Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

The Best Canned Tuna in Water

By Lisa McManus Published

We tasted eight products to find the best tuna for sandwiches and casseroles.

In the test kitchen, we use cans of solid white tuna packed in water to make classic Classic Tuna Salad, where its firm texture is perfectly complemented by crisp minced celery and creamy mayonnaise, and Tuna-Noodle Casserole, in which its mild flavor pairs well with egg noodles and a rich roux. To find the best, we bought eight top-selling nationally available supermarket solid white tunas—what the industry calls “white” tuna is always albacore—priced from about $0.20 to about $1.10 per ounce. Six tunas were packed in water, while two were packed without additional liquid. Panels of 21 test kitchen staffers sampled the tunas plain and in tuna salad in two blind tastings, rating their flavor, texture, and overall appeal.

Tuna Shouldn’t Be Dry—or Soggy

In both the plain and tuna salad tastings, one tuna stood out as superior; tasters found it “light and fresh,” “moist,” and “seasoned well,” with “lots of flavor,” but “not too fishy.” As we examined the ratings, we discovered that many otherwise acceptable tunas lost points for being too dry. “The flavor is good, but it feels wrung out,” wrote one disappointed taster. Products that tried to mask the fish’s dryness with vegetable broth or water were described as “mushy,” “watery,” or “soggy.” Tasters gave the lowest scores to tunas that were too “fishy” and had off-flavors. 

So what made some tunas so dry? It helps to know how most tuna is processed for canning. After the fish is caught, it’s quickly frozen on the boat. At the cannery, it’s thawed and cooked, which makes it easier for workers to separate the meat from the bones. The meat goes in cans, and then some manufacturers add more ingredients such as salt, vegetable broth, water, and pyrophosphates (which help prevent mineral crystals from forming—something albacore is particularly prone to do). Finally, the can is sealed and sterilized at a high temperature. Manufacturers that follow this process are cooking the delicate fish twice; you’d never do this at home and still expect moist, tender fish. Adding water or broth doesn’t really help restore moisture, since these liquids can’t penetrate the tightly bound proteins—and our tasters noticed.

Our winning tuna (left) was packed raw in the can, with no added water, and cooked just once when the can was pasteurized for sterilization. Because of this, it retains its meaty texture and more of its natural juices than tuna that was precooked, packed in the can with water, and then pasteurized for sterilization (right), which can leave the fish overcooked and dried out, with a texture our tasters called "wet" rather than moist.

By contrast, two of the three higher-ranked tunas are cooked just once during processing, at the sterilization step. It’s a more time-consuming way to process tuna, but to our tasters, the results were worth it, with more flavorful, tender, naturally moist tuna. In addition, neither of these tunas contains added water or other liquid, so you get more tuna per can and don’t need to drain it as you normally would with water-packed tuna. These two products, which came in first and third place, are also pole caught using individual fishing lines (see Tuna Terms You Need to Know). Some experts say that pole-caught tuna is less stressed and therefore tastes better than tuna caught by more common commercial fishing methods, which trap and confine many more tuna—along with unwanted fish—in nets.  

Our second-place tuna, by StarKist, which is currently the top-selling tuna brand in the United States according to Chicago-based market research company IRI, is traditionally processed. It may have won its ranking partially on its familiarity: Tasters wrote comments such as, “This one tastes like the tuna of my childhood.” It broke down into small shreds rather than chunks and was very moist (verging on “soggy” to some tasters). This tuna was appealingly “mild” and “sweet”-tasting and made “soft” (some said “mushy”), smooth scoops of tuna salad.

The Best Water-Packed Solid White Tuna: American Tuna Pole Caught Wild Albacore

Our tasters’ overall favorite was American Tuna Pole Caught Wild Albacore, a tuna that is cooked only once, in the can, so it retained more of its natural moisture. No water is added; the small amount of liquid, which comes from the fish during cooking, should be stirred back in before you use it in recipes, no draining necessary. With the most sodium of the lineup, this tuna also struck tasters as “well seasoned.” While it’s the most expensive tuna we tasted, we think its flavor and texture are worth it.

Taste Test Canned Tuna in Water

We tasted eight products to find the best tuna for sandwiches and casseroles.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.