Grilling Tuna to Perfection

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Grilling fish can be extremely hard.  Many questions come to mind.  Do I need a basket?  Do I need to oil the grill or the fish?  How do I season the fish?  Do I cook it on high, medium or indirect heat?  How long do I cook it for?  I had all of these questions.  I know, the guy with the blog had no idea, why should I continue reading you ask?  Well it is because I have done all of the work and after today’s post, hopefully you will have the answers.

After getting home I realized that the fresh tuna that I purchased was recently thawed and not so fresh. So I cooked it to medium just to be sure.
After getting home I realized that the fresh tuna that I purchased was recently thawed and not so fresh. So I cooked it to medium just to be sure.

The best and easiest fish to start grilling is tuna.  It is a dense fish that is not too fatty and has a light flavor.   It tastes amazing with basic seasonings or works well with almost any seasoning.  Tuna is also excellent rare or even medium.  I am not one to eat tuna well done, but for some who like to cook fish and meat to death and beyond tuna works great.

Grilled Tuna

  • Tuna Steaks (roughly 1.5 inches thick)
  • Salt – Preferably sea or kosher salt
  • Pepper – Preferably freshly ground
  • Lemon

Start your charcoal in a chimney or turn on your gas grill.  Once your charcoal is ready, add it to your grill and let the grill heat up.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is to not let their grill grates get hot.  Once the grates are hot (medium high heat) you are ready to cook.

Perfect Coals
Perfect Coals

A side note on grilling – My grill is well seasoned and I do not, emphasis on do not, clean the grates with any cleaners or even water.  A well seasoned grill grate is priceless.  Cleaners will take away the precious seasoning that you have worked to get and will make your food stick.  A simple brush to get off the burnt particles is all you need.  The preheating of the grates will burn off anything else.

Tuna is a relatively fatty fish.  Not quite as fatty as salmon, but still fatty enough to not require oil.  If you have a seasoned grill grate you will be fine without adding any extra oils to the tuna steaks.

If you have just cleaned your grates – well you should be ashamed of yourself first and foremost.  Second, you will need to oil your grates or else the tuna and pretty much everything else will stick to your pretty grates.  Use a vegetable or peanut oil as they have a higher smoke point and won’t burn and smoke.  Oil oil tastes great, but can’t handle the heat of grilling and will give your food a unique flavor that is not exactly a good unique flavor.

Salt and Pepper is all you need.
Salt and Pepper is all you need.

Season your tuna steaks generously with salt and pepper.  I prefer a basic seasoning as I like to taste the fish.  If you use standard table salt remember to use less.  Kosher and sea salt come across less salty on your palate than table salt.  So if you watch the food network and you want to douse your food with salt like the TV chefs, remember they are using kosher and/or sea salt.  Doing that with table salt will make you food unpalatable and gosh darn awful if you ask me.

Tuna needs to be grilled on average 3.5-4 minutes per side. Make sure not to move it.
Tuna needs to be grilled on average 3.5-4 minutes per side. Make sure not to move it.

Now that your grill is preheated and your tuna is seasoned, place it on the grill.  Now this is the magic part.  How long should I grill for, you ask?  First make sure that your fire is at the right temperature.  Check by placing your hand an inch from the grates.  If you can hold your hand over the grates for 4-5 seconds, you are at the perfect temp.  Any less – it is too hot and the times below will need adjusting.  Any more than 6 and you need to turn up the heat as this fish won’t grill properly.

  • Rare – 3 1/2 minutes on each side
  • Medium Rare – 4 minutes on each side
  • Medium – 4 1/2 minutes on each side
  • Medium Well – 5 minutes on each side
  • Well – Well I don’t recommend this but if you wish to kill the tuna again cook it for 6 minutes or more on each side.
It is noted that this table is designed for tuna steaks that are roughly 1.5 inches thick.  If you have thinner steaks you will need to subtract time and if you have thicker steaks you will need to add a little more time.
If you have a hot grill you get those perfect grill lines.
If you have a hot grill you get those perfect grill lines.

Remove the fish from the grill, sprinkle with the juice of the lemon and serve immediately.  If there is going to be a time period between grilling and serving, take a 1/2 minute off each of the times above.  Then cover the fish loosely with aluminum foil.  Serve within 15 minutes for best results.  Remember if you are going to cook and hold the fish don’t sprinkle the lemon juice till right before you serve the tuna steak.

Since the fish is so versatile, you can serve it alone or as an accompaniment to pretty much any dish.  I like to grill up the fish with the salt and pepper and then serve it over a salad dressed with a standard vinaigrette.

Cooked to medium and served over fresh greens
Cooked to medium and served over fresh greens

Hopefully this post will help you out.

Grilling Tuna to Perfection
Author: 
Recipe type: Grilling
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
How to grill Tuna to Perfection!
Ingredients
  • 2 Tuna Steaks (roughly 1.5 inches thick)
  • ¼ tsp Salt – Preferably sea or kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp Pepper – Preferably freshly ground
  • ½ Lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat your grill to high heat.
  2. Season your tuna steaks generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Now that your grill is preheated and your tuna is seasoned place it on the grill. Now this is the magic part. How long should I grill for? First make sure that your fire is at the right temperature. Check by placing your hand an inch from the grates. If you can hold your hand over the grates for 4-5 seconds you are at the perfect temp. Any less it is too hot and the times below will need adjusting and any more than 6 and you need to turn up the heat as this fish won't grill properly.
  4. Remove the fish from the grill sprinkle with the juice of the lemon and serve immediately. If there is going to be a time period between grilling and serving take a ½ minute off each of the times above. Then cover the fish loosely with aluminum foil. Serve within 15 minutes for best results. Remember if you are going to cook and hold the fish don't sprinkle the lemon juice till right before you serve the tuna steak.
  5. Since the fish is so versatile you can serve it alone or as an accompliament to pretty much any dish. I like to grill up the fish with the salt and pepper and then serve it over a salad dressed with a standard vinaigrette.
Perfect Timing
  1. Rare - 3½ minutes on each side
  2. Medium Rare - 4 minutes on each side
  3. Medium - 4½ minutes on each side
  4. Medium Well - 5 minutes on each side
  5. Well - Well I don't recommend this but if you wish to kill the tuna again cook it for 6 minutes or more on each side.
Quick Note
  1. It is noted that this table is designed for tuna steaks that are roughly 1.5 inches thick. If you have thinner steaks you will need to subtract time and if you have thicker steaks you will need to add a little more time.

 

If you have any questions, comment or email me them.  Enjoy!

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15 thoughts on “Grilling Tuna to Perfection

  • April 28, 2009 at 5:38 am
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    Excellent tutelage on grilling. I shake my head sadly when I see people try to get their grates back to 'like new' condition…

    Reply
  • March 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm
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    Excellent article. Followed directions and had a wonderful med rare tuna steak. Thanks so much!!!

    Reply
  • September 1, 2012 at 4:13 pm
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    I call utter bullshit on 3.5 minutes per side for rare tuna. Save the money it costs to buy tuna and throw some shoe soles on the grill, you won't know the difference after 7 minutes.

    Reply
    • September 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm
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      Alex – it all depends on the thickness of your tuna steaks and the temperature of the grill. In this case the steaks are roughly 1.5 inches thick. I also suggested that you adjust the temperature so that you can hold your hand over the grates for 4-5 seconds you are at the perfect temp.

      Although I can't dispute your scientific method or knowledge, but I have tested out the times and temperatures of the steaks and grill to determine the above chart.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
      • June 14, 2013 at 8:51 pm
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        I was also very doubtful about the timing. My experience with tuna led me to believe that I would end up rubber at those times. I decided to trust the expert, so I set the timer for 3.5 minutes per side. PERFECT!!!!!!!! It was absolutely the best tuna I have ever cooked. Thank you!

        Reply
  • October 25, 2012 at 8:49 am
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    Well done, Tim! This is a critical issue that 15 years of pile-on rhetoric have made it hard to nail down. There’s REAL application ID, and there’s everything else (port-based observation, is common). It’s hard for enterprises and telcos to sift through the mix. This is a good step toward clarification.Wilson Craig

    Reply
  • December 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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    Recently brought back fresh fish from the Gulf. I grilled the tuna according to your directions and . . . perfecto! Thanks for the explicit written directions and outstanding photos to visually guide us along.

    Reply
  • February 6, 2013 at 11:55 am
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    needed your observations for assignment can u make them straight to the point.

    Reply
  • September 6, 2013 at 8:47 pm
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    The 4-5 second rule for your hand is a little vague. Some people have more tolerance for heat than others.

    Reply
    • September 6, 2013 at 8:59 pm
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      That is true Dan, but I have found that most people don't have surface thermometers and that was the easiest way I could describe it for the majority of my readers. Even with varying thresholds for each person the final temps are usually pretty close. Thanks for the comment. If you need grate temps let me know and I can get them to you.

      Reply
  • November 2, 2015 at 5:23 pm
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    Yellowfin tuna marinated in teriyaki sauce and garlic, then grilled to perfection. This is great at a tailgate party, or at your Saturday afternoon summer barbecue.

    Reply
  • March 6, 2016 at 2:46 pm
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    Hey
    Im going to do this recipe tonight on my wood pellet smoker. I just wanted to inquire about actual temperatures for the grill. Thanks Im looking forward to it.

    Reply
    • March 13, 2016 at 1:38 pm
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      Sorry for the late response Riley. The comment was blocked by spam for some reason. I would turn your pellet grill up to high for this. Get it as hot as it will go so that you can get some nice sear marks.

      Reply
  • March 22, 2016 at 3:33 am
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    Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. LOVE THIS. Was able to grill tuna to perfection – boiled the marinade down and put a small amount on top before serving and it was delicious. Will definitely make again. Thanks.

    Reply

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