Can You Eat Sheepshead Fish? How Does It Taste?

If you’re looking for something different and unique to cook this weekend, why not try cooking some fresh sheepshead. These tasty fish have been around since the 1500s, and are still popular today. You’ll see them in restaurants all over America.

But how do they taste? And can you eat them? Read on!

A school of sheepshead taking refuge in a den to hide from predators. But Can You Eat Sheepshead Fish?

Facts about sheepshead

The name “sheepshead” comes from their elongated snout that looks like it has two eyes. They also have vertical pupils instead of horizontal ones like most fish. The scientific name is Morone saxatilis (Latin for “seashell moron”). Their lifespan is short at only one year so they don’t reproduce very often. However, if they live long enough to spawn, then there will be plenty more next spring. Sheephead grow to be between 10 up to 35 inches in extreme cases and weigh up to 20 pound each.

They are native to North America, specifically the Atlantic Ocean. There are three species: northern, southern, and black sheepsheads. Northern and Southern sheepshead look similar except for coloration and size. Black sheepshead are smaller than the other varieties. Due to climate change, these species may soon become endangered.

Where can you find them

Northern sheepshead are found mainly along the East Coast of the United States while Southern sheepshead are mostly located in the Gulf of Mexico. Both types of sheephead inhabit shallow waters ranging from 10 feet deep to 15 meters deep. If you want to spot any sheepshead, just cast your net out into the water and wait.

Black sheepshead are found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats. In fact, they prefer freshwater because it’s where their eggs are laid. Saltwater sheepshead migrate to rivers and lakes every season when the weather gets colder. They typically swim upstream and spend their winter months near areas with warm water or current flow.

Can you eat sheepshead fish

Yes, you can eat sheepshead. It’s actually recommended by many chefs as an alternative to catfish due to its high quality meat. Fresh sheepshead tastes best when caught wild and eaten raw in salads. This is because they get their nutrients from eating small crustaceans and insects, and not farmed feed.

However, if you would rather cook it, here are some tips and tricks you should know before purchasing your first fresh sheepshead. Freshwater sheepshead are much easier to clean than saltwater ones. So keep that in mind when buying your fish. Also, make sure you buy whole sheepshead because they are already filleted. Otherwise, you will end up having to cut off the head and tail yourself which takes time and isn’t fun.

Another thing to consider is whether you want to prepare it whole or filet it. Whole means keeping the skin and scales intact. Fileting refers to removing the head and tail and cleaning the insides. While the latter option might seem less appealing, it allows you to use the entire piece of flesh unlike when using pieces from the whole fish.

Lastly, remember that a fresh sheepshead won’t last long after being purchased. Only store it within 24 hours for optimal flavor.

Sheepshead from lake erie

Sheepshead from Lake Erie are usually larger than those from the river. They also come in many colors including white, green, and red. However, the majority of sheephead sold in stores are the dark gray variety. Like the others, these are generally filleted and can be eaten.

a silhouette of a Sheepshead Fish

How do sheephead taste

Like I mentioned earlier, sheephead is known for its tender flesh, mild flavor, and rich texture. In short, it tastes great. Some people even say it’s comparable to lobster. Many chefs recommend serving it either steamed, fried, grilled, broiled, baked, boiled, poached, sautéed, or roasted.

It doesn’t take much effort to cook it either. Simply boil it whole, remove the head and tail, and then devein. After that, simply place it in a pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low temperature, cover and simmer until cooked through. Once finished, drain and serve.

How to cook sheepshead

You can purchase fresh sheephead from local supermarkets or specialty shops. Or you could opt for online delivery services. Just check the packaging carefully to avoid getting any kind of contamination. Make sure you order frozen ones to ensure they thaw properly.

To cook fresh, simply boil it whole, remove the head and tail, then devein. After that, simply place it in a pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low temperature, cover and simmer until done. Once finished, drain and serve.

Alternatively, you can soak it overnight in salted cold water. Next, rinse it under running water and scrub gently with a brush. Rinse again and put it in a pot filled with water. Add 2 tablespoons of salt per gallon of water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then let it simmer for 20 minutes. Take it out once it’s fully cooked. Finally, leave it to cool down in the broth. Serve whenever you wish.

For dry-fry, slice it lengthwise into strips. Sprinkle with flour. Heat oil in a wok or frying pan. When hot, add the floured fish and fry for 5-6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Convenience wise, I personally love to grill my sheepshead. First, I need to marinate it in seasoned salt and pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Next, preheat the grill. Place the fish on a rack above direct heat. Grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove and enjoy!


So yes, you can eat sheephead. They are delicious and healthy alternatives to other kinds of seafood. Whether you choose to cook them whole or filet them, they’re worth trying. Plus, they are easy to cook. All you need are a few simple ingredients and some patience. Enjoy!

Lastly, take a look at our related posts on: horseshoe crab, sculpin, snakehead and tarpon.