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.
Brine the Tuna Steaks
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 smoky flavor, and cuts down on albumin, that unappetizing white stuff that leaks out of fish sometimes when it's cooked.
Thankfully tuna steaks have shorter and looser muscle fibers, so they absorb brine much faster than say a chicken breast. About 45 minutes to an hour in the brine mixture is all you need.
To prepare a brine for smoked tuna steaks, you really only need 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 place of salt.
The sugar and salt not only flavor the tuna steaks really well throughout but also prepare the fish to absorb the maximum amount of smoky flavor and keep them from drying out while low and slow cooking.
You will need:
- A covered baking dish or large pot
- 4 Cups Cold Water
- ⅔ Cup Brown Sugar
- ¼ 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.
The longer you leave the tuna steaks in the brine, the saltier they will get. 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
Take the tuna steaks out of the bag, bucket, or baking tray and rinse them off well under cold running water. Pat them 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 typically 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.
You can still go 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.
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 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.
If you want to keep it simple and straightforward, choose a lighter smoking wood like alder, oak, apple, or peach.
Want more smoky wood flavor? We also really like hickory or cherry for smoking tuna.
If you want a more delicate flavor, then go lighter with some conventional wood choices.
For adding extra smoke flavor to any grill, check out How to Light a Pellet Tube Smoker and How to Make a Firebox with Real Wood.
We are going to set up the smoker for indirect cooking at 250-275°F.
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
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°
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!
Cedar Planks, Grill Baskets, or Grill Mats
Option 1: Cedar Planks
You can also experiment with smoking your tuna steaks on cedar planks for some added wood flavor.
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 Grillaholics Mesh 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!
Monitor your Grill Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
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.
Our new favorite meat thermometer is the MEATER. The single probe simultaneously measures the internal temperature of the food and the ambient temperature inside the grill.
It pairs with your smart phone using Bluetooth so you can monitor the progress in the free app. It even gives you an estimated finish time based on the particular food and the temperature in the grill!
Your smoked tuna steaks should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.
No need to rest or wait to eat!
You can squeeze some fresh lemon on them or top with a little sprinkle of parsley for added color.
Smoked Tuna Steaks with Lemon Pepper Garlic Rub
- 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
- 4 Tuna steaks - thick cut Ahi, yellowfin, or bluefun preferabbly
- 4 Cups Cold Water
- ⅔ Cup Brown Sugar
- ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
Lemon Pepper Rub
- 4 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 4 cloves Minced and crushed fresh garlic can substitute 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoon Lemon Pepper
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon Dried Thyme
- 1 tablespoon Dried Basil
- 2 teaspoon Paprika for color
- ½ Lemon Lemon Juice (squeezed) for juice at the end
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
- Add the tuna steaks to the brine mixture and submerge completely.4 Tuna steaks - thick cut
- 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.
- 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 tablespoon 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 tablespoon Lemon Pepper, 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt, 1 tablespoon Dried Thyme, 1 tablespoon Dried Basil, 2 teaspoon Paprika
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.
- Once smoke is being produced, put your tuna steaks in the smoker, or on the grill AWAY from the direct heat.
- 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.
- 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)