Are Channel Catfish Good to Eat?

It’s no secret that people love to eat catfish. You can find them on many restaurant menus and grocery stores, especially in the southern United States. 

With a wide variety of catfish species available, it can be hard to know which are the best, so are channel catfish worth eating?

Most definitely!  If you’ve ever eaten catfish from a restaurant or store, there is a good chance it was a channel cat because they are so widely available throughout the country.  They may not be the biggest species, but they are certainly one of the tastiest. 

What Do Channel Catfish Taste Like?

Channel catfish have firm white meat similar to walleye or trout though it is less flaky when fried or baked.  It is a popular food due to its lack of the fishy or gamey taste synonymous with species like tuna, salmon, or mackerel. 

Channel cats have a mildly sweet flavor that resembles the taste of smallmouth bass.  The meat is very dense and moist, which allows it to retain moisture when cooked.

What Size Channel Catfish Taste The Best?

Are Channel Catfish Good to Eat

Like most other organisms we harvest for food, channel catfish taste much better when fully mature yet not too old.  

Older channel cats can get very large, the current world record is 58 lbs, but larger specimens don’t usually taste very good and don’t actually contain that much more edible tissue than smaller ones. 

Channel cats that exceed the 6-8 lb range contain a lot of inedible fat.

Unlike red meat, catfish fat is yellow colored and doesn’t taste very good.  It’s undoubtedly more exciting to reel in a massive channel cat, but you are better off releasing it because chances are it won’t taste that great.

Most anglers agree that the sweet spot of the best-tasting channel cats is 2-4 lbs.  For the most part, this translates to an 18-24 inch fish, though it will vary depending on their diet and age.

Health Benefits Of Eating Channel Catfish

Channel catfish are undeniably delicious, and lucky for us, they are healthy too!   Some of the health benefits of eating channel cats include:

  • High protein
  • Low calorie
  • Low fat
  • Contains many essential vitamins, including vitamin D and B12
  • Great source of minerals
  • High in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Low mercury content compared to other fish

Some of these values will vary depending on how you cook the fish, but as a whole, catfish are a healthy option when it comes to freshwater fish.

As with most other fish species, wild channel catfish are more nutrient-rich than their farmed brethren.  

Channel catfish are widespread throughout the United States, so the best way to maximize the nutritional benefits of this fish species is to go out and catch them yourself!

Nutritional Profile Of Channel Catfish

AmountDaily Recommended Value
Total Fat2.42 g78 g
Saturated Fat0.63 g20 g
Unsaturated Fat1.48 g58 g
Omega-3s (EPA, DHA, ALA)210 mg
Protein15.7 g50 g
Sodium42.5 mg2,300 mg
VitaminAmount%  Of Daily Recommended Value
B1 (Thiamin)0.193 mg13%
B3 (Niacin)2.02 mg10%
B5 (Pantothenic Acid)0.773 mg8%
B60.09 mg5%
B122.46 ug41%
D429 IU107%
MineralAmount%  Of Daily Recommended Value
Magnesium23.8 mg6%
Phosphorus258 mg26%
Potassium356 mg10%
Selenium12.2 ug17%

Best Way To Prepare Channel Catfish

Channel catfish are among some of the easiest fish to clean.  As long as you come prepared with a sharp knife and a cutting board, you will have some delicious fillets in no time.  

Electric knives work fine, but they can prove difficult for those who are new to this process.  Greenhorns should stick with an old-fashioned fillet knife to help ensure accuracy so that no meat goes to waste.

  1. Envision an imaginary line from the front of the dorsal fin to the front of the pelvic fin and make your first cut.  Cutting any closer to the head of the fish poses a risk of puncturing any internal organs that will negatively affect the meat’s taste.
  2. Cut until you feel the fish’s backbone, then turn your blade toward the tail.  Make sure to stop before reaching the tail, as this will make separating the meat from the skin much easier.
  3. Flip the fillet over the tail and cut in between the meat and the skin.   It will help to use a regular knife instead of an electric one.  Cutting slowly with a knife that isn’t razor sharp will help prevent accidentally cutting through the skin.
  4. Turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side.
  5. Remove the remnants of the rib cage and any yellow fat that may be attached to the fillets.

Now it’s time to enjoy your harvest!

Take note that some people utilize the meat from catfish heads as well.  This meat is just as delicious as the rest of the fish, but you should refrain from doing this if you live in certain areas with PCBs in the water.  

We always recommend that you never waste any part of an animal, but channel catfish heads tend to contain higher levels of PCBs than other parts of the fish. 

Check with local wildlife and natural resource agencies to familiarize yourself with this possibility.

Best Ways To Cook Channel Catfish

Are Channel Catfish Good to Eat?

Channel cats can be prepared in many different ways, but the most popular methods usually involve frying or baking the fish.

Channel Catfish Po’Boys

This Cajun-inspired catfish sandwich is both easy to prepare and delectable.  To fully experience this Louisiana favorite, just fry or bake your fillets and toss them on a french bread roll with lettuce, pickle, tomato, mayonnaise, and hot sauce.

Channel Catfish Gumbo

Catfish gumbo is another Cajun-style favorite from the southern United States.  You can add almost anything to gumbo, but traditionally they consist of chicken or seafood stock, flour, seasonings, celery, bell peppers, and onions.

Southwestern Style Baked Channel Catfish

This is a slightly different regional take on catfish cuisine but is equally as tasty.  The fillets are rubbed with cayenne, chili powder, paprika, and cumin, then baked and served with a salad for a healthy meal with a kick.

Why Don’t Certain Anglers Eat Channel Catfish?

Some anglers don’t eat channel catfish because of local environmental factors; others choose to pass on this fish because of misinformation about their feeding behavior.

Mercury, PCBs, Antibiotics

If you consider eating imported catfish, you should think again.  Imported catfish can contain antibiotics and steroids currently banned in the US, so try to go out and catch your own or at least buy domestically to avoid this.

Most fish contain some level of mercury, but catfish generally have much less than species like albacore tuna (~93% less) and even trout (~67% less). 

The majority of this mercury contamination is due to runoff from coal power plants.

Most anglers don’t have to worry about mercury or PCB contamination unless they are fishing within close proximity to coal plants or industrial manufacturing areas, but be sure to check with state and local agencies if you are unsure. 

Catfish Are Considered Bottom Feeders

Since catfish are considered bottom feeders that are anything but picky, some anglers equate this with the species being dirty. 

This is an unfair assessment because catfish swim in the same water and eat the same baitfish as other popular freshwater species.

If a catfish contains contaminants like mercury or PCBs, then it’s a good bet that all other species within the same fishery do too.  This is more of an environmental issue than an issue related to the feeding habits of channel catfish.

Final Thoughts

Channel catfish are one of the most abundant fish species in North America. Ranging from Canada to Mexico, they can be found in almost every state other than Alaska.  Paired with their delectable taste, it’s not hard to see why they are so popular to eat.

You should strongly consider cooking one up if you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this freshwater treat.  They are tasty, packed with nutrients, and easier to catch than many freshwater species.

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