Head to a random seafood restaurant in the south, and if they don’t have catfish on the menu, they aren’t a true seafood restaurant. Not all catfish make for a great meal, but most do, especially fried.
The best catfish to eat are blue, flathead, and channel catfish. Anywhere you go, you’ll find those three at the top of the menu. But other catfish types make a pretty good meal too. Much of it depends on what the catfish is, where you caught it, and the condition of the environment.
Farm-raised versus wild-caught catfish are always a source of contention, in terms of which are the best eating catfish. But there is no definitive, scientific proof that farm-raised catfish are better, just the comparisons between individual palettes.
Best Eating Catfish
Types of Catfish
There are over three thousand species of catfish around the world that belong to roughly 35 families. That’s a lot of catfish. Fortunately, we know of the more popular catfish in terms of what we like to stuff in our gobblers for dinner.
Blue, channel, flathead, wels, white, Mekong giant, bullhead, upside down (yes, that’s the name of a catfish), piebald blue, and Paraiba catfish are all catfish you can eat. Some will taste better than others.
The big three are the ones that every angler is going for when they hit the water: flathead, channel, and blue. However, the Wels catfish, bullhead catfish, white catfish, and Mekong giant catfish are also high on the list.
In America, we have to settle for catfish that are indigenous to America. The Wels catfish is European, and you would have to travel to Asia to get your hands (of hook) on a Mekong Giant—the one catfish with no barbs or “whiskers.”
Best Tasting Catfish
The “Big Three,” as they are known, are the best catfish to eat in the US, possibly the world. Of the three, channel catfish and flathead catfish are considered the cream of the crop, with Blue catfish just hanging on below them.
Channel catfish are the one species of catfish that an angler can find just about anywhere in the US. They are easily the most spread out of all the cats. Blues are less spread out, and there is one thing that makes them just a shade less appetizing, as opposed to flatheads and channels.
Blues love to feed on the bottom more than other catfish, so they tend to ingest things that knock their overall flavor down just a notch. Blues also get huge, and there is a certain cutoff point when too big is no longer flavorful.
Flatheads are ugly. There’s no other way around it. They are ugly catfish, but the taste has little to do with beauty contests out there on a lake or in a pond. They are also fearsome fighters, so you’ll have just as much fun bringing one in as you will eating it.
For that reason, flatheads are considered the best catfish for eating. Their musculature is leaner, with less fat in the tissue.
Do Catfish Taste Good
Catfish taste very good. Some of that depends on how you cook it and the rest on the type of catfish. Most of the time, especially in the south, catfish is served fried. Both farm-raised and wild catfish taste a little different wild-caught catfish tend to taste a little better.
Catfish have a firm texture. It’s not the kind of fish that falls apart on your plate or in your mouth. They also have a mild and sweet flavor. They can taste a little on the fishy side, but only if the prep work is inadequate.
Channel Cat versus Blue Cat
In terms of looks, it’s not hard to tell them apart. Blue catfish tend to have a silvery, bright, washed-out blue appearance. Channel cats are yellowish to yellow-green, and they tend to have spots spread out across their skin in random patterns.
Channel cats are generally a little better to eat. That’s because blue cats tend to feed on the bottom far more frequently than their relatives. Since they feed on the bottom, they pick up things that alter their flavoring somewhat.
That doesn’t mean blues are bad to eat—far from it. Just that it tends to knock them down a peg or two in the flavor department.
What Size Catfish Tastes the Best
The cutoff point for catfish size is around 8 lbs. Once a catfish gets old and pretty large, there are a lot more toxins in the meat. Those toxins make the meat far fishier, and the texture is off as well.
With very large catfish, the meat gets rubbery and mushy, and it just doesn’t have the same, distinct flavor as catfish 8lbs and under. Bigger catfish just aren’t worth the trouble. Fortunately, if you fish for sharks, you don’t have to toss it because it will make excellent shark bait.
How to Bleed a Catfish
To properly bleed a catfish, you have to do it while they’re still alive. Once a catfish is dead, the blood is no longer moving, and gravity is all you have. Make sure you have a sharp knife and you have some good gloves on before you get started.
Locate the soft spot behind the eye (that’s the brain)
Push your knife into the brain, passing all the way through and out the other side
Now make your next cut just behind the gills
Cut until you hit the bone
Flip the fish and make the same cut behind the other gill
Rinse the fish in a cold bucket of water and allow the blood to drain out
The benefits of bleeding a catfish is that it makes for much cleaner filets, and when you cook the catfish, it will taste much better.
The best catfish to eat are the Big Three, with flathead catfish standing out as the best. The smaller catfish are usually much better tasting and much better for you, without all of the additional toxins.
The jury is still out on whether farm-raised catfish or wild-caught catfish are better to eat, but you really can’t go wrong with either one. There are also sea cats—those catfish caught in brackish and saltwater—but most anglers agree that they don’t taste very well.
The advantage of catfish is that you can catch them all over the country. They’re fun to catch because they will put up a terrific fight and they’re delicious to eat. What more could an angler ask for?
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