Food Guide


Buying Tips

Quality mackerel is easy to recognize. Fresh mackerel never smells fishy, and the eyes should appear bright and clear, almost alive. The gills should be clean, and the skin moist and with tightly adhering, shiny scales. Fresh mackerel should be stiff; it shouldn’t bend when you hold it by its head and tail. When choosing mackerel steaks or fillets, whether they’re fresh or previously frozen, look for moist, translucent (never dried out) flesh.


Atlantic mackerel (also called Boston mackerel) is often used in sashimi. Spanish mackerel has only a small percentage of red meat and a milder taste than other kinds of mackerel. King mackerel (also called kingfish or cavalla) has a firm texture and distinct taste. Cero mackerel (also called cerro or painted mackerel), caught in waters along the coast of Florida, has leaner flesh and more delicate flavor than most varieties. Pacific mackerel (also called American, blue, or chub) is an oily fish with an assertive flavor. Pacific jack mackerel (also called horse mackerel) is often canned. Wahoo (also called ono), is a subtropical fish with a delicate flavor; it is often used for sashimi.

Fresh mackerel is sold whole, as fillets, and as steaks.

Preparation, Uses, & Tips

The secret to successful mackerel cookery is to not overcook. Whichever of the following cooking methods you choose, your mackerel will be cooked when its flesh becomes opaque but still moist, and can easily be pierced with a fork. To tone down strong-tasting mackerel, marinate in a citrus or vinegar marinade for 15 to 30 minutes.


Place mackerel in a greased baking dish, or wrap in oiled foil and place on a baking sheet. Brush with melted butter or oil and season with salt and pepper, or cover with a piquant sauce. Bake in a preheated 450°F (230°C) oven until done, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.


Rinse mackerel fillets or steaks and pat dry with a paper towel. Coat with flour, crumbs, or cornmeal, if desired. Place fish on a rack above a baking dish, and brush with melted butter or oil. Preheat broiler and adjust oven rack so the fish is 3 to 4 inches (about 7.6 to 10cm) from the element. Broil, turning once, until fish is opaque but still moist in the center, about 3 to 10 minutes, depending on size of the fish.


Place fillets or steaks on perforated aluminum foil, 4 to 6 inches (about 10 to 15cm) above prepared coals or fire. Baste with butter, oil, or marinade, and close the hood of the grill. Cook until fish is opaque and moist on the inside, about 6 to 8 minutes for fish less than 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick, and 10 to 15 minutes for fish larger than 1-inch (2.5cm) thick.

Pan frying

Coat mackerel with seasoned flour, crumbs, or cornmeal. Shake off any extra coating and fry in a small amount of hot butter or oil, turning once halfway through cooking time. Cook until opaque and moist on the inside, 4 to 8 minutes.


Bring poaching liquid, consisting of water, broth, and herbs and spices, to a simmer. Slip in the mackerel, then cover pan and keep liquid at a simmer for about 8 minutes per inch (2.5cm) of thickness.


Keep mackerel cool on the trip from the market to your house. Never let it stay unrefrigerated for long. To store mackerel, remove packaging, rinse fish under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Fish deteriorates when it sits in its own juices, so place it on a cake rack in a shallow pan filled with crushed ice. Cover with cling wrap or foil and set in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Mackerel will store well this way for up to two days. When well-wrapped, mackerel can be frozen for up to two months in a refrigerator freezer and for three to four months in a deep-freeze. Use lined freezer paper and wrap fish tightly from head to tail with at least two layers of paper. To thaw fish slowly, unwrap, place in pan, cover, and leave for 24 hours in the refrigerator. To thaw more quickly, place the whole fish (wrapped in a watertight bag) in a sink with cool running water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound (about 450g). For fastest thawing, use the defrost cycle of your microwave, allowing 2 to 5 minutes per pound (450g), with equal standing time in between zaps (as one minute defrost to one minute resting).

Nutrition Highlights

Mackerel (cooked, dry heat), 1 fillet (3 oz.) (84.9g)

  • Calories: 230
  • Protein: 21g
  • Carbohydrate: 0.0g
  • Total Fat: 15.7g
  • Fiber: 0.0g

*Excellent Source of: Selenium (45.4mcg), Niacin (6mg), Vitamin B6 (0.4mg), and Vitamin B12 (16.7mcg)

When cooked (dry heat), Atlantic mackerel provides 1.316 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, derived from EPA (0.504 grams), DHA (0.699g), and ALA (0.113g), per 100 grams of Atlantic mackerel. When cooked (dry heat), king mackerel provides 0.401 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, derived from EPA (0.174g) and DHA (0.227 grams), per 100 grams of king mackerel.

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The information presented in the Food Guide is for informational purposes only and was created by a team of US–registered dietitians and food experts. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements, making dietary changes, or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2020.