Grilled Sardines With Lemon, Garlic, and Paprika Recipe

Grilled sardines seasoned with lemon, parsley, garlic, and paprika on a white plate.

Serious Eats / Marvin Gapultos

Despite their small size, fresh sardines have a lot going for them. They're rich in omega-3 fatty acids, so they're good for you. They're a sustainable source of seafood, so they're good for the oceans and planet. They're also incredibly inexpensive, so sardines are easy on your wallet as well. And with a rich, meaty flavor (think mackerel), sardines simply taste great—but especially so when grilled.

In fact, grilled sardines are a common menu item at many a Spanish tapas joint, where the small fish are enjoyed like corn-on-the-cob, eaten with the hands right off the bone (and yes, cutlery can be used as well).

When grilled, sardines usually need nothing more than a spritz of lemon juice and a sprinkling of sea salt. But I do like to marinate the strongly flavored fish in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic before they hit the flames. A bit of smoked Spanish paprika in the marinade also helps to echo and extend the smoke and char from the hot grill.

Because of their small size, sardines make for a quick and easy to prepare finger food option, and when quickly crisped over an open flame, they are also great when paired with a glass of Rioja or a cold beer.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Active: 40 mins
Marinating Time: 30 mins
Total: 65 mins
Serves: 2 to 4 servings

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  • 3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup fresh juice from about 2 lemons

  • 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound fresh sardines, cleaned, scaled, and gutted

  • Fine sea salt, or Kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

  • Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. Combine the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, and black pepper in a small bowl and whisk well to combine. Arrange the sardines in a single layer on the bottom of a shallow baking dish and pour the marinade over the fish. Turn the fish to ensure they are coated evenly, and spoon some of the marinade into the cavity of each fish. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.

  2. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals in an even layer on the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set all of the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.

  3. Remove the sardines from the marinade and grill over direct heat until well-charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a metal spatula or fish turner, flip the sardines over and grill until charred on second side and cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer the sardines to a large platter and season with salt. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
251 Calories
10g Fat
16g Carbs
29g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 251
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g 13%
Saturated Fat 2g 12%
Cholesterol 83mg 28%
Sodium 237mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 16g 6%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 29g
Vitamin C 94mg 470%
Calcium 63mg 5%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 880mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)