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How to grill tuna steaks (plus, the most common mistakes everyone makes)

Put down the seasoning blend and walk away.

Tuna steak
Ioan Bilac/Pexels

Tuna is one of the most highly prized, most deliciously popular, incredibly healthy fish in the world. Known for its gorgeously silky texture and stunningly jewel-toned flesh, this fish is exquisite in hundreds of preparations, depending on the part of the fish you’re using. If it’s a perfectly seared tuna steak you’re craving, you’ll want to purchase steaks from the tuna loin, which is known for its clean, savory, mild flavor and creamy yet firm texture.

A beautifully seared tuna steak is one of the easiest, yet most impressive and delectable meals you can make for the fanciest of guests or the most mundane of Tuesday nights. Either way, you want to get it right. This is how to grill a perfect tuna steak.

Selecting tuna steaks

Raw tuna steaks
александр таланцев/Adobe Stock

There are a few considerations to make before selecting your tuna steaks. Firstly, and most importantly, is sustainability. The kind of tuna you select can have a great environmental impact, and it’s important to make responsible choices. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a tremendously helpful guide when considering seafood to buy for your family.

Your next consideration for tuna steaks should be freshness. Of course, when buying tuna steaks, you’ll want to look for pieces that are sushi or sashimi grade, which essentially just means that your fishmonger has deemed the fish safe to consume raw. While many American consumers have some concerns in this area, tuna is actually one of the safest fish to eat raw as it must be processed in such a way that kills off all potential parasites. So take a deep breath and enjoy.

Next, take a look at the size of the tuna steaks you’re eyeing. They should be roughly 1 1/2 – 2 inches thick, which will allow them to sear on the outside without cooking inside. Tuna steaks that are too thin will cook internally when all you want is a good external sear.

How to grill tuna steaks

Ahi tuna
Larry Hoffman/Flickr

Prep the grill

This is not the time for low and slow cooking. When searing tuna steaks on the grill, you want that grill as hot as possible. Start by cleaning and oiling your grill grates, then setting the temperature as high as it will possibly go.

While the grill is preheating, you can prep your tuna steaks.

Prep the tuna

Tuna is beautifully low maintenance, requiring no complicated trimming, no messy marinades, or any other time-consuming precooking preparations. The only thing to concern yourself with when it comes to tuna steak preparation is getting the steaks good and dry, which will minimize surface moisture on the fish, hindering the searing process. Paper towels are a great tool for this. Pat your steaks completely dry, then set them to rest on a dry surface. Once totally dry, rub the steaks with oil, which will help both to flavor your fish, and keep it from sticking to the grill grates.

Because salt draws moisture from proteins like tuna, it’s important to wait until the very last moment to season your steaks. Season with salt and pepper just before placing the tuna on the grill.

Grill

Because tuna is seared so quickly on the grill, there is a small chance of sticking, which is simply not good eats. To avoid this, be sure to properly dry the steaks, then oil them and place on clean, hot, lubricated grill grates. Once placed on the heat, avoid moving the steaks around, as tempting as it may be. Once properly browned, they should release easily on their own. This process should only take about one minute per side.

How to tell when the tuna is done

Thankfully, tuna is one of the most revealing meats when it comes to its doneness. While your tuna is on the grill, simply keep an eye on the edge of the steak. Its color will change from a deep, darkish purple to a light beige as it cooks, making it quite obvious when the sear is complete. Because you’re looking to only sear tuna steaks, there’s no need to bother with thermometers or kitchen timers. Simply sear each side, remove from the heat, slice, and enjoy.

Tuna steak mistakes to avoid

Tuna steak
Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

Overcooking

Overcooking is the biggest sin one can commit when grilling tuna steaks. While the doneness of other meats like beef can be argued (though, if you’re on team “well done”, you have some work to do), tuna steak doneness is not up for debate. This beautiful fish is meant to be served either raw or only just slightly seared on the outer edge, as it is in the recipe below.

Overseasoning

While overseasoning is a common misstep in cooking just about anything, it is particularly concerning when it comes to tuna steaks. Tuna’s flavor is deliciously mild and delicate, which can be easily overpowered with seasoning that’s too aggressive. This isn’t the place to bring in your bold and beautiful homemade barbecue spice blend – your tender tuna will just be eclipsed by these bold flavors. It’s best to just stick with salt and pepper.

If you’re really aching to bring in some extra flavors, a dipping sauce is a perfect way to get in all those fresh herbs and citrus.

Grilled tuna steak recipe

Tuna steak
bit24/Adobe Stock

This recipe is as deliciously simple as it gets. All you need for perfect tuna steaks is a little oil, salt, pepper, and fire for an impressive, delectable dish that will satisfy just about everyone at your backyard barbecue.

Ingredients

  • 4 tuna steaks, about 6 to 8 ounces each and 1 1/4 to 2 inches thick
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Sesame seeds, optional garnish

Method

  1. Set the grill to high and preheat for at least five minutes.
  2. While the grill is preheating, pat the tuna steaks dry with paper towels, then brush them with vegetable oil.
  3. Just before grilling, season the steaks to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Place steaks over the preheated grill grates, cooking each side for just about 1 minute until seared to your liking.
  5. Garnish with sesame seeds, if desired, and serve immediately.

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Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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