Grilled Tilapia

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Preparation info

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Appears in

The Ghana Cookbook

By Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baëta

Published 2015

  • About

Grilling over wood or charcoal is a basic cooking technique in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and Ghana is no exception. Ghana’s most common freshwater fish is tilapia, and Ghanaians have also practiced small-scale fish farming for many decades, harvesting fish from streams, rivers, lagoons, and fish farms. Tilapia consumption has also been growing in popularity in the United States.


  • 2 tablespoons grated shallots or onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon dried ground red pepper or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger (or to taste)
  • 1 to 4 tablespoons minced fresh chili pepper (kpakpo shito if available, or a pepper of similar heat, see chart)
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, like canola, divided
  • 4 medium whole tilapia (8 ounces each)



  1. If using a charcoal grill: Before making the seasoning and preparing and seasoning the fish, light charcoal and allow it to burn down for about 30 minutes.

Marinate fish

  1. Combine the shallots or onions, salt, dried ground red pepper, ginger, desired amount fresh chili pepper (add some and then taste marinade before adding more), and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Clean and wash the fish, removing gills and fins (leave the heads on). (This is not as easy as Ghanaian women make it look. It requires a very sharp knife, patience, and care.) Cut 2 diagonal slits on each side of each of the fish.
  3. If you have “strong” hands, use them to stuff and rub the seasoning mixture all over the fish, rubbing it into the slits and also inside the fish. Otherwise use a spoon or gloves. Do not discard any dregs left in the bowl. Leave the marinade on the fish for at least 15 minutes.

Grill fish

  1. When ready to grill, brush the grill rack with oil, and place it about an inch above the coals. Place the fish on the rack and baste them with a little oil to keep them soft and moist. After 3 to 5 minutes, turn over the fish and baste the other side.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of oil into the bowl that held the seasoning mixture and swirl. Using your hands or the brush, shake the seasoned oil over the fish until all the seasoning mixture is used (do not try to brush it on). Continue turning the fish every few minutes. Depending on the thickness of the fish and fire’s heat it will cook in 10 to 15 minutes. If the fish tails are in danger of burning, cover them with foil. Voila! Ghana-style grilled fish.

To serve

Grilled tilapia is often garnished with onion and tomato slices, and served with a Fresh Pepper Sauce or Shito or any tomato or hot sauce.


  • Bake the fish in a moderately hot oven (400 degrees F) for 25 minutes.
  • People in Ghana often add a crushed shrimp-flavored seasoning cube. If they aren”t available you could substitute a little extra seasoned salt and spice mixture (e.g., some dried ground shrimp/crayfish and/or garlic).
  • Substitute one large tilapia, and make 3 slits instead of 2 and grill longer.