Grill Hills

Are squid and calamari the same? And what's the best way to cook them?

Our food expert answers your culinary questions

01 October 2020 - 07:13
Calamari served with a wedge of lemon.
Calamari served with a wedge of lemon.
Image: 123RF/Joshua Resnick


After watching the My Octopus Teacher doccie I will never eat octopus again! I’ll be sticking to squid and calamari and wondered if they were one and the same? We USED to cook octopus over hot coals for that lovely charred BBQ flavour. Can squid or calamari be prepared in the same way?  — No Octopus for Me, Port Elizabeth


Though there are many similarities between squid and calamari I always understood them to be different, but this depends on the source of information, which can be conflicting.

Both are similar in that they are from the mollusc family, they don’t have external shells, their ink sacs are their defence mechanisms and the calamari is a species of the squid, so in general terms they are the same. The main difference lies in the fins — calamari has fins running the length of the body whereas squid has just two triangular fins.

All said, I turned to the experts at the World Wildlife Fund South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (WWF-Sassi), for the final word.

“The food type, calamari, comes from the animal, squid. So yes, calamari and squid are the same thing,” said WWF-Sassi project officer Kirtanya Lutchminarayan, adding that just as crayfish and lobster are the same, though there are many species, the common names refer to the same thing.

“There are various species of squid that are found on the Sassi list [a colour-coded list denoting the sustainability of various types of seafood], of which the Cape Hope squid is one,” said Lutchminarayan.

The good news is that most are on the green list, which means they aren’t under threat and can be enjoyed in good conscience. However, some are on the orange list, indicating some threat, determined by where they are from and how they are caught.

In terms of cooking, squid are larger, making the flesh thicker and are best cooked long and slow — say stuffed squid. Calamari, being smaller, is more delicate and best prepared quickly — deep fried, grilled or pan fried. Squid heads can be prepared like calamari and are best done over intense heat on the stove.

Squid steaks, which are often passed off as calamari steaks, are good cooked over the coals. Score with a sharp knife creating a diagonal pattern, and for tenderness marinate the steaks then remove and dry and cook over the flames.

Calamari, usually tubes, may be cooked on the braai, but are best done in a pan with lemon juice, butter, olive oil and seasoning, or wrapped in foil with the same added ingredients.


In a cookery quandary, have a problem with a recipe, bogged down by measurement conversions, or baffled by an ingredient? For sound advice, Sunday Times food editor Hilary Biller is at your service. Send your queries to with “Grill Hills” in the subject line. If yours is selected, she'll answer it in an online article.