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How to Make Smoked Tuna Steaks

Learn how to make smoked tuna steaks on ANY grill or smoker!

Whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss, an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional propane grill like a Weber, we’ve got you covered. 

Let’s go!

a smoked tuna steak on a grill

 

Preparing your Tuna Steaks for Smoking

No matter what type of tuna steaks you are smoking, whether it be Ahi, Yellowfin, or Bluefin Tuna Steaks, you are better off brining them first.

When possible, you should do this with any fish you grill or smoke.

Brining fish not only adds flavor, but helps the tuna steaks retain moisture during low and slow smoking, helps it absorb smokey flavor, and cuts down on albumin, that unappetizing white stuff that leaks out of fish sometimes when it’s cooked.

And thankfully tuna steaks have shorter and looser muscle fibers, so they absorb brine much faster than say a chicken breast, so 45 minutes to an hour in the brine mixture  is all you need.

 

Brine the Tuna Steaks Before Smoking

Now, to prepare a brine for smoked tuna steaks, all you really need is water, salt and sugar.

Feel free to add other seasonings or use naturally salty and sugary ingredients like fruit juice in place of sugar, or soy sauce in pace of salt.

mixing a brine for smoked tuna in a pot

The sugar and salt not only flavors the tuna steaks really well throughout but really prepare it perfectly absorb the maximum amount of smokey flavor and keep the fish from drying out while it cooks low and slow.

You will need:

  • A covered baking dish or large pot
  • 4 Cups Cold Water
  • 2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt

Mix well to dissolve the salt and sugar in the water.

This is good for about 2-3 lbs of fish, and you can double this brine recipe if needed but try to keep the ratios consistent.

You can also add things like worcestershire sauce or honey but cut back on the salt and sugar respectively if you do.

Mix the brine mixture ingredients together well and pour over the tuna steaks in a large sealable bag, a brining bucket, or a covered baking dish.

Brine the tuna steaks for about 45-60 minutes in the refrigerator.

brining tuna steaks in a pot

The longer you leave the tuna steaks in the brine the saltier they will get, so if it’s your first time brining expensive tuna steaks, be conservative with how long you leave them in the brine.

You can always go longer next time.

 

Rinse and Dry the Tuna Steaks Smoking

Take the tuna steaks out of the bag, bucket, or baking tray and rinse them off really well under cold running water, and pat very, very dry with paper towels, and place them on a wire rack to air dry even further.

Don’t worry, there is still plenty of flavor INSIDE the meat.

Unlike a marinade where you leave the sauce on the meat when you cook, with a brine, you always rinse off the exterior of the fish or it will be much too salty.

Keep them on the wire rack for about 1-2 hours in the refrigerator while you start to get your grill or smoker ready.

Over the course of an hour or so the brined tuna steaks will form what is known as a pellicle on the exterior.

This is just a fancy term for a sticky layer that forms as some of the salt and sugar that infused makes its way back to the surface.

The pellicle is the ideal surface to absorb smokey flavor and form a delicious crust on the tuna steaks as they smoke, so give it time to form.

If you don’t have time to let them dry out on the wire rack then just make sure to dry them VERY well with paper towels before applying your rub.

 

Seasoning your Tuna Steaks for Smoking

Tuna, being a firmer fish, holds up well to stronger flavors compared to more delicate fillets like tilapia and halibut.

You can go still gentle and delicate with a simple blend of salt, lemon pepper, thyme and garlic if that’s your thing.  You can also add in some smoked paprika for more color and depth of flavor.

seasoning tuna steaks

Mix the spices and sprinkle on the tuna steaks after rubbing both sides with some olive oil.

Go easy on the amount of salt in your rub since we already brined the tuna steaks for smoking.  You can always add more after tasting but you can’t put that genie back in the bottle if you overdo it.

One of our latest favorite rubs for smoked fish is Rufus Teague Fish Rub.

It’s got a great sweet and salty profile with some garlic, lemon, pepper, and a touch of heat that works great on smoked tuna steaks.

 

Best Wood Choices for Smoked Tuna Steaks

Because we are only smoking the tuna steaks for such a short period of time, you can really get away with any kind of smoking wood of your choosing.

pellets in a pit boss pellet grill hopper

If you want to keep it simple and straightforward, choose a lighter smoking wood like alder, oak, apple, or peach.

Want more smokey wood flavor?  We also really like hickory or cherry for smoking tuna.

But if you want a more delicate flavor, then go lighter with some conventional wood choices.

 

Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Tuna Steaks

What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Tuna?

We are going to set up the smoker for indirect cooking at 250-275°F.

traeger pellet grill set to 250 degrees

When we are smoking fish, (unless we are looking to smoke small thin strips for preservation, like a jerky where we dry out the protein on purpose at super low temps), anything lower tends to dry out the fish before it cooks completely, especially if you have very thick tuna steaks.

You CAN set the temperature higher if you want a higher heat taste and finish, just know that smoking over 325°F may burn any sugar BBQ rub, and the tuna may cook too fast to absorb any real smoke flavor before its finished.

 

Target Internal Temperature for Smoked Tuna Steaks

You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your smoked tuna steaks, especially because they will cook relatively FAST!

We are particular fans of this one from Thermopro because of its durability and affordable price.

A final internal temperature of 140-145°F on the smoked tuna steaks is what the USDA recommends to be fully cooked. 

If you are looking for a more medium-rare internal temperature on your smoked tuna steaks, then you should target closer to 125-130°

 

How Long Does it Take to Smoke Tuna Steaks?

At 250°F, the typical tuna steaks will take about 45-60 minutes to cook and come up to 145°F internally.

This gives it plenty of time to absorb a good amount of smoke and really develop some great flavors on the smoker.

But watch your internal temperature closely, it all depends on thickness.

Smaller, thinner tuna steaks may only take 30 minutes to finish smoking!

 

Smoking Tuna Steaks with Cedar Planks, Grill Baskets, or Phat Mats

Option 1: Cedar Planks

smoked tuna steaks on cedar planks

You can also experiment with smoking your tuna steaks on cedar planks for some added woods-ey flavor.

Check out our complete guide on how to grill with cedar planks HERE.

Make sure to soak the cedar planks in water for at least an hour before putting them on your grill or smoker so that they don’t char and burn.

This also helps release steam and flavor the tuna steaks while they are smoking.

 

Option 2: Use a Grill Basket or Grill Mat

Because tuna is more delicate than other cuts of meat, you may be more successful if you place the steaks in a grill basket rather than directly on the grill grates.

We are particular fans of the ORDORA Portable Grill Basket because it comes with its own handle, making it much easier to manage and move lots of delicate food around with one quick motion.

Another option is to use a grill mat, which are becoming increasingly popular in many BBQ circles, especially for delicate veggies and small seafood like shrimp and scallops.

Our personal favorite is the PhatMat Non Stick Grill Mat.

Just throw it down on your grill to keep your fish (or any other food) from sticking or falling through. It keeps your grates really clean, and when you are done, you just throw it right in the dishwasher!

 

Setting up your Smoker for Tuna Steaks

Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker

Char-Broil 12201570-A1 American Gourmet Offset Smoker, Black,Standard
The entry level Char-Broil Offset Barrel Smoker.
Read Char-Broil Reviews on Amazon

Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with a few handfuls of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.

If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.

Light a charcoal chimney about 1/4 way with charcoal and wait about 15 minutes for it to fully ignite.

You will not need too many briquets here because we are only smoking the tuna steaks for about an hour at the most.

Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.

Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the cooking chamber temperature reaches about 225°F.  Then slowly close them down until they are just barely open and you are maintaining a temperature of 250° F.

Place 1 chunk of your chosen smoking wood on top of your lit charcoal once the smoker is up to temperature and put your oiled and seasoned tuna steaks on once the smoker is actively producing smoke.

Want to see a list of our FAVORITE Vertical Smokers for 2021?  Check it out here!

 

Propane or Electric Smoker

Masterbuilt MB20073519 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker with Broiler, 30 inch, Black
The Classic Masterbuilt Electric Smoker
See Masterbuilt Reviews on Amazon

Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.

Debating whether to buy a propane or electric smoker?  Check out our COMPLETE Comparison Guide HERE.

 

For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 250° F.

Need a refresher? Check our our Complete Guide to How to Use a Propane Smoker HERE.

 

For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in, open the vents, and turn the temperature to 250° F.

While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.

Fill the water tray if there is one.

Place your oiled and seasoned tuna steaks either directly on the rack, or on your soaked cedar planks, in a grill basket, or on a Phat Mat, and close the door.

Refilling wood chips is one of the major drawbacks, besides shelf size, of electric smokers compared to pellet grills like Traegers and Pit Bosses.

However, we recently found a great solution.

If you are tired of having to reload fresh wood chips into your electric smoker, especially on longer cooks like with a smoked sirloin tip roast, then check out this Masterbuilt Automatic Slow Smoker Attachment.

It basically burns new fresh wood chips at a constant rate, much like how a pellet grill works, freeing you up to do other things while getting your food nice and smokey!

 

Pellet Grill

Z GRILLS ZPG-450A 2020 Upgrade Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker 6 in 1 BBQ Grill Auto Temperature Control, 450 Sq in Bronze

Check out this Z Grills Pellet Grill on Amazon

Pellet grills like the ones from Traeger and Camp Chef are great for smoking tilapia.

Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.

Plug in the pellet grill, turn it on and let it run through its start up process.

Then turn the temperature to 250°F.

When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your oiled and seasoned tuna steaks in the pellet grill set up for indirect heat.

Never used a pellet grill like a Traeger or a Camp Chef before? 

Read our ultimate guide to pellet grills to learn why they are so easy to use and how to set one up for success every time.

Here is also a list of our Favorite Pellet Grills for 2022 priced under $500!

 

Gas or Charcoal Grill

Weber 45010001 Spirit II E-310 3-Burner Liquid Propane Grill, Black

Check out the Weber Spirit on Amazon

On a gas or charcoal grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.

Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home? 

Think again. Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill!

Check out this Step by Step Guide to Smoking on a Gas Grill HERE.

If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!

You can read all about smoker boxes here, and see a selection of our favorite pellet tube smokers here.

Not sure which is best to use?

Check out this guide comparing smoker boxes to pellet smoker tubes.

In the case of smoked tuna steaks, we would opt for just using the smoker box filled with some wood chips since we will be cooking for probably no longer than 45-60 minutes

Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your oiled up tuna steaks to be on the other side.

 

charcoal grill set up for indirect heat

Once the temperature of your grill is around 250°F, place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the coals or lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your tuna steaks on the opposite side of the heat.

Make sure to oil the grates on the indirect side very well so that the smoked tuna steaks do not stick.

 

Monitor your Grill Temperature

Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.

Now, if you are using a pellet grill or electric smoker, you should be able to pretty accurately dial in your desired temperature of 250°F with the turn of a dial.

This is what makes them so convenient!

If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker, you can’t rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge that come installed on them.

We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from what the true actual temperature at the grill grate level.

This is unacceptable.

This is why you will always see competition cooks, and backyard chefs who know their stuff, using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.

And even if you have a fancy pellet grill like a Traeger or even an electric smoker, it can’t hurt to double check how accurate your temperature settings are to the true temperatures you are getting.

We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series.

 

Best Ways to Serve Smoked Tuna Steaks

Your smoked tuna steaks should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.

No need to rest or wait to eat!

smoked tuna steaks on a cutting board

You can squeeze some fresh lemon on them or top with a little sprinkle of parsley for added color.

You can also slice up that smoked tuna to make delicious smoked tuna tacos, or incorporate it into a smoked tuna dip for a party for all to enjoy.

 

What Other Food Can I Smoke on a Grill or Smoker?

Looking for some more smoky inspiration?

So glad you asked.

Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!

Pork

 

Beef

 

Seafood

 

Poultry

 

Lamb

 

Other Odds and Ends

 

a smoked tuna steak on a grill

Smoked Tuna Steaks with Lemon Pepper Garlic Rub

We quick brine our tuna steaks before rubbing them oil and a delicious lemon pepper and basil rub before smoking low and slow with indirect heat until they are cooked to perfection.
These simple Smoked Tuna steaks can be prepared on ANY grill or smoker!
Whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss, an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional propane grill like a Weber, you can still follow the same basic principles below. 
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Brining Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Australian, barbecue, BBQ, Hawaiian, Mediterranean, Seafood, Smoked
Servings 4 servings
Calories 400 kcal

Equipment

  • Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
  • Large Pot or Baking Dish
  • Paper Towels
  • Wood chunks or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
  • A Grill Basket or Phat Mat (optional)
  • Grill Tongs or Spatula
  • Instant Read Thermometer and/or Leave in Temperature Probe
  • Cutting Board

Ingredients
  

  • 4 Tuna steaks - thick cut Ahi, yellowfin, or bluefun preferabbly

Wet Brine

  • 4 Cups Cold Water
  • Cup Brown Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Kosher Salt

Lemon Pepper Rub

  • 4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 4 cloves Minced and crushed fresh garlic can substitute 1 Tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp Lemon Pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tbsp Dried Basil
  • 2 Tsp Paprika for color
  • ½ Lemon Lemon Juice (squeezed) for juice at the end

Instructions
 

Brine the Tuna Steaks

  • Combine the Water, Brown Sugar and Kosher Salt in a large pot or baking dish and stir well to dissolve.
    4 Cups Cold Water, ⅔ Cup Brown Sugar, ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
    mixing a brine for smoked tuna in a pot
  • Add the tuna steaks to the brine mixture and submerge completely.
    4 Tuna steaks - thick cut
    brining tuna steaks in a pot
  • Keep refrigerated in the brine mixture for 45-60 minutes.
  • Remove the tuna steaks from the brine mixture and rinse well under cold running water and pat very dry with paper towels.
  • Place the tuna steaks on a wire rack back in the refrigerator for 1-3 hours to dry while you get your grill or smoker set up.

Set up the Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker

  • Light or turn on your smoker or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 250°F. If using a grill, set up the burners or charcoal on only one side for indirect cooking.
    traeger pellet grill set to 250 degrees
  • Brush the grill grates with oil to keep the smoked tuna steaks from sticking or use a well oiled grill basket or grill mat.

Season the Tuna Steaks

  • Remove the tuna steaks form the refrigerator and keep on the wire rack for now on top of a cutting board.
  • Drizzle the olive oil over both sides of each steak and to cover the surface.
    4 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Combine the garlic, salt, lemon pepper, thyme, basil, and paprika, in a small mixing bowl and then sprinkle over each side of the tuna steaks.
    4 cloves Minced and crushed fresh garlic, 2 Tbsp Lemon Pepper, 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt, 1 Tbsp Dried Thyme, 1 Tbsp Dried Basil, 2 Tsp Paprika
    seasoning tuna steaks

Smoking the Tuna Steaks

  • Add your wood chunk(s) directly to the firebox or on top of the charcoal of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker on a gas grill.
    smoking wood on lit charcoal
  • Once smoke is being produced, put your tuna steaks in the smoker, or on the grill AWAY from the direct heat.
    tuna steaks smoking on a traeger pellet grill
  • Smoke the Tuna Steaks continuously at 250°F, without flipping, until they reach an internal temperature of 140-145°F. This should take about 45-60 minutes.
    checking internal temperature of smoked tuna steak on a grill
  • Remove the smoked tuna steaks from the grill or smoker, optionally squeeze some lemon juice over them, and serve immediately while hot.
    ½ Lemon Lemon Juice (squeezed)
    smoked tuna steaks on a cutting board

Video

Notes

Video example for brining from Retired at 40.

Nutrition

Calories: 400kcal
Keyword ahi tuna, barbecue, bbq, BBQ fish, BBQ Rub, big green egg, bluefin tuna, Camp Chef, camp chef pellet grill, Cedar Plank, Garlic, garlic marinade, Lemon Pepper, Masterbuilt, pellet grill, Pit Boss, seafood, smoked ahi tuna, smoked fish, smoked tuna, smoked tuna steaks, traeger, Tuna, yellowfin tuna
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

 

One Comment

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  1. 5 stars
    Good recipe, I might brine them a little longer next time, still not as muc flavor as I would have thought.

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