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
When it comes to smoking meat and fish, the selection of the 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 Albacore tuna. It is a white type tuna and has less strength in taste, taking the smoke flavor well, making it ideal.
The second best option is a Yellowfin. It is just as good as Albacore Tuna for a smoking application and I think that when compared together it is just a matter of preferences.
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 making smoked 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, 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt, 1/2 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 tuna:
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.
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.
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 making smoked tuna 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.
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.
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 beef, salmon or any other meat. 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.
29 thoughts on “Smoking Tuna – Step-by-Step Smoked Tuna Guide”
So roughly how much time for the tuna in the smoker? I see the temp but not a time estimate.
If you read carefully the article, I have written that you should smoke the fish for about 2 hours at 190-200°F. After 2 hours, you should check the fish and its internal temperature should be at 140°F. If it is not ready yet, you should close the lid and let it cook for another 30 minutes or so.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.
Kendrik: I used the above recipe with an electric smoker and the fish came put great! I smoked a tuna steak and a couple of cod loins. Both types of fish stayed moist and had reallly good flavor. I didn’t have cherry wood at the time so I used apple wood instead. Still great results. Thanks for an awesome and simple recipe.
I am glad you liked my recipe/guide and your fish came out great.
Thank YOU for visiting my site.
Thanks for your very clear guide.
Do you know whether the tuna will last for some time smoked? Or does it need to be eaten directly? Can it be cured in a way that it will last, do you know?
I am glad you liked the article.
Smoked Tuna can last up to 10 days in the refrigerator but I would not keep it more than 7 days. Also, make sure to always keep it tightly wrapped. If you want to store it for a longer period of time, then you can freeze it which will make it last for up to 2 months but be prepared to lose some of its texture when thawed.
If you have any other question, feel free to ask me.
Great recipe! Just for info, Ahi is the Hawaiian or Polynesian name for Yellowfin Tuna. They are both the same. Just like Ono is the Hawaiian name for Wahoo and Mahi for Dorado/Dolphin Fish. One of the top tuna to smoke is Pacific Albacore Tuna. It is white and has less strength in taste. It really takes on the smoke well. Try it! Also, if you can ever get the belly section of the tuna, it has a bit more fat content and is so perfect to smoke. Like Butter!! Thanks again for the recipe.
I’m glad you liked the article and also thanks for the extra info and tips. I edit the article and added the Pacific Albacore Tuna as an option. I will have in mind to try this kind of tuna in the near future.
The ahi smoked great but needs a sweet salsa. I used pecan, next time i’ll Use alder.
Great post. So many people talk of brining for days and smoking for multiple days. I just brine for an hour or two, then with my gas smoker, I only need to smoke at 180 – 225 for less than two hours. For yellowtail, maybe an hour and 20 minutes, for thick tuna, two hours max. Tomorrow is for collars and bellies of big bluefin tuna. Yumm…
I am planning to try your recipe today. What can be used instead of the white wine?
I reread the instructions and will use the white wine as suggested. Sorry about that. I will let you know how it turns out.
I am a little confused about the brine….your photo shows that you apply a dry rub but your recipe calls for a brine. Do you do both?
The brine is totally based on your preferences. Different people like different ingredients to be mixed. I recommend to use a wet brine and not a dry rub when it comes to smoking tuna, just like the article suggests.
As for the photo, it is just used for ilustration and it isn’t taken by me. You can find the photo author down the picture in the credits section.
If you hava any other question, let me know.
We smoked some yellow fin tuna yesterday, using your brine recipe, brining for 3 hours, smoked for 2 hours. It was absolutely delicious.
I’m glad you liked it 🙂
Why do I need to dip the steaks if they’re going into a ziplock with the marinade? This seems like an unnecessary step and should be omitted to save time & prevent a mess while transferring the dripping wet steaks to a ziplock.
Also, ahi is yellowfin. Did you forget about albacore? That’s the best tuna to smoke.
Thanks for the suggestions. I had added Albacore tuna in the article before because one reader recommended it to me but somehow the article was not updated properly. I have not personally tried Albacore but I plan to do in the future.
As for putting the tuna in ziplock, this is an optional step and can be done only if you want to marinate the fish and give flavors which will complement the finalized cook.
Anyway, I appreciate that you visited my site and will have your suggestions in mind.
When I tried this, the tuna was way too salty with that much salt in the brine. It ruined my tuna. The smoke flavor was good but will not ever use that brand again.
I recommend using 1/2 Cup of Kosher Salt but maybe you had less amount of tuna steaks that I used in the article. That’s why your tuna has come out a bit salty. Next time, try to maintain a better proportion of salt and tuna steaks and they will taste great.
Thanks for reading the article,
I followed your instructions, the tuna tasted great but for some reason was very dry what did I do wrong? I took it off at 145 degrees.
There are a couple of reasons why smoked tuna can be dry. It can be a high smoker temperature or not using a moisture pan. Have a closer look at the smoker temperature next time.
Also, did you put a foil pan bath with white wine and rosemary on your smoker? A lot of people skip this step, especially when smoking for the first time. The wine/water bath provides moisture for the fish/meat during the smoking, so the finished product is not very dry.
I am sure the next time, your smoked tuna will be moister.
I have a pit boss pellet grill. Where do I put the foil pan bath with white wine and rosemary in the grill?
Well, it depends. You can put it on the main cooking grate and then place the tuna on the warming rack area, on top of the wash bath. Or you can just put the pan next to food on the same cooking surface.
Read this forum thread to get a few more suggestions: https://www.pelletsmoking.com/pellet-smoking-com-lounge-9/do-i-need-water-pan-my-pellet-smoker-4485/
Thanks for all of your info & tips. I had some pretty large pieces of fresh bluefin and smoked it at 225° for about 3 hrs, to 160° internal temp. Your brine is right on!
The brine seems to be way too salty to the point you cannot taste the brown sugar. 1/2 cup of kosher salt versus 1/4 cup of brown sugar?
Thanks for pointing out. Actually, I had written the amounts in the wrong way. I use 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of salt.
I’m smoking some blue fin tuna today. These were little blue fins, so the fillets are small, serving portion size. Should be yummy, because this is a softer flesh, not as firm as albacore tuna. Thanks for the tips.