Tuna is one of the most prized fish in the sea. It has intense flavors that are just right for seafood enthusiasts, making it one of the most delectable treats you can get in a restaurant. If you don’t want to wait for a special occasion to eat tuna, you can learn to make grilled tuna steak at home instead.
Grilling fish like tuna isn’t for the novice griller, however. Fish can be very delicate, no matter how you cook it. If you’ve grilled before, you know that it’s not difficult for a grilling session to go wrong.
Still, learning to cook tuna on the grill isn’t impossible – and our friends at Chicago Steak are here to walk you through it.
How to Choose the Best Tuna for the Grill
Choosing tuna to cook on the grill is much like picking out other fish to cook. The primary features you’ll want to look for are color and size. Different tuna varieties can range in color from light pink to deep, vibrant pinkish red. You should avoid buying tuna that’s pale in color or has a yellow or tan sheen, which indicates a lack of freshness.
As for size, you’ll want a nice, thick piece of tuna. The thicker, the better on the grill. Thinner slices of tuna can be too delicate for the grill, causing them to cook too quickly or fall apart while they cook.
It’s best to look for a full tuna loin if you’re visiting a butcher or market and ask the butcher to cut it into steaks for you. This allows you to see what the tuna looks like as a whole, and you can choose which piece to have your steaks cut from.
Searing vs. Cooking
One of the most common questions we hear is, “Should I cook tuna all the way through?” Our answer: It’s a personal preference. Plenty of people enjoy eating tuna raw, the way you’ll often find it in sushi. Others like just the outer edges seared, while others like it best when it’s fully cooked through like you’d get when you purchase canned tuna.
Searing is a popular way to eat tuna. When you sear the outside, you won’t be eating a raw piece of fish. Instead, the hot grill crisps up the outer sides, and you’ll achieve a similar look and taste to what you’d get from a cast-iron skillet. When you cook tuna on the grill, you’ll get the bonus of grill flavor that you can’t get from the skillet.
Is one way better than the other? In terms of flavor and texture, yes. Yellowfin tuna – also known as Ahi – is a type of tuna that’s commonly in sushi and eaten raw or almost raw. Its texture and flavor are perfect for just a slight cook.
If the thought of eating raw fish for your meal doesn’t sit well with you, then, by all means, sear it instead. You can always tweak the cooking time to cook tuna to your liking.
How to Make Perfect Grilled Tuna Steaks
Ready to start grilling fish? Follow the steps below for grilling tuna steak, whether you want it fully cooked or perfectly seared.
Prepare the Tuna Steak
Preparing tuna steak is easy, especially if you’ve already gotten them cut properly by a butcher. The key to getting your tuna ready for the grill is to dry it off thoroughly first. Use paper towels to dab along the fish, soaking up any liquid on all sides. This process keeps the liquid from causing flare-ups on the grill and allows you to get a good sear on the outside.
You can then add a little olive oil or vegetable oil, salt, and pepper to your tuna steaks. Now is the time to also add any other spices you prefer on your tuna, like a sprinkle of fresh thyme, fresh ginger, or a splash of lemon. Mix the spices together in a small bowl before adding them to the tuna to ensure that you get an even covering.
Prepare the Grill
Adding olive oil or vegetable to the fish allows the spices and herbs to stick to the surface better. It’s also a good idea to add some oil to your grill grates before heating it up to prevent your tuna steaks from sticking. Alternatively, you can cook the tuna on a grill pan if you’re worried that your worn-out grates might pull apart your fish.
Now, heat the grill to medium-high. Make sure it’s hot enough before putting grilling the tuna. You can check the temperature by hovering your hand over the grates (safely away from flames!) for a couple of seconds. You should feel intense heat right above the grates.
Sear and Cook the Tuna
Here’s where the grilling process will differ, depending on whether you want just a delicious sear or want your tuna cooked all the way through. Either way, though, you can follow the same process to sear the tuna.
Place the tuna steaks over the hottest part of the grill. Leave that side down for 1-2 minutes until browned and crispy. Then, flip to the other side and sear for another 1-2 minutes. Now, you can pull it off the grill or continue to cook it to your desired doneness level. Shoot for an internal temperature of at least 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unlike beef and other meats, you don’t need to let your grilled tuna rest before you can enjoy it. Instead, you’re free to slice into it right away.
You can serve grilled yellowfin tuna – or any other type of tuna you choose – alone or with a sauce or salsa. Some people prefer to drizzle sauce over the tuna for a little added flavor and juiciness. Or just use a simple garnish, like fresh cilantro, a little lemon zest, or some avocado slices. You might also want to add a bit more freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.
Grilled Tuna Steak Recipe Ideas
Are you looking for some more grilled tuna steak inspiration? Try these recipe ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Marinated Grilled Tuna Steak
If you prefer a little extra flavor than the taste of tuna alone, try marinating your steaks overnight or at least for a few hours in the fridge. Garlic and herb marinades are some of the most popular for tuna because cloves of garlic complement the fish well.
You can also go a little tangier with a honey mustard marinade that offers just the right amount of sweetness. Or shoot for a light and fresh aioli-like marinade recipe with ingredients like lemon and orange juice and some freshly chopped garlic.
Spicy Garlic Grilled Tuna Steak
Do you enjoy a spicier taste for your tuna? Try a spicy garlic grilled tuna steak recipe that adds a bit of zing to the mild fish. Spices like cumin, cayenne pepper, and red chili pepper flakes can kick your tuna up a notch and excite your palate. Add some fresh garlic for an extra kick. Want to go even spicier? Mince jalapeno peppers and sprinkle them over the finished product.
Crusted Grilled Tuna Steak
Do you love bringing out bold flavors in tuna while enjoying a crispy crust? The grill is the perfect cooking method for a crusted tuna steak that’s covered in incredible spices and herbs.
Try a freshly ground black pepper crust with some added seasoning like salt, coriander, and cayenne pepper. Sesame crust is another popular option that covers the tuna in sesame seeds, salt, pepper, and a little oil. You’ll get an excellent crunch in each bite.