your fish allow the first side to grill for 6-10 minutes. Do not flip until the fish easily releases from the grates. 
  8. Flip your fish and allow the second side to grill for 6-10 minutes. Once the eyes turn white your fish is done. The skin will be charred and the meat will easily flake. The internal temperature should be between 140-145 degrees.
  9. Remove from the grill and place on a serving platter. Spread the pickled vegetables and some of the brine over the fish. Serve with additional escovitch sauce.

Escovitch Sauce

  1. Divide your vegetables between two pint sized mason jars, including the garlic and the sliced scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. Add sprigs of cilantro and thyme to each jar. 
  2. Add the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, and whole allspice to a saucepan over medium heat. Allow to come to a simmer, stirring until the sugar and salt has dissolved. 
  3. Let simmer an additional minute.
  4. Divide the brine between the two mason jars.
  5. Let cool completely. Cover your jars and refrigerate.
  6. Let refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. 
  7. These are quick pickles and need to be refrigerated until ready to serve. They will last for up to two weeks. 


  • Other types of snapper will work for this recipe such as mutton, lane, or yellowtail snapper. You can also use other whole fish such as sea bass or branzino.
  • You can use one half to a whole sliced scotch bonnet pepper or habanero per jar. For even less heat piece a whole pepper a couple of times with a fork and add the whole pepper to your jar.
  • You can use any large mason jar or nonreactive airtight container for pickled vegetables. 
  • Prep Time: 30
  • Escovitch Sauce: 70
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Category: Seafood
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Caribbean

Keywords: whole grilled fish, grilled snapper, grilled red snapper, whole grilled snapper, escovitch fish, escovitch sauce, escovitch vegetables

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