A Quick Recipe for Smoking Tuna

A quick recipe for smoking tuna

Tired of slaving over a hot grill only to end up with the same old beef or chicken or pork? Maybe you should try fish. But not just any fish: tuna. Recently I found this simple recipe for smoking tuna and gave it a try. Tuna is great food: high protein, low fat. It’s also surprisingly easy to cook. You can grill it or broil it, but I loved this recipe for smoking it. It was such an efficient, low-fuss way to impress my family and friends, I thought I’d share it with you. All you have to do is follow this simple step-by-step tutorial I picked out of many other tuna recipes!

smoked tuna

​What You Will Need to Follow This Recipe

  • 10 pounds of tuna cut into chunks or steaks 1.5 inches thick. The best tuna to use is a high quality Ahi or yellow fin tuna, whichever you can find (or catch). Cut against the grain of the meat. Be careful not to cut the tuna too thin. In my experience thinner cuts tend to dry out.
  • Two cups of water.
  • Two cups of apple juice.
  • One cup of brown sugar.
  • One-half cup of honey.
  • One-half cup of soy sauce.
  • One-half cup of kosher salt. (I reduced this from the three-quarters cup specified in the original recipe.)
  • One-eighth cup of either Thai or Chinese chili sauce (Hunan style worked well for me.)
  • 3 bay leaves.
  • Increase or reduce the amounts of these ingredients accordingly if your batch of tuna is bigger or smaller!

    ​Step One: Prepare the Brine

    Brine is crucial to add moisture to the tuna. Mix all of the ingredients listed above into the water. Stir vigorously to blend all those flavors together. I also heated the brine for a little while to help the salt dissolve. Bring the brine back down to room temperature, and pour the mixture into a bowl or shallow pan. Add the tuna, making sure it is submerged. (Make and add more brine if necessary.) If you use a bowl rather than a pan, you can divide the tuna along with brine into zipper-style plastic bags for the next step.

    Brine the fish and prepare for smoking

    ​Step Two: Refrigerate to Marinate

    ​Leave the pan uncovered and put it into your refrigerator. Or take your plastic bags of marinating tuna and put them in your refrigerator. Allow at least three hours for the tuna to marinate well. Some people leave it in the refrigerator for six hours, or even overnight. The original recipe I used called for six hours, but I found that a lot of the tuna flavor was lost with that length of time. Three hours seemed to be just about perfect.

    ​Step Three: Pat Dry

    ​While the original recipe said to rinse the tuna before patting it dry, it just didn’t make sense to me to rinse off all of the good stuff I’d put in the brine. So I patted the fish dry using paper towel, leaving on as much of the good flavorings as I could.

    ​Step Four: Air Dry

    ​Once you’ve pat-dried the tuna, air dry it for one to two hours on a cold grill rack or similar stand. You can speed up the drying process by putting the tuna in front of a fan, but make sure the meat doesn’t get too dried out. Depending on your own environmental conditions even an hour of air-drying may be too much. The goal is to let a good pellicle develop and stop there, so keep a close eye on that tuna.
    I hear you. “Wait a minute, I’m new to smoking meat. What’s a pellicle?”
    The pellicle is the coating or skin on the surface of the tuna (or other meat) that allows smoke to adhere. It’s useful in smoking any kind of meat, but is especially important for smoking fish. The pellicle protects the meat from being over-smoked, but enhances the flavor and color from smoking.

    ​Step Five: Dredge the Tuna in More Brown Sugar

    ​Once you are satisfied that the pellicle is well formed but the tuna still somewhat moist, dredge the tuna in some more brown sugar. “Wait—dredge?” That’s another word of culinary art. It means to coat a moist food (such as marinated tuna) with a dry ingredient (such as brown sugar) prior to cooking. In other words, simply roll the tuna through some brown sugar, making sure to coat each piece evenly. Another recipe calls for fresh lemon juice, garlic powder, ground black peppers or other spices add subtle flavors, but really - it's all up to you!

    ​Step Six: Start Smoking!

    Place the dredged pieces on racks, or directly on your grill. The type of wood chips you're going to use depends on the type of smoke flavor you want to get. Fruit wood like cherry wood usually isn't used for smoked fish, so you might wan to explore other options. Smoke the meat at 175 degrees for 60 to 120 minutes. If your thermometer tends to reflect a higher temperature than has usually really been achieved, move the temperature up to 190 degrees. I’m sure you realize that the last thing you want is undercooked fish. The smoking time may vary by the size of your batch. I found that smaller pieces were finished (and delicious) in under an hour. Larger cuts require more time. Experiment with your own cuts and the time necessary to perfect each piece.

    ​Step 7: When Is It Finished?

    Check your temperature regularly to make sure you are staying in range. You’ll notice a change in color to the tuna. To be extra certain that your tuna is well-cooked, use a meat thermometer and look for a temperature at the midpoint of the meat of about 140 degrees. Once you reach that, you can pull the tuna out of the smoker. If you see a flakiness to your tuna, you’ve done a perfect job!

    New and delicious smoked tuna

    I’m not a seafood lover in general, but the smoked tuna I cooked with this recipe made a terrific change from the same old beef or chicken or even pork and it was so easy that I wanted you to have the same opportunity. So, what did you think? Were the directions easy to follow? Did you enjoy the results? Please write a review in the comments!

    Once you’ve mastered this recipe, play around with some other herbs and spices and see what they might add. Let us know your favorite flavor combinations, as well as what you find goes best with your beautiful smoked tuna. Grilled tomatoes, a leafy salad, garlic bread? Even better, snap a picture and show us your finished result in its plated, best presentation form.

    Share your favorite innovations with us, and if you liked this recipe share it with your friends!

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