The Best Eating Catfish: Species and Sizes, PLUS how to cook

Find out out which

Catfish is served in restaurants around the world, but in the American South fried catfish is one of the most popular menu items with blue catfish usually considered the best eating.

The truth is all of the main catfish species in the US – blue catfish, bullhead catfish channel catfish and flathead catfish – taste great when prepared the right way.

Personally, if pressed, I would say blue catfish taste very good and are the best catfish species to eat.

It really is a matter of personal choice as to which catfish species is the best to eat, but we explained a little about the eating qualities of the main types below.

What is the Best Catfish Species to Eat?

Fried catfish with lemon
Fried catfish with lemon is beautiful

Clean wild catfish and farm-raised catfish are good to eat when prepared and cooked properly.

If you ask ten different people which catfish tastes best you will get at least three different answers. Some people prefer the taste of commercially raised catfish fed fish food.

Others will swear by the large filets of a Mississippi River blue catfish. Another might tell you flathead catfish are the most flavorful.

Many will say bullheads have a muddy taste, but that is because they live in the mud and eat garbage. Some people love to eat these smaller fish, though.

Generally speaking, smaller fish will have a better taste, but water quality and habitat have a lot to do with flavor. Another factor that affects the taste is the diet of the catfish species.

Catfish Eating Qualities

Fried catfish with lemon 1 1
Keep it simple when cooking catfish regardless of which species

Among fish, catfish is often healthier to eat than some other species. With a very low percentage of body fat, channel catfish are full of protein and vitamins. Even blue cats, which have a good bit of fat, provide an excellent source of protein, Omega oils, and B vitamins.

While all catfish species are edible, the taste of the flesh depends on what the catfish eat. Some catfish can have a muddy taste, while others can be very mild and sweet tasting.

See also: Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

Channel catfish, whether wild-caught or farm-raised, are supposed to be the best-tasting fish in the catfish family. Channel catfish that weigh less than two pounds taste the best. These young fish have a milder taste and less yellow fat than larger channel cats.

Channel cats are often raised specifically for the commercial food service industry. Channel catfish fed high quality food and raised in continually filtered water will be the best tasking. When fishing for channel cats, try to find clear water with a sandy or rocky bottom. If you are catching fish for eating, save the small fish and release the big catfish.

Blue Catfish

Blue catfish can be very tasty, depending on the quality of the water. In fast-moving, deep water, blues will feed on small fish, rather than searching for debris in the mud. Blue catfish has firm, flaky meat with very little fishy flavor. Because they can grow to be such big fish, blue cats can develop a bad taste because the mercury in the rivers penetrates the meat. This is not only true for blues, but for other species as well.

See also:

Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish, easily recognized by their flat, wide head and yellow body are fun to catch because they fight so hard. Many people think this yellow cat is the tastiest of the fish, if it doesn’t have a muddy flavor. Because flatheads prefer to eat live bait such as fish and crawfish, they have a cleaner diet than other catfish. This gives these catfish a mild and sweet flavor. Flathead catfish will eat any species of fish, including other catfish.

Bullhead Catfish

The bullhead is easy to catch in shallow rivers and farm ponds. Bullheads will eat just about anything that shares their habitat, including invertebrates, other catfish, algae, trash, and the corpses of dead animals. Bullhead catfish live in the mud and the meat often has a muddy taste.

See also:

Why do Smaller Catfish Taste Better?

Fried catfish with french fries
Fried catfish with french fries is a great meal

So, what makes small fish the best tasting? Not just catfish, but any species of freshwater fish will be tastier if it is caught and eaten before it reaches two years old. In the case of catfish, this generally means they are between 2 and 4 pounds. There are a couple reasons the meat of river catfish tastes better when the fish are smaller. For one thing, all members of the catfish family hatch as fry that feed on aquatic insects and algae. As they grow and begin to eat more foods, channel, flatheads, and blue catfish develop more muscle and fat. This fat takes on a flavor based on the food they catch. Eating foods from clear, freshwater channels makes catfish meat taste good to eat. Flathead catfish, blue cats, or channel catfish caught in muddy water will have a strong mud taste. The larger the fish, the stronger that taste will be.

See also:

What Are Some of the Best Ways to Cook Catfish?

Spicy stir fried catfish
Spicy stir fried catfish is a great alternative to traditional frying techniques

Catfish does not have scales, but has a smooth skin which should be removed before eating. The easiest way to prepare catfish for watching is to filet it. Remove the head by cutting at an angle behind the gills. Make a cut along each side of the dorsal fin and cut toward the belly, along the ribcage. Pull the meat down, away from the body.

Catfish meat has a delicious mild taste and can be prepared in many ways. Frying in hot oil is one of the most popular methods for cooking this mild-tasting fish. In the south, a fish fry is a major event that brings friends and relatives for live food and music.

Delicious catfish is cut into catfish filets or gutted and beheaded, then dipped in milk and cornmeal before being dropped into a deep fryer. When the fish is golden brown and floats to the top, it is ready to eat. Freshly fried catfish filets, served with cole slaw and fried potatoes make my taste buds happy.

There are other methods to cook catfish, if you don’t like to deep fry your food. Blue catfish filets are large and meaty and can be grilled with lemon pepper and Italian dressing. Yum.

The invention of the air fryer has created an opportunity to enjoy fried catfish without the negative health effects of frying in oil


The channel cat, blue cat, and flathead catfish are all good to eat. Taste depends a lot on diet and location.

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Teresa Taylor is a keen kayak fisher and lover of all types of fishing. She writes about a range of fish species for Tackle Village and reviews lures and gear.
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