Crappie isn’t just fun to catch, it’s one of the best tasting fish you’ll ever feel on a hook. Offering fine, almost crab-like flesh, it’s a fantastic addition of flavor to the table and a great source of protein and healthy fats.
We love to cook crappie. From frying to roasting, grilling to smoking, We’ve put together some of tastiest recipes. But don’t worry, there’s no need to break out your copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking; these are simple to make, easy to eat main courses that will quickly become go-to dinner options.
Don’t have crappie to cook? Check out our crappie fishing tips to help you land some slabs on the kitchen counter!
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As with any fish, fresh is always best, but carefully frozen, slowly defrosted crappie is still a treat. We recommend against thawing it in a microwave or warm water, as both techniques will slightly cook the fish and change its texture. Instead, just let the fish–safely contained in a sealed Ziploc bag–slowly thaw in cool water.
We particularly like to keep my crappie whole, and head-on. This may seem strange, but it keeps them juicier. As a general rule, the more intact the fish, the better it can retain its moisture during cooking. Give it a try–you’ll be impressed!
To prepare crappie for cooking in this way, just be sure to clean them well. You’ll want to remove all the scales and search the ventral cavity for any lingering bits, especially dark patches along the spine. Finally, pluck their gills out, and the fish are ready to go.
Some of these recipes call for fillets, so if you’re not sure how to turn an intact crappie into two delicious slabs of meat, check out this video:
Fried Crappie Recipes
Fried fish is an American staple, and from Virginia to California, North Dakota to Florida, you can find people breading crappie to drop it in hot oil. The first of our recipes is a nod to the standard fish fry, adjusted for the stove top. But the second makes use of the versatility of crappie fillets and their similarity to crab.
Fresh Fried Crappie
This is the simple, time-honored way to fry fish on your stove. I’ve done this hundreds of times, and it’s always a good idea!
Prep. time: 30 min.
- 2 ½ pounds of fresh crappie fillets
- Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry (1/2 cup of seasoning mix per 1 lb. of fish)
- Canola oil
- Paper bag or plastic food storage box with a tight-sealing lid
- Frying thermometer
Pour one inch of canola oil into the bottom of a deep skillet or pot, and place over medium heat. As the oil heats to 350 degrees, pour slightly more than ½ cup of Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry into a medium paper bag or Tupperware-style plastic storage bin with a secure lid. Add a few crappie fillets at a time, tossing gently to coat them well with the fish fry.
When the oil has reached the measured cooking temperature, carefully add a few fillets at a time, avoiding crowding the pan. Continue to monitor the oil temperature during cooking–it will drop as you add the fish but come back up to temp soon.
Cook until golden brown, turning fish once. Remove the finished crappie, and cool on an oven rack over a cookie sheet.
Serve with lemon wedges, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, or ketchup.
Andrew Zimmern’s Crappie Cakes
Crappie are known for their delicate, almost crab-like texture when cooked. That makes them a good stand-in for crab in most recipes. Adapted from Zimmern’s recipe for crab cakes, this simple preparation lets the fish shine.
Prep. time: 30 min.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 pound pre-cooked crappie fillets, broken into small pieces (instructions below)
- 20 saltine crackers, finely crushed
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- Lemon wedges, for serving
To pre-cook the crappie, add one pound of crappie fillets to a colander and cover with aluminum foil. Place the covered colander over a large pot of boiling water and steam for 8-10 minutes or until cooked through.
Break the crappie fillets into small pieces with a pair of forks, and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together until blended well. In a separate bowl, toss the pre-cooked crappie in the cracker crumbs until coated, and then gently fold in the wet mixture with a spatula. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Scoop this refrigerated mixture into eight 1/3-cup mounds, forming them into eight patties with your hands. Each should be about 1 ½ inches thick.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the crappie cakes, cooking over medium-high heat until deeply golden and heated through, about 3 minutes per side.
Serve with lemon wedges.
Baked Crappie Recipes
Chicken and roasts aren’t the only things your oven can roast. Quick to prepare and cook, baked fish is a tasty, easy way to make dinner.
The first of our recipes is as elegant as it is simple: just a few minutes in a hot oven will produce crisp, moist crappie that pairs perfectly with a fresh salad and white wine. And for those of you who’d like to try something a little different, crappie courtbouillon is a tangy, rich red gravy that can be served over rice or potatoes with hot French bread.
Simple Baked Crappie
As awesomely simple as this recipe is, if you’re a real fish lover, you’ll love the crispy skin and delicate, moist flesh this preparation creates. Leaving the heads on fish in the oven keeps their juices where they belong. Try it once and you’ll be hooked!
Prep. time: 30 min.
- 6 to 8 whole crappie, cleaned (scaled, gutted, gills removed) but with heads intact
- olive oil to taste
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 lemon cut into slices
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- 1 bunch of herbs: parsley, thyme, fennel, or dill
Preheat your oven to 400 F.
Gently brush the fish with olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Place a few slices of lemon and a small amount of herbs in the cavity of each fish.
In a non-stick baking tray, arrange the crappie, being sure not to crowd them together. Ideally, you want to be able to slide a finger between them, allowing them to cook evenly.
Place the crappie in the hot oven, roasting for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is cooked at the spine. If you want the skin to crisp on both sides, turn once during cooking.
Serve with a garnish of lemon wedges.
Marcelle Bienvenu’s Papa’s Courtbouillon
A classic taste of New Orleans, I’ve slightly modified Marcelle Bienvenu’s excellent recipe for cooks new to Cajun and Creole cuisine. This rich red gravy has just enough acidity and heat to bring out the best in crappie, and served over rice with a side salad, it’s a dinner your family will remember.
Prep. time: 120 min.
Serves six to eight
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 2 medium-size onions, diced fine
- 1 medium-size green bell pepper, diced fine
- 2 celery ribs, diced fine
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole
- 2 (1-pound) cans whole tomatoes, undrained, rough chopped
- 1 (10-ounce) can Ro-tel Original (mild version) Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles
- 1 quart warm fish or seafood stock (or water)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2-1/2 pounds crappie, cleaned and cut into chunks
- 1 bunch green onions (green part only), finely sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Combine the flour and oil in a large pot. Over medium-low heat, stir constantly to cook and darken the roux to the color of peanut butter. It will darken slowly at first, but very quickly take on color towards the end.
(Many experienced chefs will go darker, but if you’re new to making a roux, avoid the risk of burning it!)
When your roux has reached the desired color, add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. At this point, your roux will not darken further. Keeping the heat medium-low, cook and stir the vegetables until soft, about 15 minutes. The onions should be translucent, but not browned.
Add the whole tomatoes, their liquid, and the can of Ro-Tel. Stir to blend. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 30 minutes.
Add the stock or water, the salt, and the cayenne, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. The mixture should be slightly thick, but you can adjust its consistency with more stock or water. Err on the side of caution, however, as it’s much easier to add than subtract extra liquid.
Add the fish, cover the pot, and cook (do not stir) until the fish flakes easily with a fork, approximately 10 minutes.
Adjust the seasoning if necessary with salt and cayenne.
Add the green onions and parsley, and serve immediately in soup bowls over rice.
Grilled Crappie Recipes
Frying may be the most popular way to cook crappie, but it’s excellent on the grill, too! Many people avoid grilling fish because they worry that it will stick. In my experience, a non-stick cooking spray designed for grilling takes care of this problem with no fuss.
The first of our two recipes is a twist on fish tacos, and the final dish is everything you’re looking for in terms of flavor, freshness, and texture. The second is a simple, grilled crappie with a fantastic sauce of lime, cilantro, and garlic.
Grilled Crappie Tacos
This recipe is our own twist on tacos from Natasha’s Kitchen. We find that grilling the crappie provides a beautiful smokiness to this fresh Mexican dish.
Prep. time: 45 min.
Serves four to six
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp lime juice (or 1 medium lime)
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp Sriracha sauce
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 24 small white corn tortillas
- 1 1/2 lb. crappie fillets
- Olive oil
- 1/2 small purple cabbage, finely sliced
- 2 medium avocado, medium diced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, medium diced
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 bunch Cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 lime cut into 8 wedges to serve
For the sauce, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, garlic powder, and Sriracha in a small bowl and whisk until blended.
Heat your grill to medium. Brush the crappie fillets with olive oil, and season with cayenne, salt, black pepper, and cumin. Place on hot grill, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning carefully. Non-stick spray can help keep the fish intact, but be sure to follow the product’s recommendations.
When the crappie is cooked through, remove it to a cutting board, and use a fork and knife to separate it into small chunks.
Warm the tortillas on the grill and reserve them on a plate.
To assemble, place a generous portion of grilled crappie into each tortilla. Top with cabbage, avocado, tomato, red onion, cilantro, cheese, and the taco sauce. Squeeze a lime over the top and enjoy!
Grilled Crappie with Cilantro-Lime Gremolata
This recipe comes to us from Field & Stream, where it used bluegill.
Prep. time: 30 min.
- 4 whole crappie, scaled and gutted
- olive oil
- black pepper
- 1 lemon, halved
- ½ cup packed cilantro, chopped fine
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- zest of one lime
- 1 Tbsp. lime juice
- black pepper
For the cilantro-lime gremolata, combine cilantro, garlic, lime zest, and lime juice in a small bowl. Salt and pepper to taste, and mix well. Reserve in the refrigerator.
Gently brush the crappie with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
We recommend that you prepare your grill with a non-stick spray, following the product’s directions carefully.
Over high heat, carefully place the whole crappie and the lemon halves, cut side down, on the grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Using a wide spatula, turn the crappie and continue cooking for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the flesh flakes easily.
To serve, move the finished crappie to a large tray, sprinkle with grilled lemon juice, and top with the gremolata.
“Smoked” Crappie Recipes
Smoked fish is delicious, but brining properly and cold smoking safely are not easy processes. To save some time and simplify, try grilling crappie on a wooden plank. The flavor can’t be beat, the prep is minimal, and the results are outstanding!
For this technique, you need to source the plank carefully. Cherry, apple, pear, and other fruit trees are excellent choices, as is cedar. Your plank needs to be about 1 inch thick, large enough to accommodate your fish, and completely untreated. These are available on Amazon in a variety of options.
Plank Grilled Crappie
This is another modified recipe from Field & Stream that uses an Asian-inspired marinade to make the crappie really pop.
Prep. time: 30 min.
- wooden grilling planks, soaked in water for at least 2 hours
- 4-6 whole crappie, cleaned, head on
- 3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbs. sesame oil
- 1 tbs. soy sauce
- 1 tbs. ginger, minced
- 1 tsp. garlic, minced
- 1 tbs. green onion, chopped
- olive oil
Heat your grill to medium, and prepare the soaked planks by brushing one side with olive oil.
Generously spoon the marinade into the crappies’ cavities, and place them on the oil side of the planks. Drizzle more marinade over them, and place them in the center of the grill.
With the lid closed, cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the flesh flakes easily and is uniformly white.
I love to cook, and crappie is easily my favorite fish to work with in the kitchen. It’s versatile, easy to clean, and delicious, and if you give a few of these recipes a try, I think you’ll agree!
Let us know how they turned out, and please leave a comment below.