How Long Can You Freeze Tilapia? [Whole & Filets]

When you find a great price on tilapia at the local market, you must decide how much to buy.

You probably don’t want to eat it for every meal, but you can’t turn down a fantastic deal. The good news is that with just a little preparation, you can freeze tilapia for up to a year.

You can freeze tilapia filets or whole tilapia for 6-8 months by preparing it for freezing by dipping each piece in ice water and freezing it individually, then storing them in heavy-duty freezer bags. 

However, if you have a vacuum sealer, you can create the ice glaze on your tilapia then vacuum seal it, allowing you to freeze the fish for up to 1 year with no loss of taste or texture.

Keep reading for detailed descriptions on how to prepare your tilapia for freezing, freeze it with and without a vacuum sealer, defrost your tilapia, and cook your tilapia when it comes out of it the freezer.

Purchasing Tilapia

When you buy tilapia at your local market, you will find that you can get it already filleted or as a whole fish. When you are ready to freeze your purchase, you can freeze it either way. 

Freezing A Whole Tilapia

Freezing tilapia successfully requires some preparation and time, but taking the time to do it properly will keep your fish fresh in the freezer for 6-8 months.

Before you freeze your whole tilapia, remove the gut, and clean the fish. Then scale the tilapia thoroughly. These steps will ensure that your fish freezes well and retains its mild flavor. 

Next, place each fish separately on a piece of waxed paper. Lay them in the freezer for 2-3 hours, so they are individually frozen.

When they are thoroughly frozen, remove them from the freezer and wrap each fish individually in heavy aluminum foil.


Place the fish in a heavy-duty freezer bag and press all the air out of the bag. Be sure to write the date on the bag and return it to the freezer. Your tilapia will be good to eat up to eight months when stored this way.

Freezing Tilapia Filets

Freezing tilapia filets requires a few more steps than freezing a whole tilapia, but the process will guarantee that your fish is tasty and has a firm texture for up to 8 months in the freezer. 

Create a brine of ¼ cup salt to one quart of water. Then chill the brine by setting it in the refrigerator or putting ice in it to make it cold.  

You may want to clear off a shelf in the freezer if you have several filets because you will want to freeze each one individually, which takes a bit of room. 

Carefully rinse your tilapia filets to ensure that there is no debris remaining on them. Dip each filet in the brine for 20-30 seconds, lift it out and place it on waxed paper. Lay the filets on the waxed paper in the freezer and let them freeze for 2 hours. 

Once they are completely frozen, remove them from the freezer, dip them in near-freezing ice water and replace them on the waxed paper in the freezer for 10 minutes to harden the glaze.

Repeat the ice-water dip and freeze once more to ensure that a uniform glaze of ice forms around the entire filet. 

Tilapia Filets

Wrap each filet individually in freezer paper as tightly as you can, then place all the filets in a heavy-duty freezer bag. Press all the air out of the bag, seal tightly and label with the date.

Using A Vacuum Sealer To Freeze Tilapia 

The best way to freeze tilapia and to store many other food items is to use a vacuum sealer. A vacuum sealer is a countertop appliance that allows the user to extend the shelf life of foods by removing most of the air from the packaging.

Most external vacuum sealers require a few seconds between each bag for the heating element to cool down to expect to wait up to a minute between sealings.

These devices are excellent for preparing food for storing in individual portions and freezing without exposing the foods to freezer burn. 

Freeze Whole Tilapia In A Vacuum Sealed Bag

Prepare your whole tilapia by removing the gut, cleaning, and scaling the fish. Then place one tilapia in a vacuum bag and seal it, leaving about 2 inches between the fish and the heat seal. 

Once you have sealed all your fish, place them in a large heavy-duty freezer bag together and press out as much air as you can.

Be sure to date the bag. Using this method will keep your tilapia freezer fresh for up to a year. 

Freezing Tilapia Filets With A Vacuum Sealer

When you vacuum-seal individual filets, the moisture in the filets may be squeezed out by the vacuum sealer.

To keep the moisture in your tilapia filets, use the individual freezing method first.

Clean each filet and brine in icy water for 30 seconds. Freeze the filets individually on waxed paper for 2-3 hours.

Remove each filet from the freezer, dip in icy water and return to the freezer for 10-15 minutes to create an ice glaze around each filet. 

Once each filet has an ice glaze around it, place them one at a time in vacuum seal bags and seal them, leaving 2 inches of space around each filet.

Store all the filets in a large heavy-duty freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as you can.

Write the date on the bag and return it to the freezer.  You will have individually frozen portions of tilapia ready for the next year.

Cooking Frozen Tilapia Filets

Bake Frozen Tilapia

When you are ready to use your individually frozen filets, you can cook them directly from frozen. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lay out your tilapia fillets in a glass baking dish, season with olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper, and bake for 20 minutes.

This is a quick and healthy dinner when you have tilapia in the freezer.

Cook Frozen Tilapia Filets In An Air Fryer

Unless your air fryer is non-stick, coat it with a light spray of oil so the tilapia won’t stick to it. Next, preheat the air fryer to 390 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the filets in the air fryer – still frozen – and cook for 5 minutes to allow the surface of the fish to thaw.

Remove from the air fryer and season your tilapia filets on both sides with your favorite seasoning, like a spicy Cajun seasoning.

Return to the air fryer and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes. They are finished cooking when they flake apart at the touch of a fork.

Cook Frozen Tilapia In The InstaPot

If you want to use your instant pot to make veggies and fish simultaneously, you will need a steaming rack to suspend the fish in. 

Chop your vegetables into 1-inch pieces and place them in the bottom of the pot. Season the veggies and cover them with water. Smaller vegetable pieces will be softer when the cooking is done.

If you prefer firmer vegetables, cut larger pieces. Place the steaming rack on top of the vegetables so that it is not in the water. Season 3-4 frozen tilapia filets and lay them in the steaming rack. 

Lock the lid and close the steam valve. Set the pot to high pressure for 8 minutes and a quick pressure release. 

Grill Frozen Tilapia

You can easily add tilapia to your cookout. It only takes a few minutes to cook and makes a nice change from burgers and hot dogs.

Tilapia works well on the grill because it is a firmer fish that will hold together as it cooks.

When you cook the tilapia directly on the grill, prepare it with a bit of cooking spray to keep the fish from sticking.

Start the tilapia from frozen on the grill and as it thaws, brush it with olive oil and seasoning.

Try some tilapia tacos by seasoning the filets with a combination of chili powder, paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and just a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Grill over indirect heat for 7 minutes, then turn over once and grill for 5-7 more minutes. Brush your seasoning on after turning the filet. 

If you struggle with fish flaking and falling apart on the grill, lay some heavy-duty foil on the grill first and spray it with non-stick cooking oil.

You can grill your fish on the foil over low or indirect heat with similar results and without losing any pieces into the fire.

Pan Sear Frozen Tilapia

Another option is to pan-sear the frozen tilapia filets. Coat a heavy-duty pan with olive oil and heat to medium.

Lay the frozen fillets into the pan. As they begin to defrost, add your seasoning so that it will stick to the fish.

Cook for about 7 minutes, then turn the filet over. Season the other side and cook for 5 more minutes or until the filet flakes with a fork. 

Defrost Frozen Tilapia And Store In the Refrigerator

If you prefer defrosting your filets before you cook them, you can thaw them in the refrigerator.

Put them in the fridge the morning before you plan to cook them, and they should be thawed by the time you are ready to cook that evening. 

Thawed tilapia is good in the refrigerator for 2 days.  

Perhaps you forgot to thaw the tilapia, and you need a quicker method. If the filets are vacuum sealed, you can place them – still in the packaging – in a bowl of cool water to defrost.

Concluding Thoughts

By taking the time to prepare your tilapia for freezing properly, you can safely freeze it for 6-8 months.

Vacuum sealing your filets will keep them good to eat for up to a year. When you are ready to cook your tilapia, you can cook the filets from frozen.

Just apply your seasoning after they start cooking so it will stay on the fish as it cooks. 

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