Last updated on February 6th, 2023
There’s nothing quite like a day of catching big bluegill from your favorite fishing hole. And while I practice catch and release most days, every once in a while I like to keep a mess of fish to have friends over for a fish fry. I’m always amazed at how often I get asked, “Are bluegill good to eat?”
The truth is, bluegill are great to eat! In fact, they are probably my favorite freshwater table fare. The meat is firm and flaky, and because they are primarily insect eaters, they have a mild flavor. If you don’t like your fish to taste “fishy,” then bluegill is a great option.
Is Eating Bluegill Good for You?
So we’ve established that bluegill are good to eat, but are they good for you? The answer is once again a resounding yes. In general, fish meat is a good, lean, low-calorie source of protein. According to the website healthfully.com, a 3-ounce serving of cooked bluegills contains just 97 calories and provides 21 grams of protein, 1.3 milligrams of iron, and 2 micrograms of vitamin B-12. The one downside is that the same bluegill dinner is a little high in cholesterol at about 73 milligrams.
Obviously, how you cook the fish will impact its nutritional value. Cooking up a mess of bluegill in the deep fryer isn’t the most heart-healthy way, but it sure is delicious! If you are trying to live a more healthy lifestyle, then consider baking them. They will still test great, but you’ll avoid all the oil and grease from the fryer. More on different cooking options later.
A Word About Eating Fish and Pollution
It’s worth noting here that where you catch your bluegill can also impact whether it’s good for you. Fish caught in polluted waters may contain heavy metals and chemicals that are harmful to you if ingested in large enough quantities. This can lead to birth defects, cancer, liver damage, and other serious illnesses. I don’t say that to scare you from eating your fresh-caught fish, but it’s a good idea to take the necessary precautions.
The good news is bluegill are less likely to build up pollutants than other species of fish because they primarily feed on insects. That’s not to say, however, that you shouldn’t still use caution. Make sure you’re aware of any fish consumption advisories where you fish and, if so, follow the recommended guidelines.
Keep in mind that younger fish are less likely to have high levels of chemicals than older, larger fish. Those harmful chemicals are also more likely to accumulate in the organs and skin of fish, so I would recommend at a minimum removing all the organs from the fish, and you may also want to filet them rather than cooking them skin-on if there’s any doubt. Wild-caught fish should be properly cooked the fish before consuming them.
Learn more about chemicals in fish from this EPA brochure.
How you prepare your bluegill will be a big factor in whether they are good to eat. There are lots of different ways to cook these freshwater fish. While the most popular method is to fry them, either in a skillet or a deep fryer, I’ve also seen people bake and even grill them. My personal favorite way is to pan-fry the fillets in a cast iron skillet.
Regardless of which method you choose, the preparation will be the same. The only difference will be in how you season and coat them prior to cooking, and how you actually cook them. While you want to cook bluegill thoroughly, you definitely do not want to overcook them. The meat will quickly become tough and rubbery. And since there’s not a lot of meat there to begin with, it’s not going to take long.
My Favorite Bluegill Recipe
Quick disclaimer here: I am not a great cook, so I keep my fish and wild game prep pretty simple. In this case, here are my 4 steps to tasty friend bluegill:
- Mix a couple of slightly beaten eggs and milk in a bowl and let the fillets soak in that for about an hour.
- Take the fillets out of the milk/egg mix and roll in a mix of cornmeal and Old Bay Seasoning. You can adjust to your taste, but I typically mix a couple of tablespoons of the Old Bay with a cup of cornmeal. I’ll typically add a little salt and pepper as well.
- Heat some canola oil in an appropriate sized pan until it reaches around 350 degrees.
- Carefully place the filets in the pan, and cook 2-3 minutes per side.
The result is a quick, easy, and delicious meal of fresh fish that your friends and family are sure to enjoy.
Bluegill are excellent to eat and often preferred over many other freshwater fish species due to their mild flavor of their firm, flaky meat. So the next time you hit your favorite fishing hole in search of bream, be sure to throw several in your fish basket to take advantage of a great natural source of protein and nutrients.