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Can You Eat Red Drum?

One of the most popular sport fish in the southern United States, red drums can grow to be nearly five feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds. With a fish this size, you are probably wondering: can you eat red drum? As close but smaller cousins of the black drum, red drums can definitely find their way onto the plate. However, as with most game fish, they need to be prepared properly to taste good.

Red drum fish lying on a table and ready to fillet

Do People Eat Red Drum?

As with most game fish, bigger red drums are older and tend to have tougher meat than younger red drums. For this reason, anglers often release large red drums, after they’ve taken a photograph with their prize, of course. Additionally, larger red drums usually have a fishier taste than smaller ones, so they are not as well-liked by people who prefer milder fish meat.

fresh red drum fish fillet for frying

Due to their mostly mild flavor, at least for the smaller red drums, they are very versatile meat and can be prepared in many ways. One of the tastiest preparations is baking it in cajun spices, which became a culinary sensation in the 1980s when famed chef Paul Prudhomme put a blackened Cajun red drum on the menu at his restaurant. Since then, it’s been a popular southern dish.

About Red Drum

The average size of a red drum is 20 pounds, making it very popular to anglers who want to catch a prize game fish. However, fish that size can also yield a lot of meat, so they’re also popular for meals as well. Like other drums, they get their name from the sound their swim bladders make during spawning season, which resembles the beating of a drum. These fish are also dark red in color, hence, the name red drum.

Red Drum Taste

Although a bit oilier than its black drum cousin, red drums have a mild taste with a hint of sweetness. The meat is usually firm and flakes off in large chunks when baked or fried. You’ll find that the younger and smaller red drums are sweeter than the older, larger ones, and are reminiscent of the flavor of cobia fish or red snapper. The larger red drums are more flavorful but tend to have a fishier flavor as well.

cooked red drum fillet

Eating Raw Red Drum

Red drums can be eaten raw and are sometimes the featured fish in sushi and sashimi. However, all game fish, including red drum have the risk of containing the ciguatera toxin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in the extremities, dizziness, and other symptoms. This poison cannot be detected by examining a fish, nor can it be cooked or frozen out of a fish. Larger fish have more of a risk of containing ciguatera than smaller fish.

While you can get ciguatera from either cooked or raw red drums, raw red drum meat can contain parasites, which can make you just as sick. However, this is true of any ocean fish, so if you decide to eat red drums raw, you are taking the same risk you would with just about any other fish from the sea. It is frequently prepared as both sashimi and ceviche in various parts of the world, including in the United States.

As with many other large game fish, red drums are very exciting to catch. If you get one that is over about 15 pounds, though, it might be better to toss it back. Unless you like fishy-tasting meat, you’re better off sticking with the smaller red drums for meals. You’re going to get a lot of meat from one fish, so prepare it in a variety of ways to determine which method you like best!

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