Caribbean Grilled Yellowtail Snapper

Half of my family tree comes from the West Indies, so Caribbean fish recipes abound in our house. If you love the fresh flavors of the islands, you’ll love this yellowtail snapper recipe with an easy aioli that’s perfect to dress this grilled snapper. To save time, have your fishmonger clean and trim the fish for you.

A fresh yellowtail snapper on a rimmed baking sheet.

Prep The Fish For This Yellowtail Snapper Recipe

This fish couldn’t get any fresher! I got it at Pop’s, my local fishmonger and I swear it was swimming that morning! That’s important. Since this recipe is for a whole yellowtail snapper, it needs to be a recent catch. Here’s some tips on how you can tell.

Check To See How Fresh Your Fish Is:

  • Look at the skin – is it bright and shiny or dull and lackluster? Are their obvious bruises, tears or imperfections? You want the skin to be firm, with no slimy residue. If it’s a spear-caught fish, it will obviously be pierced, but experienced anglers generally avoid the fleshy, meaty parts.
  • Check the eyes –  are they clear or cloudy? Eyes of any fresh fish should be bright, not cloudy and dull. The eyes should rest flush with the head and not be sunken in.
  • Smell it: Fresh seafood doesn’t have a fishy odor and in fact, it should only smell like the ocean. If it smells ammonia-like, put it back.  I put my nose right up to this whole yellowtail snapper and all I could smell was the Atlantic where it was caught. That’s what you want in a fish.

Note: A good fishmonger will clean and scale and trim your snapper for you, but if that’s not the case, here’s some tips.

Removing the fins from the whole fish.

Clean The Fish:

  • Take It Outside: If you have to clean the fish, I’d advise doing it outside on a work table with a large cutting board and sharp knife. (The process of scaling a fish can send those scales flying everywhere.) You’ll want access to a hose to rinse the fish as you go.
  • Gut The Snapper (slice a long thin cut along the bottom of the fish and remove the innards. Rinse and pat fish dry.)
  • Scale The Fish  (use a scaling tool and rub it going in the “wrong direction” – like petting a cat backwards — along the fish) until all the scales are removed. Rub your hands over the fish to ensure you got all the scales.
  • Trim The Fins from the fish. Use a pair of kitchen sheers to remove the dorsal, caudal, anal and pectoral fins. You can cut off the tail, but I like to leave it on and just trim it into a decorative “V” shape for presentation.

For The Caribbean Marinade

  • Garlic
  • Scotch Bonnet Peppers
  • Salt 
  • Scallions
  • Shallots
  • Black Pepper
  • Fresh Lime Juice
  • Olive Oil
The finished marinade.

Make The Spicy Caribbean Marinade

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade into a small bowl. Note: If you don’t like a lot of spice, you can skip the scotch bonnet pepper and add a teaspoon or so of your favorite hot sauce instead. Scotch bonnets are H-O-T!

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Stuffing the whole fish with aromatics.

Marinating Yellowtail Snapper For the Grill

  • Place the fish on a baking sheet and fill the cavity with thyme sprigs, sliced onion and the remnants of the lime that you used for the marinade.
  • Coat the snapper with the marinade.
  • Cover and refrigerate for one hour so the flavors can penetrate the fish.
Marinating the snapper with the Caribbean marinade.

Prepare The Snapper For The Grill

  • To grill the snapper, I recommend using a fish rack. Look for one that will conform to the size of your fish and hold it securely in place. Fish racks make turning the fish a very simple process without having the flesh sticking to the grates of the grill.
  • If you don’t have a fish basket you can also you a nonstick mat and a large spatula with a pair of tongs.
  • If you don’t have either of these tools, as a last resort,  heat the grill to about 500° . Lightly wet a paper towel with vegetable oil and use your grilling tongs to rub it over the grates to season them. Place the fish on the hot grill and use a combination of tongs and a grilling spatula to carefully flip the fish.
Preparing the fish to grill.

Grill the fish for about 10-12 minutes on each side for a 2 pound fish. If your fish is smaller you could cut back to 8-9 minutes, but you want the fish to be cooked through on the inside. No sushi here.

Grilling the yellowtail snapper.

Probably my favorite part of this dish is the easy aioli. It’s rich and garlicky and utterly delicious. My Mom serves the aioli with all her Caribbean fish recipes, whether they’re poached, grilled or fried.  I usually have leftovers of the aioli and it’s fabulous on sandwiches in place of regular mayonnaise.

Ingredients For Garlic Aioli Sauce:

  • Egg Yolk
  • Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Kosher Salt
  • Lime Juice
  • Vegetable Oil
making easy aioli.

Make The Easy Aioli

  • In a small bowl combine the egg yolk, garlic, dijon mustard and kosher salt.
  • Whisk to combine.
  • Add the vegetable oil a teaspoon or two at a time, whisking constantly (and stirring in the same direction).
  • Continue adding oil until all of it has been incorporated and the mixture is thick and creamy.
  • Whisk in the lime juice and taste for seasonings.
  • Add salt, if needed.
The finished grilled fish on a platter.
A closeup picture of the grilled snapper.

Let the fish rest for a few minutes before cutting into it.  

To Serve The Caribbean Grilled Yellowtail Snapper

  • Remove the tiny pin bones where the dorsal and pectoral fins used to connect to the fish’s body by using a spoon and fork to scrape them aside.
  • Use a sharp knife to gently cut and remove the top fillet by using the spine as a guide of where to cut.
  • Lift the fillet from the fish (you can also do this in a few “serving size” pieces if its easier. Transfer to a serving platter or plate.
  • When the top fillet is removed, lift the tail it should come away from the flesh of the bottom fillet.
  • Remove the bottom fillet and transfer to a serving platter. Serve with the easy aioli.
Serving a portion of grilled fish with green beans and a side of aioli.

Here’s a video I found to help.

The remnants of fish bones on a platter.

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a grilled yellowtail snapper on a platter with limes.
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4.35 from 29 votes

Caribbean Grilled Snapper with Garlic Aioli

Flavor FULL! This snapper is no wall-flower! With a pungent pop of garlic, lime and habanero pepper the marinade imparts a tongue-tingling heat.  Paired with a spoonful of garlicky lime aioli, it’s a perfect yin-yan!
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine Caribbean, French
Keyword fish, grilling, seafood, snapper
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Low-Carb, Paleo, Pescatarian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4


  • 1 2-pound fresh whole snapper scaled, gutted, cleaned
  • 2 large cloves garlic minced
  • ½ scotch bonnet or habanero pepper finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 scallions chopped
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 small onion thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • fresh lime for serving


  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil or other neutral tasting oil (do not use olive oil)


  • 1 lime cut into wedges
  • sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 scallions chopped



  • Have your fish monger clean (scale, gut and trim the fins of the fish — or use a pair of kitchen sheers to remove the fins yourself – cut the fish’s tail into a V-shape for a nice presentation).  Place the fish in a shallow baking pan and set aside.
  • Mound the minced garlic, scotch bonnet pepper and kosher salt together on a cutting board.  Use the side of a chef’s knife to flatten and grind the garlic, pepper and salt into a paste. Transfer to a small bowl and add the black pepper, scallions, shallots, lime juice and olive oil.  Stir to combine and set aside.
  • Fill the cavity of the fish with thyme sprigs, sliced onions and a few of the limes wedges that have already been squeezed for the juice. Pour the marinade into and over the fish and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour so the flavors can penetrate the fish.


  • In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk, dijon mustard, and garlic. Whisk to combine. About 1 tablespoon at a time, drizzle oil into the egg yolk mixture and whisk (in the same direction) until the oil is emulsified into the egg yolk.  Continue very slowly drizzling the oil into the egg yolk, whisking constantly until all of the oil has been incorporated into the egg yolks and forms a very thick mayonnaise.  Add lime juice and whisk to combine.  Taste for seasonings and adjust according to your tastes. Cover and refrigerate.


  • Set up your grill for direct heat grilling. Heat the grill to about 450°. Spray a fish basket with vegetable spray. Transfer the whole fish to the fish basket (no need to remove the vegetable and herbs). Secure the fish basket and set on the hot grill.  
  • Grill the fish for about 10-12 minutes on each side, depending on the size of your fish. Until the fish is cooked through, but still moist.
  • Transfer the fish to a serving platter and sprinkle with chopped scallions, fresh parsley and lime wedges.  Serve with garlic aioli.


Calories: 162kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 46mg | Sodium: 894mg | Potassium: 157mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 325IU | Vitamin C: 26.5mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 0.8mg

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  1. 5 stars
    Ohhhhhhhhh the yumminess!! ☺️

  2. 5 stars
    Delicious as a marinade and as a sauce.

  3. 5 stars
    Dinner last night was amazing! – One question, step 2 at the end states “Transfer to a small bowl”. It’s not clear what you do with it and when. Step 3 tells you “Add the black pepper, scallions, shallots, lime juice and olive oil. Stir to combine and set aside.” I ended up combining the two, and wanted to ask if that was the intention. – Thanks!

  4. Oh wow! This looks absolutely Delicious ?! The marinade sounds like a must try!

  5. 5 stars
    It’s been ages since I’ve cooked or eaten a whole fish and this post makes me really want one. Super helpful tips on how to choose fresh fish, and how to prepare whole fish. And that fish rack looks so handy!

    1. Saphiffer D Talbert says:

      Can I use this marinade for other things other than fish what about shrimp or haddock or catfish?

  6. 5 stars
    Love your tips on how to check for freshness. And the recipe itself is made easier with all the detailed steps and pics! Don’t know if I want to go for yellowtail snapper though, maybe some other fish.

  7. This is super healthy, flavorful and delicious. Cant wait to grab a bite of this dish. Love it all.

  8. 5 stars
    I love aioli with fish! The two go so well together! We grill a lot of fish, especially in summer as we have an outdoor kitchen with a big open fireplace! This snapper looks delicious. Love the marinade! We don’t have yellowtail snapper here in Italy but there are some very good fish for grilling! So will try your marinade with another type of fish!

    1. I’m sure you can find plenty of suitable substitutes! Enjoy!