Smoking Tuna – Step-by-Step Smoked Tuna Guide

Tuna steaks are a versatile piece of meat. It doesn’t have that overwhelming fishy smell or feel to it that other fish steaks like halibut have.

In fact, people who normally stay away from seafood will select tuna from the menu, because of the texture and taste.

When it comes to cooking it, this type of fish is a fantastic protein to grill, blacken or, broil, but how to smoke tuna is culinary delight.

Even though it may sound strange, smoking this kind of fish is similar to smoking beef, poultry or pork. The steps are almost the same; Gather your ingredients, and give it time to marinate in your brine.

One major difference from the other types of meat and fish, is the cooking time.

The smoking time for this fish is relatively shorter than smoking other meats, and that is what makes this an attractive dish to serve to friends; The process can start just before your company arrives, and the eating begins shortly thereafter. You want a sweet and savory mixture for your smoked tuna, but nothing overwhelming.

Here it is a step-by-step tutorial to help you learn how to smoke tuna, starting from the selecting the best slices and finishing with serving and eating it.​

Selecting The Best Tuna For Smoking

Uncooked Fish

Image Credit: BBQGuam

When it comes to smoking meat and fish, the selection of your meat type and category makes a big difference.​

The same thing applies to tuna. If you want the best results, you have to pick the best type for smoking.​

The best tuna type for smoking is Ahi Tuna or Yellow fin. It is considered the higher quality to cook, so it will turn out great if you decide to smoke it.

The second best option is Pacific Albacore Tuna. It is just as good as Ahi Tuna for a smoking application but has less strength in taste.

These are the two best options to consider when choosing the best cut for smoking.

To get the best idea of what to use, work with your butcher for freshness and quality. A strong relationship with your butcher will pay off in dividends when you’re ready to start cooking.

What You Will Need

There are a few ingredients and tools you will need when smoking tuna.​ 

Required Ingredients and Tools

  • Enough 10-12 Ounce Tuna Steaks Per Person (We’re using 6 steaks)
  • A Smoker (We’re using an offset smoker, but anything that can regulate temperature and smoke is perfect)
  • Fruit wood; Peach or Cherry, 3-4 Pieces
  • Two Zipper Lock Style Bags
  • Brine mixture; 2 Quarts of Water, ½ Cup Kosher Salt, ¼ Brown Sugar, A Couple of Sprigs of Rosemary, 1 Tablespoon of Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
  • Fresh Coarse Ground Black Pepper
  • 3 Cups of White Wine

How to Smoke Tuna

Here it is step-by-step how to prepare, brine and then smoke your fish:

Preparing Your Tuna for Smoking

The first step you have to do is to properly prepare your fish.

Start by combining all the brine ingredients in a bowl.

Fish Brine

Image Credit: JaxHouse

Then, take each tuna steak and dip it in the brine mixture, coating each steak thoroughly.

After you have finished dipping all the steaks into the brine mixture, place three steaks into each bag and pour off the rest of the brine mixture into each bag.

Place your bags into the refrigerator for 2-3 hours and be patient for the brine to marinade the fish.

These subtle flavors in your brine will complement your finalized cook.

Other flavor compounds like garlic, or ginger are great for the grill, but you want to incorporate more smoky goodness into your tuna, and not the, ‘in your face’ attitude these herbs and spices offer.

When you see that your fish is slowly ready, begin preparing your smoker.

Preparing Your Smoker​

Start your fire. You can start with lump charcoal in a charcoal chimney. This gets the fire going without using lighter fluid which can give an off taste to your food.

When your coals turn gray, put the first log of peach wood on the fire.

Your goal is to smoke at a temperature of 190°F to 200°F. You want to put your log on now so you can better regulate the temperature and increase the smoke output so you are steady when you put your fish on the grill.

You will want the smoking chamber where the fish will smoke, to fill up.

After you have prepared the fire, it is time to remove the tuna from the zipper bags and start smoking them.

Start Smoking Tuna

First, lay out each fish steak onto a paper towel and pat them dry.

There might be a little bit of salt or sugar remain after you try to dry them, but don't worry. That is fine.

Once dry, lightly coat both sides of the steak with olive oil. You want just enough so that you can add a sprinkle of coarse black pepper.

With your fire at your desired temperature for smoking, lay your brined fish steaks directly on the grill.

Image Credit: BBQGuam

You don’t want to use a pan, because you want your tuna to be able to absorb the smoke from all sides, and a pan or foil will stop that from happening.

Regularly check and make sure that your grill thermometer is reading the temperature as close to where your meat is smoking.

Some smokers measure the temperature high on your smoking rig, this will give you a false sense of security when smoking fish.

Quick Kitchen Tip: When smoking fish or any other of your favorite meats, keep your meats as far from your fire box if you are using an offset cooker.

This avoids your meat being affected by any temporary flare ups. This also gives you some space where you can place a liquid bath to keep your meats moist.

Meats positioned away from the direct heat will cook more consistently throughout the smoking process.

By now, you should have your fish smoking on the grill/smoker.

Now we suggest using a small cheap foil pan to hold the white wine you have. Also take the sprigs of the rosemary, or pull off some fresh rosemary and add it to the foil wine bath.

Position this bath on the grill between the fire and the fish. This will keep your fish moist, and add a little more flavor from the wine and the rosemary. This isn’t going to be overwhelming crazy flavor you’ve added, but it will be a nice touch.

If you don’t watch the temperature of your fire, and allow it to get out of control, the wine bath will dry boil, and this will give an overwhelming bad taste to your finalized cook.

Maintaining Your Fire

Always remember to regularly check your temperature, especially if you are cooking delicate-type of fish or meat.

Fire Temperature

Check if it gets below 190°F add another log. If it gets too hot, over 200°F, choke the fire briefly at the fire box.

If it gets crazy, you might want to briefly choke it off at the smoke stack. Be quick here though, because choking at the smoke stack for too long can kill your fire and give your fish a soot flavor.

After two hours of maintaining a constant recommended temperature, you can open the hood and take a peek at your creation.

You will see a color transformation starting to occur. With your trusty hand thermometer stick that meat, aiming for a mid-point in the meat.

At that point, you want to see it hit 140°F. If you’re not even close, close it up for another 30 minutes or so.

When your fish hits that temperature mark, pull it out the smoker. You should see a flakiness to the meat, that's a perfect smoked tuna sign.

Serving Your Smoked Tuna

After your fish is perfectly smoked and you pulled it out of the smoker, it is time to serve it.

Here it's my favorite combination and I think you are going to love this meat flavor combination too.

I always serve the smoked tuna with some grilled squash, and tomatoes. A leafy green salad, and some garlic bread.

Compliment your meal with a moscato wine, a pale ale, or just a lemon-lime sparkling water.

Final Thoughts

Image Credit: JaxHouse

These are all the steps I follow when I have to cook this delicious fish for my family.

Smoking this kind of fish is not as hard as you think. Actually, the steps are almost the same as smoking any other meat or fish. The only major difference are the smoking temperature and the smoking time.

I hope you finally learned how to smoke tuna, so better go and enjoy it now.

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