BBQ Chili Mackerel

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BBQ Chili Mackerel

It’s the middle of summer and that means camping. One of the most popular things to cook while camping here in Ukraine is mackerel (the dried version is a popular beer snack). Luckily this fish is abundant in the frozen section and due to the high fat content of the flesh it makes an awesome bbq fish. My recipe for chili mackerel may not be traditional, but it’s still so delicious.

Mackerel does not hold well while shipping which is why curing or brining or freezing are popular methods of preservation. As my recipe calls for unadulterated fish your best bet is of course frozen. Simply clean the fish and slice it into thick “steak size” pieces. This is a spicy fish recipe so you can adjust the marinade chili levels to suit your needs.

two whole frozen mackerel fish

To prepare the fish I like to cut them steak style. This means removing the guts from the fish and then just making thick slices every few centimeters/inches down the body. You’ll want slices a bit thick so the flesh doesn’t fall apart on the bbq.

mackerel fish sliced into steaks

If I’m being totally honest, after making my Baked Mediterranean Sea Bass, I just wanted to cook another Animal Crossing fish. Of course I’m using Atlantic mackerel instead of Japanese Horse Mackerel, but I digress. After cutting the mackerel into steaks it’s time for the marinade.

BBQ Chili Mackerel in the marinade

This recipe is for two whole mackerels, which feeds about 4 people. Into a large bowl I add 250 ml of Soy Sauce, 3 tbsp of sugar, a tablespoon of ground ginger, a tablespoon of hot chili flakes (more or less to suit yourself), and four cloves of garlic thinly sliced. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for one hour.

making a backyard campfire

Now you could do this on a bbq like I do with my grilled trout, but I wanted to cook this in a traditional campfire style as I needed some campfire cooking practice for my trip to Bakota with some of Alona’s hometown friends. Build the fire however you see fit and fan the flames until it’s roaring.

BBQ Chili Mackerel in the marinade after one hour

After marinating for an hour the fish should have taking on quite a bit of flavor. Mix everything up and then get out your grill rack.

BBQ Chili Mackerel on a campfire basket grill

I actually prefer to bbq fish on a campfire basket grill instead of an actual grill because it makes for such easier cleanup. Plus it’s a lot easier to control the heat since you can just lift the rack with your hands. Add all the fish to make sure they aren’t touching and then press down the top rack so the fish is snug.

BBQ Chili Mackerel on an open fire

Some people like to cook over embers or charcoal, but I want to cook these chili mackerel steaks on an open fire. At least in the beginning. This is because I want the sugar in the marinade to caramelize ever so slightly. Add the rack (yes I know I attached the top upside down, I fixed it before flipping…there was some drinking before grilling, as is tradition) directly on the open fire and let cook for about 2 minutes.

Next flip and cook for another minute. Pour some water on the fire to put out the large flames and then baste the mackerel with the remaining marinade (just spoon it over). Flip the fish and get the other side and let cook over low heat for another two minutes. All in all, the fish cooks for a total of no more than 7 minutes.

BBQ Chili Mackerel

Other Chili Mackerel Cooking Styles

If you don’t want to make a backyard campfire or use your bbq you can cook this fish using the same marinade in different styles. You can make this a 1 sheetpan recipe and cook the fish in the oven at 210 Celsius for 8 minutes. You can also sear them in a pan on medium high heat until they look like in the pictures above. About 3 minutes per side.

bbq chili mackerel steaks on a plate
spicy chili mackerel steaks

BBQ Chili Mackerel

This chili mackerel is an easy and delicious campfire recipe perfect for summer. With a great mix of sweet, salty, and spicy, this fatty fish is sure to hit all the spots.
4.20 from 5 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Course Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine Asian, Eastern European, Fusion
Servings 4 people
Calories 439 kcal


  • Knife
  • Campfire (or BBQ)
  • Campfire Basket Grill (if making it over an open fire)


  • 2 Mackerel I used Atlantic mackerel, but I'm sure other types would work just fine
  • 250 ml Soy Sauce
  • 3 tbsp Sugar granulated
  • 1 tbsp Ginger ground
  • 1 tbsp Chili Flakes more or less to suit your preference
  • 4 cloves Garlic thinly sliced


  • Clean the fish and slice into 3-4 cm (1-2 inch) sized steaks. About the thickness of a normal T-Bone steak.
  • In a bowl whisk together all the rest of the ingredients, add the fish and mix. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour.
  • While the fish is marinating in the fridge, build the campfire. If you are using a normal BBQ for this recipe then you can just start it how you normally do. I want the campfire to have big flames since the first step of cooking the fish is to caramelize the sugars in the marinade.
  • Open your basket grill and place the fish steaks inside. Close the grill and then place the grill directly onto the fire. After 1.5 to 2 minutes flip and cook for another minute.
  • Remove the grill and pour some water on the fire to reduce the flames to embers. Add the grate back on and spoon over some more marinade for each mackerel steak. Flip and baste more marinade over, and repeat until you've used up all the marinade. Don't cook the fish for more than 7 minutes (including the original 3 minutes in the huge flames).


Disregard most of the sodium in the nutrition facts as the majority of the marinade sloshes off into the fire when you baste the fish. 
Keyword BBQ Chili Mackerel, BBQ Fish, Fish Marinades, Fish Steak

BBQ Chili Mackerel

BBQ Chili Mackerel pin
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