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How to Cook Tuna Steak in a Pan

Tuna is a lean, heart-healthy alternative to red meats like beef and pork. It’s full of protein and good-for-you fats, and is surprisingly easy to prepare.

There are lots of ways to prepare tuna, including grilling, making oven baked tuna, and even cooking tuna in a pan on the stovetop.

Cooking tuna steak in a pan is a method that allows you to get a beautiful, flavorful, caramelized crust on the outside of your steak while not overcooking the inside. And it’s quick and easy too!

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Varieties of Tuna

There are four main varieties of tuna that are fished commercially for food, so let’s quickly take a look at each.

Albacore and Skipjack are the two varieties that are most often canned, while Bluefin and Yellowfin tunas are preferred for fresh eating.

Bluefin tuna is the most flavorful and highest priced of the tuna varieties. It gets used for sashimi.

Yellowfin tuna is also called ahi tuna. It is less expensive than Bluefin tuna while still being excellent for eating fresh.

Yellowfin tuna steaks should be easy to find at your local grocery store or fish market.

Tuna degrades quickly once it’s out of the ocean, so buy the very freshest tuna you can find, and plan to use it right away.

Fresh is best, but if you can only find good-quality frozen tuna steaks, they will work too.

Be sure to let frozen tuna steaks thaw completely in the refrigerator before cooking.

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Why Cook Tuna Steak in a Pan?

Tuna has a tendency to dry out quickly, especially if overcooked. One of the great things about cooking tuna steak in a pan is that you can get a good sear on the meat.

Searing is cooking something at a high temperature very quickly. It is good for locking in moisture quickly, which is exactly what you want when cooking tuna steaks.

When the surface of the tuna steak comes in contact with the hot metal pan, the intense heat rapidly caramelizes just the outermost layer of the tuna, sealing all of the flavor and juices inside while not overcooking the inside at all.

What Kind of Pan to Use

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet would be great for cooking tuna in a pan because it is perfectly suited to searing. A heavy stainless steel pan would be another good option.

You can also cook tuna steak in a nonstick skillet if that’s what you have, but most experts will tell you a nonstick skillet makes it harder to get a nice, brown crust when you sear meat or fish.

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What Size and Thickness Is Ideal for Cooking Tuna Steak in a Pan?

Buy tuna steaks that are 1-2 inches thick.This will allow them to get a lovely, caramelized crust on the outside while still being rare or medium-rare on the inside.

What Internal Temperature Should Tuna Steaks Be Cooked To?

Sushi grade ahi tuna should be served rare or seared rare, and cooked to an internal temperature of 115 to 120°F.

Regular tuna steaks should be served medium-rare, otherwise it will become dry and lose flavor. It should be cooked to an internal temperature of 125°F.

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How to Cook Tuna Steak in a Pan

  1. When your tuna steak is seasoned or marinated as desired, preheat your pan of choice over medium-high heat.
  2. Drizzle a small amount of an oil with a high smoke point, like canola oil, in the pan. Heat the oil until it shimmers.
  3. Place your tuna steak in the pan and leave it alone for 1 to 2 minutes. Resist the urge to bother it while the pan creates a nice sear on the bottom of the steak.
  4. When the bottom side of the steak has fully seared, it should release from the pan pretty easily without getting stuck or tearing. Flip the steak over using a thin, metal spatula, and let the other side sear for 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the tuna steak from the heat and allow it to rest for several minutes before serving.
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What Are Some Other Ways to Cook Tuna Steak?

Another great way to cook tuna steak on a busy weeknight is oven baked tuna steak sprinkled with lemon and fresh dill.

If you aren’t a fan of lemon and dill, there are lots of other easy marinade recipes, like chili lime, soy ginger, and orange.

Or you can skip the cooking all together and enjoy fresh tuna in tuna poke bowls or tuna ceviche bowls.

And, of course, you can’t overlook our Asian nicoise salad made with thick slides of medium-rare tuna steak.