How to Grill Tuna Steak

5 from 2 votes

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Flaky, moist, and meaty, tuna grills up much like a steak. It's a perfect summer dinner with a scoop of fresh tomato salsa on top.

Grilled tuna steak with Nicoise salsa on plate with asparagus.

Tuna is one of the most popular fish to grill for good reason. Steak fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, mahi mahi, and swordfish, are the easiest to grill because of their firm texture and dense consistency, which allows them to hold their shape and not fall apart, even when flipped. Tuna steaks on the grill are a real treat, especially when cooked to medium-rare, with a rosy red center and a nicely charry exterior.

The tomato salsa in this grilled tuna steak recipe is optional. But it’s such a lovely way to turn a perfectly grilled piece of tuna into a Mediterranean-Provencal summer meal.

You might also think of topping the steak with Salsa Verde for a change of pace. A squeeze of fresh lemon is also an option if you just want to keep the tuna plain. However you choose to top your tuna (or not), think about serving it with Cauliflower Potato Salad, Grilled Onions, or Simple Couscous Salad.

Grilled tuna steak on plate next to asparagus.

Grilled Tuna: Flaky, moist and meaty, tuna grills up much like a steak, and it’s a perfect summer dinner with a scoop of fresh tomato salsa on top.

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Grilled Tuna Ingredients

For the Tuna Steaks:

  • Tuna steaks – Super fresh, 1 1/4-inch thick, about 6 to 8 ounces each.
  • Olive oil – For brushing the tuna steaks to keep them from drying out or sticking to the grill.
  • Lemon – For squeezing over at the end (optional).

For the Optional Tomato-Caper Salsa:

Best Tuna For Grilling

Tuna steaks are a perfect grilling fish because they are dense and meaty. You can use yellowfin, albacore, bluefish, bigeye, or ahi.

You want to make sure — as with any fish — that your fish is perfectly fresh before grilling, especially if you are going to leave it on the rarer side. And I am of the opinion that tuna is at its very best when it’s seared on the outside but rare on the inside, though that is completely a matter of personal preference. You can use tuna loins instead of tuna steaks if you can find them. 

Tomato salsa on grilled tuna steak alongside asparagus.

How to Keep Tuna Steaks From Sticking to the Grill

First, make sure your grill is very clean! Scrape down the grill grates with a grill brush, then oil the grill gates. Drizzle some oil on a clean paper towel or dip a paper towel into a little bowl of vegetable oil. Then, use your tongs to rub the oiled paper towel over the grill grates until they are shiny. If you are using a grill basket or grill grate (see below), oil that as well.

Also, lightly oil the fish before it hits the hot grill. (If the tuna recipe includes a marinade that contains oil, that will suffice.) Use a brush to give the tuna steaks a very light coating of oil. You can use olive oil or vegetable oil, whichever works best with the flavors of the fish recipe. Vegetable oil is more neutral, and olive oil works well with any Mediterranean-style fish recipe. 

Kitchen Smarts

Steven Raichlen, the BBQ Guru, offers a couple of interesting tips for preventing fish from sticking on the grill: 

  • As you place a fish filet or steak on the hot grill, gently slide it an inch or so forward to prevent it from sticking. 
  • When you are ready to flip the fish, flip it into an oiled part of the grill that no fish was cooked on before — a totally clean new space. 
Flipping tuna steaks on grill with tongs.

How Long to Grill Tuna Steaks

The grill time for tuna varies by the steak’s thickness and how rare or well you like it. Tuna steaks range from 1 inch to 2 inches, and the chart will give you an idea of how long to cook them on each side and what internal temperatures you are looking for. Use an instant-read or meat thermometer for the most accurate internal temperature measurements.

For thinner steaks (1 inch or so), you should turn flip them only once so that the inside doesn’t overcook before the exterior is seared with nice grill marks. With thicker steaks, however, you can flip them a total of three times, turning the steaks a quarter turn as you flip them so they get those nice crosshatched grill marks.

If you feel your steaks might be cooking too fast, you can do two flips. Then, serve the steaks with the crosshatched side up and the side with the single direction grill marks down on the plate.

Also, let the tuna steaks rest for a couple of minutes before slicing. This allows them to finish cooking in their own heat.

Tuna Steak Grilling Times

ThicknessDonenessInternal TempTime Per Side
1-inch thick steaksRare (soft to the touch)120-125 F2 to 3 minutes
1-inch thick steaksMedium-Rare  (a bit firmer, but yielding)125-130 F3 to 4 minutes
1-inch thick steaksMedium (firm to the touch)130-140 F4 to 5 minutes
1-inch thick steaksMedium-Well (quite firm)145 F5 to 6 minutes
1 1/4-inch thick steaksRare (soft to the touch)120-125 F3 to 4 minutes
1 1/4-inch thick steaksMedium-Rare (a bit firmer, but yielding)125-130 F4 to 5 minutes
1 1/4-inch thick steaksMedium (firm to the touch)130-140 F5 to 6 minutes
1 1/4-inch thick steaksMedium-Well (quite firm)145 F6 to 7 minutes
1 1/2-inch thick steaksRare (soft to the touch)120-125 F4 to 5 minutes
1 1/2-inch thick steaksMedium-Rare (a bit firmer, but yielding)125-130 F5 to 6 minutes
1 1/2-inch thick steaksMedium (firm to the touch)130-140 F6 to 7 minutes
1 1/2-inch thick steaksMedium-Well (quite firm)145 F7 to 8 minutes
2-inch thick steaksRare (soft to the touch)120-125 F5 to 6 minutes
2-inch thick steaksMedium-Rare (a bit firmer, but yielding)125-130 F6 to 7 minutes
2-inch thick steaksMedium (firm to the touch)130-140 F7 to 8 minutes
2-inch thick steaksMedium-Well (quite firm)145 F8 to 9 minutes
Grilling times for tuna steaks based on thickness and desired doneness.

How to Keep Tuna From Overcooking on the Grill

It sounds obvious, but you really need to just keep an eye on it! Fish cooks very quickly on the grill and can go from medium-rare to overcooked in a couple of minutes. Don’t walk away from the grill unless you have a timer set that will prevent you from getting distracted and missing your moment.

Tuna steak with grill marks on plate with grilled asparagus.

Using a Fish Basket to Grill Tuna

A fish grilling basket is a great investment if you like to grill fish. These are hinged wire baskets that allow the exterior of the fish to get direct contact with the grill and the fire. Put the tuna in the basket, close the latch, and turn the basket to turn the fish.

A fish grate is another option. This is a grate that lays flat on the grill. Because it is flat, it allows a spatula to slide underneath the fish a lot more cleanly than the straight grill bars.

FAQs

How do you grill tuna without drying it out?

The two things to remember are 1) brush the fish with olive oil before grilling, and 2) don’t overcook your tuna! If you like your tuna cooked all the way through, make sure to take it off the heat as soon as it is ALMOST cooked through to your liking, as the fish will continue to cook a bit more once it’s removed from the hot grill.

Should I wash tuna steak before cooking?

Nope. In general, you should not wash any meat or fish before cooking as that can cause any possible bacteria to spread. If your fish is fresh, the heat from the cooking will take care of any bacteria that you should be concerned about.

Should tuna steaks be at room temperature before cooking?

While it’s not absolutely necessary, bringing your fish to room temperature will allow it to cook more evenly. If the fish is cold when it hits the grill, the outside will cook much more quickly than the inside, possibly resulting in an overcooked exterior and a too-rare interior. However, if you like this contrast between a seared outside and a red interior, you can cook your fish right from the fridge.

How to Grill Tuna

  1. Make the salsa: Mix together the tomatoes, shallot, basil, capers, olive oil, salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Prepare the grill and tuna: Preheat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grill grate. Trim any dark spots from the tuna steaks. Pat the steaks dry with clean paper towels. Brush the tuna with the olive oil, and season both sides with salt and black pepper. 
  3. Grill the tuna steaks: Once the grill is hot, cook 1 1/4-inch thick steaks for 3 to 4 minutes, then flip the steak and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes or until done to your liking. (See the chart above for more cooking times and internal temps.)
Four tuna steaks cooking on hot grill.
  1. Serve: Place the tuna on a serving platter or individual plates. Squeeze a lemon quarter over each steak. Serve the salsa on the side, if desired, or top each piece of fish with some of the salsa. Serve hot or warm.
Spooning tomato-caper salsa on grilled tuna steak.

The Best Sauces for Grilled Tuna Steak

This recipe is for a very simple piece of grilled tuna with a lovely Nicoise-style salsa on top. The salsa is made with cherry tomatoes, shallots, fresh basil, and capers. Very Provençal in spirit. Other salsas and sauces that would be great with grilled tuna include:

Spooning salsa verde on grilled tuna steak.
Grilled Tuna Steak with Salsa Verde

What to Serve With Grilled Tuna

Grilled Tuna Steak on plate with side dishes.

More Grilled Fish and Seafood Recipes

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5 from 2 votes

Grilled Tuna Steak with Nicoise Tomato Salsa

Flaky, moist, and meaty, tuna grills up much like a steak. It's a perfect summer dinner with a scoop of fresh tomato salsa on top.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4 People
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Equipment

Ingredients 

For the Tomato-Caper-Olive Salsa (optional):

  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes (quartered)
  • 1 shallot (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons capers (drained)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)

For the Tuna Steaks:

  • 4 (1 1/4-inch thick) tuna steaks (6 to 8 ounces each)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 lemon (cut into quarters)

Instructions 

  • Make the salsa: In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, shallot, basil, capers, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Heat the grill to high. Scrub the grill rack with a grill brush. Use grilling tongs to dip a wad of paper towels in some vegetable oil, and use the oil-dipped paper towels to wipe down the grill rack.
  • Pat the steaks dry with clean paper towels. Brush the tuna with the olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Grill 1-inch steaks for 3 minutes, then flip the steak and cook for another 3 minutes or until done to your liking.
  • Place the tuna on a serving platter or individual plates. Squeeze a lemon quarter over each steak. Serve the salsa on the side, or top each piece with some of the salsa. Serve hot or warm. Let sit for 2 minutes before slicing. You can also serve the steaks sliced.

Notes

  • As you place a filet on the grill, gently slide it an inch or so forward to prevent it from sticking. 
  • When you are ready to flip the fish, flip it into an oiled part of the grill that no fish was cooked on before — a totally clean new space. 
  • Cook the fish until the internal temperature reaches you’re the desired doneness using an instant-read thermometer. 
    • Rare – 120-125 F
    • Medium-rare – 125-130 F
    • Medium – 130-140 F
    • Medium well – 140-145 F
    • Well-done – 145 F
 

Nutrition

Calories: 380kcal, Carbohydrates: 3g, Protein: 40g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 13g, Cholesterol: 65mg, Sodium: 390mg, Potassium: 534mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 3948IU, Vitamin C: 9mg, Calcium: 23mg, Iron: 2mg
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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