How Do I Choose the Best Grilled Tuna Marinade?

Meg Higa

Your choice of a marinade for grilling tuna fish is generally based on personal preference. There are, however, a few very important considerations. Raw tuna, and most other fish for that matter, absorb the flavors of a marinade very quickly. As a rule, a grilled tuna marinade should contain a minimum of acids, such as lemon juice. Tuna also cooks very quickly to varying degrees of preferential doneness, and corresponding taste.

A spoonful of hoisin sauce, which can be used to make a marinade for grilled tuna.
A spoonful of hoisin sauce, which can be used to make a marinade for grilled tuna.

Many markets do not offer a varied selection of fish suitable for grilling. The exception is tuna which is readily available throughout most of the world. Its powerful back muscles, also called its loins, provide large and thick “steak cuts” of meat. The cooked flesh is dense and firm; as a result, it will not flake and break apart on a grill.

Even a thick tuna steak needs only half an hour to soak up a marinade.
Even a thick tuna steak needs only half an hour to soak up a marinade.

Some people enjoy eating tuna raw and prefer grilled tuna rare. Others are fond of canned tuna and may prefer tuna that is thoroughly cooked on a grill. Your choice for the grilled tuna marinade should be influenced by this as well. Raw tuna is more subtle in flavor, and must be paired with a marinade with subtle seasonings and herbs. Fully cooked tuna is more robust, and will hold up to an aggressive marinade such as a traditional sweet and spicy tomato barbecue.

When cooking with marinades, the meat must be allowed to sit and soak up the flavors for a time. It should not take even a thick cut of raw tuna more than thirty minutes in the refrigerator to fully marinate. You can choose a grilled tuna marinade of any consistency, ranging from watery thin to pasty thick. Your main concern in a store bought bottle of marinade is acids in the label’s ingredients list. An excess of vinegar or lemon juice, will actually cook the delicate flesh of tuna halfway through just from the marinating process.

Remember, tuna cooks in very little time. A mostly raw piece with a thin outer layer of grill marks will take no more than two minutes on each side over hot coals or gas flame. A piece cooked completely through may take five minutes per side. Sugar content in your grilled tuna marinade is not an issue since it won’t be on the grill long enough to burn. Oils within the marinade is also acceptable, even preferable, because tuna is a very lean meat.

Some of the ingredients to consider in your marinade for tuna, whether it is purchased at a market or made from scratch, are Pacific Asian and Mediterranean. Examples of the former well suited to tuna include sesame oil, ginger and a Chinese sauce called hoisin. Mediterranean flavors usually include strong pastes, such as the puree of olives called tapenade. The short cooking time of tuna on a grill also means that both fresh and dried herbs, such as dill, tarragon and chervil, are good marinade ingredients.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


You can buy bottled marinades that are formulated specifically for different types of meats. By using these types of marinades, there is no guess work about making a tasty marinade for your tuna.


I have found that the easiest and tastiest way to marinade tuna steaks is to use salad dressings. You can use any type you want, it just depends on your taste preference and how you plan to cook your tuna steaks.

A good rule of thumb to follow when marinading with salad dressings is the use thicker dressings when you plan to cook your tuna for longer periods of time for well-done steaks. Thinner dressings hold up better if you are searing or lightly broiling tuna steaks.


I like tuna to have a bit of sweet flavor, so I have been experimenting with different types of fruit juices as marinades. Orange juice mixed with my favorite spices makes very tasty grilled tuna steaks. I also like lime juice with cilantro for a Mexican twist to the steaks.

Tangier juices, like cranberry and tomato, also provide nice flavor to tuna steaks when used as marinades. However, if you also prefer a little sweetness to your grilled tuna, you may have to add a few spoonfuls of sugar to these juices to get the flavor you want.

Post your comments
Forgot password?