Don’t be intimidated by cooking tuna steaks. The healthy, fresh fish is versatile and easy to grill, bake, and sauté in a flash. Follow these tips and directions for grilling, skillet-cooking, and baking fresh tuna. You'll soon discover how to cook tuna like a pro chef with these no-sweat instructions from the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen.

By Karla Walsh
Updated August 13, 2020
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Tuna steak's firm texture and mild to moderate flavor are just a few of the reasons why it's so popular for everything from gourmet restaurant meals and sushi to canning. (By the way, here’s how to cook with canned tuna before we start talking about cooking fresh tuna steaks.) Chefs love getting creative with cooking tuna, but even novice home cooks can learn how to cook tuna on grills, in the oven, or on the stove top. Before we dive in, it’s important to keep fish sustainability in mind. Avoid bluefin and bigeye tuna, as these are overfished or endangered. Instead, try these tuna steak recipe ideas with albacore or skipjack tuna.

How to Season Fresh Tuna

The first step in your complete guide for how to cook tuna fish is adding your desired flavor enhancers.

  • Before cooking tuna steaks, check for scales. If any are present, rinse with cool water. Pat dry with paper towels. Measure the thickness of the fish with a ruler so you know how long to cook tuna steak.
  • Fresh tuna steaks love a good marinade recipe, which flavors this fairly mild fish and helps keep it moist during cooking. A short marinating time is all it needs, from 15 minutes up to 4 hours in the refrigerator. Tuna pairs especially well with Asian-inspired flavors.
  • Instead of marinating, you can also brush the fish with olive oil or melted butter and season as desired. Try brushing tuna with a blend of olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkle it with snipped fresh herb (such as rosemary or tarragon), salt, and ground black pepper. Or try one of these delicious spice blends.
When you're learning how to cook fresh tuna, don't try to cook your tuna steaks until there's no pink left in the middle. To keep them moist and delicious, remove them from the heat while the center is still pink.
| Credit: Greg Scheidemann
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How to Cook Tuna Steaks 3 Ways

Tuna steaks need a watchful eye during cooking so they remain tender and moist. Whether you're baking tuna steak, skillet-cooking tuna steak, or grilling it, don’t be turned off by a “medium rare” look. Because tuna steaks get dry and chewy when overcooked, the center should still be pink when it is done cooking. Some people like their tuna even more rare in the center, so adjust these suggestions on how long to cook tuna steaks accordingly.

How to Grill Tuna Steaks

Take a break from beef burgers, hot dogs, and shrimp skewers, and become a pro at cooking tuna on a grill by following these simple steps.

  1. Grease the unheated grill rack or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. If not marinated, brush the tuna steaks with melted butter or olive oil, and season as desired.
  2. For direct grilling on a gas or charcoal grill, place the tuna steaks on the greased grill rack directly over medium heat. Grill, covered, 4 to 6 minutes per ½-inch thickness or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center, turning once halfway through cooking.
  3. For indirect grilling, preheat the grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place tuna on the grill rack over a drip pan. Cover the grill. Grill 7 to 9 minutes per ½-inch thickness or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center, turning once halfway through cooking.

If desired, try this Test Kitchen trick for how to cook tuna steak on a grill that’s even more flavorful: Brush tuna with additional melted butter or olive oil after turning. (So you’re fully prepared for cooking tuna steaks for your next barbecue, stock up on these 9 must-have grilling tools ASAP.)

How to Cook Tuna Steaks in a Skillet

Searing tuna steaks in a hot skillet caramelizes the surfaces of the fish and locks in the moisture. For best results when mastering how to cook tuna steak on a stove, start with ¾-inch-thick steaks.

  1. Choose a heavy skillet ($20, Bed Bath & Beyond) that best fits the number of tuna steaks you are cooking. Add 1 Tbsp. oil and 1 Tbsp. butter to the skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
  2. Add the tuna steaks. The steaks should sizzle when added. Cook, uncovered, 4 to 6 minutes per ½-inch thickness (6 to 9 minutes for the ¾-inch-thick steaks we suggest) or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center, turning once during cooking. Adjust the heat as needed if the skillet gets too hot.

How to Bake Tuna Steaks

Here’s how to cook tuna steak in an oven to keep your stove top free for whipping up a side dish.

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place tuna steaks on a greased baking sheet or sheet pan in a single layer. If they're not marinated, brush the tuna steaks with melted butter or olive oil, and season as desired.
  2. Bake 4 to 6 minutes per ½-inch thickness of fish or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center.
Credit: Marty Baldwin

How to Buy and Store Fresh Tuna

Any method of cooking tuna will produce the best results if you start with a good piece of tuna. Here's what to look for.

  • Fresh tuna comes in a long loin that a fishmonger (a person or retailer that sells fish) cuts into tuna steaks. Tuna season is usually late spring into early fall, but it is available frozen year-round. If you’re wondering how to cook frozen tuna steak, you can follow the same instructions above after thawing the tuna steaks in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Depending on the variety, raw tuna varies from light pink to a reddish-brown color. It can have a dark portion on the steak, which is edible but stronger in flavor. Sometimes this part is trimmed out before you buy it.
  • Tuna steaks are sold already skinned. Look for tuna with moist flesh and a fresh and pleasant, not fishy, smell.
  • When purchasing, figure on one 4- to 5-ounce tuna steak per person. For optimum freshness, cook tuna the day you buy it.

If you’re anything like us, now that you’re practically a pro at how to cook tuna steaks in a variety of ways, you’ll find as many ways as possible to sneak fish recipes into your family’s meal plan. Your taste buds and your heart will thank you (hat tip to the omega 3s!).

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