Grilled Tilapia is a great fish for simple meals at a perfect price point, but is it possible to grill it for great flavor without losing all the meat between the grates? Yes, and this cast iron campfire recipe for charcoal-grilled tilapia is just the solution for that. 

2 tilapia fillets topped with butter in cast iron skillet over hot charcoal

If you’ve come to this blog often, you’ll realize there isn’t much you can’t grill over a good flame. A good bed of burning embers will hold heat. It’s messy but gets us back to our roots. Something totally primitive and oddly communal comes with grilling. There’s something satisfying about making flavorful fish over a large flame.

If you have ever grilled with tilapia, you know it can be a challenge. It’s truly worth it though, so follow these tips for perfectly cooked tilapia fillets.

2 paprika coated cooked tilapia filets in a cast iron skillet

What is Tilapia?

Tilapia is a very mild white fish that’s farm-raised in freshwater. Its low price point and mild flavor make it a great entry to cooking fish and anyone who wants to explore different cooking methods without breaking open the bank. You can easily make a Chipotle Baked Tilapia with some tasty panko and seasoned mayo or blackened and tossed in a delicious Tilapia Bowl.

If you have ever grilled tilapia, you have probably seen or done it wrapped in foil. That’s because it’s one of those gentle fish that needs some extra tender care when handled on the grill. Yes, it can be grilled right on the grates, but that can often lead to it breaking and you sacrificing a filet or two to Ares. Here is a quick trick to make sure you don’t lose any of your precious fish fillets.

Ingredients for grilled tilapia with paprika and onions

Grilled Tilapia Recipe Ingredients

  • Olive oil: or your favorite neutral cooking oil.
  • Tilapia: Make sure, if using frozen tilapia filets, they are completely thawed. You can buy fresh or frozen for this, you just want to make sure the filets are similarly sized for even cooking.
  • Garlic Powder, Paprika, and Oregano: These classic pantry staples make the easy spice blend for this fish. Use smoked paprika for a hint of bonus flavor. You can also use Cajun seasoning or lemon pepper for easy spice mix options.
  • Onion: Omit the onion from the recipe if you aren’t into them, but they do add a great bit of flavor to the recipe! Try adding mushrooms if you are feeling wild.
  • Butter: use unsalted butter when cooking.

This is a simple recipe as far as ingredients go. The tilapia will be rubbed with the spice blend and sit over sauteed onions with a little butter to finish it all off.

bag of kingsfod charcoal on a tree stump

How to Make the Best Tilapia

Prep the grill for cast iron cooking

  • Fill a charcoal chimney with about 15-20 briquets and light from the bottom.
  • After the coals have gotten a layer of ash on them in the chimney, about 15 minutes, carefully, with heat-resistant gloves, dump the coals onto the bottom of the grill in an even layer. Add about 15 new coals evenly over the top to keep the heat lingering. The embers will burn for some time, depending on the weather and environment. Adding new ones will help keep things going. 
  • You will nestle the skillet right onto the embers, making sure it’s flat and can’t fall over. Cast iron can take direct heat, so don’t be afraid to wiggle it to just the perfect position. Let the skillet heat up to almost smoking before adding the oil. You want it to get hot, and since wind, temps, and other elements can affect the time when grilling, this is a moment to practice patience, aka, embrace the imperfection with friends. Besides, they will all love that you are cooking right over the coals. 
Hot coals and embers being poured from a charcoal chimney to grill
  • Nestle the skillet right onto the embers, making sure it’s flat and can’t fall over. Cast iron can take direct heat, so don’t be afraid to wiggle it to just the perfect position. Let the skillet heat up to almost smoking before adding the oil. You want it to get hot, and since wind, temps, and other elements can affect the time when grilling, this is a moment to practice patience, aka, embrace the imperfection with friends. Besides, they will all love that you are cooking right over the coals. 

Grilling the Tilapia

  • Make sure your tilapia is completely thawed before preparing. If buying fresh, ask the fishmonger if it has been previously frozen, where it’s from, and when it arrived, just so you know that it’s fresh and from a source you trust. 
  • When you are ready to grill, and the skillet is getting hot over your charcoal, pat the tilapia completely dry. Water can cause the oil to sizzle and pop, and that’s not fun for anyone. Look over the fish after you have dried it to make sure it’s cleaned of all scales and bones. 
  • Next, season the fresh tilapia liberally on both sides with the spice mixture. Simple spices when cooking fish make for the best recipe for tilapia. This blend of paprika, garlic powder, and oregano is a childhood classic.
  • Once you place the tilapia in the hot skillet, top with butter to melt in and add flavor and cover the grill to keep the heat in. The tilapia will cook in the now-hot skillet for 5 to 7 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 125 to 130 degrees for the flaky fish to be complete.
step by step photos for grilling tilapia over coals


Try using a charcoal chimney for the best flavor.

  • A charcoal chimney will help you light your coals and get everything burning in under 20 minutes without any lighter fluid. Lighter fluid leaves a chemical taste on the coals which transfers to the food. If you don’t have one, they are usually around $20 and will become your go-to method for starting a charcoal fire. 

For best results, use a cast iron skillet.

  • A 10” well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is every chef’s second-best friend (a good knife is the first). With the onions and fish going right in this, you want it well-oiled and well-seasoned. A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is naturally non-stick, which will help the fish to stay whole and not tear or fall apart when you serve it.

Why cast iron is best

  • This recipe uses tried and trusted cast iron to cook a simple filet right over the coals, which turns out to make for amazing texture and keeps the filets together right over the coals without poaching them in a foil packet or losing any in between the grill grates. Being exposed to the smoke gives them the subtle grilled flavor we all love. 

Leftovers & Reheating

What to do with tilapia leftovers: Tilapia filets make a great fish sandwich the next day. Simply reheat them and put them on toast with a sandwich spread for down-home flavor and an easy recipe.

It is also very tasty to be flaked into pasta with a light pesto sauce or turned into a breakfast hash with home fries and a fried egg. Add a little salsa if you are feeling wild. 

This recipe would even be great served with tortillas and a build-your-own taco bar if you want to gather everyone around the hot grill for a fun meal together! Tilapia fish tacos are absolutely amazing and a healthy seafood recipe everyone enjoys.

Reheat your leftover tilapia by lining a baking sheet and covering them with aluminum foil. Bake them in the oven at 275 degrees for about 15 minutes. If you have the time, you can also reheat them on the grill rack in the same way you cooked them initially. Cook times will vary based on the thickness of the grilled fish, so keep an eye on them.

What to Serve With Tilapia

The best grilled tilapia is served with simple sides such as a salad, steakhouse creamed spinach, green beans, fried mac and cheese balls, rice pilaf, crispy duck fat fries, or cauliflower rice. Choose your favorite vegetables and starches to serve with this flaky white fish. Asparagus spears are another great addition because you can prep them on your outdoor grill while cooking tilapia!

2 tilapia fillets in a cast iron skillet, one showing flakey tender white meat

Recipe FAQs

How can you tell if tilapia is cooked?

Tilapia is one of the easiest fish to see that it is done. It becomes a very opaque white and flakes easily with a fork. Always test the thickest part by placing a fork in and pulling gently; if it flakes easily, the fish is done. If it is still soft and doesn’t pull apart, give it another minute or two and try again. You can temp with a digital meat thermometer for an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, but because this fish is so thin, it can be hard to get an accurate reading.

How do you clean tilapia before grilling? 

If you are using packaged and prepared fish, you won’t have to do much. When using fresh, whole tilapia, rinse it off in cold water. Hold the fish by the tail on a cutting board and scrape from the tail to the head to remove the scales. 

Do you need to flip fish when grilling? 

When grilling, it’s helpful to flip the fish for even cooking, but not mandatory, especially if you over your grill with the lid between steps. If you choose to flip the fish, do so halfway through the grilling process. Each side should take about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip carefully with a metal fish spatula so the fish doesn’t fall apart. 

What other fish can you grill in a cast iron skillet?

Not a fan of tilapia? Try these other amazing fresh fish varieties that make an easy dinner with simple ingredients.

Not even a fan of fish? This cast-iron recipe works great on pork chops and chicken too!

More delicious fish recipes

If you’ve tried our Char-Grilled Tilapia Recipe or any other recipe on please don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment for the next guy! These small actions keep new recipes coming from the Girl Carnivore Meat Labs!

Cast Iron Grilled Tilapia

5 from 13 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Forget cooking tilapia right over the grates, use cast iron instead to make sure the fish stays together while getting that char-grilled flavor!
  • 1 Chimney starter
  • 1 10″ Cast Iron pan


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion sliced thin
  • 2 tilapia filets
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tbsp butter divided


Prep your grill for cooking:

  • Use a charcoal chimney filled with 15-20 charcoal briquets to light the coals.
  • After about 15 minutes, when the coals have heated through, and are about 70% covered in ash, you are ready to add them to the grill.
  • Arrange heated coals in an even layer and nestle a 10-inch cast iron skillet directly over the coals. Allow the cast iron to heat up.

Grill the Onions

  • When the skillet has heated, add the olive oil and, using a heat resistant glove and a long spatula, swirl to coat.
  • Lay the onion in the skillet and cover the grill. Cook until tender 5 to 7 minutes, checking occasionally and stirring.

Season the Tilapia

  • Meanwhile, pat the tilapia dry.
  • In a small bowl, mix the paprika, garlic powder and oregano together.
  • Sprinkle liberally over the tilapia filets on both sides.

Grill the Fish

  • Add one tablespoon of butter to the skillet and slide the onions to the outer edges.
  • Lay the tilapia directly into the skillet.
  • Top each fillet with a tablespoon of butter.
  • Cover the lid and allow the tilapia to cook through, 5 to 7 minutes until it flakes easily with a fork.
  • With heat resistant gloves, remove the skillet from the fire and transfer to a serving area.
  • If making more than 2 filets, leave the skillet on the fire, and transfer the onions and tilapia to a serving dish with a spatula and repeat as needed for quantity.



This is one of those one-pan easy recipes that can be made in a traditional kettle grill, on a camp grill or over a controlled live-fire. As long as you take the time to build a good amount of heat with the coals, it’s a perfect campfire meal.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 201kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 65mg | Sodium: 121mg | Potassium: 297mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 386IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 17mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Author: Kita Roberts

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Well, Hey, Y’all.

Kita is a multi-talented individual, boasting numerous accomplishments such as being an award-winning recipe developer, world-traveled professional photographer, and journalist. As the lead creative force behind Girl Carnivore®, she is widely recognized as an authority on all things meat.


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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This sounds amazing!! I love tilapia and your char grilled version and in a cast iron skillet sounds amazing. Such a creative way to use your cast iron skillet. I can’t wait to try this simple recipe.

  2. Oh my yum! I absolutely love tilapia and this recipe and the way you cook it makes it so easy that I can try it at home! Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to see how delicious it turns out!

  3. 5 stars
    Wow! This is a great idea and looks sooooo delicious! Unfortunately, I don’t have a grill….. but would love to try this recipe…)

  4. 5 stars
    After losing many of tilapia filet through the grill grates, this is genius! I can’t believe I never thought of it! Love you simple rub too!

  5. 5 stars
    My husband loves to grill and when I showed him this recipe.. we were excited to try it! Let me tell you, it was absolutely amazing! The flavor was out of this world! Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. 5 stars
    Yum! This Charcoal Grilled Tilapia sounds really delicious. Tilapia is really a favorite of many. I like your technique in cooking this.

  7. 5 stars
    I love this recipe! Tilapia is a favorite at our house and this recipe sounds like it would be a hit as well. Adding to our menu now!