Guide to Steak Doneness – From Rare to Well Done

Jason Webster
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What are the different degrees of steak doneness?

How do you prefer your steak?

When cooking steak or other meats, you may notice that on the grill, it will turn a little brown when you flip one side over and then it will soon turn brown on the other side after flipping.

After removing the steak from the grill, the meat will also continue cooking inside as the internal parts will rewarm and heat up to the final temperature.

The color of the meat will give you the impression that it’s done, but, it’s really not.

You can actually use the doneness of the meat to easily determine how cooked it is.

The most common degree of doneness for your medium rare steaks is 125 °F. I say 127 degrees for a perfectly cooked medium rare steak.

An instant read meat thermometer takes out much of the guess work involved in knowing whether a steak is perfectly cooked.

I don’t want to eat a bloody steak!

In the United States, you have five levels of steak doneness: Rare, Medium Rare, Medium, Medium Well and Well Done.

Alternatively, in the UK, you have four levels of steak doneness: Rare, Medium Rare, Medium, (or ) Well Done, whilst in Australia, the UK, and the most common in Europe, there are three levels of steak doneness: Rare, Medium Rare, and Well Done. In France, the first two levels are replaced by bleu (un-cooked) and bien cuit (well cooked).

What’s the difference between rare and raw? When the center of a steak is cooked to 125°F it is equivalent to a rare steak in the UK or a blue steak in France.

The center of a rare steak is still pink with a raw, red center when cooked to 125°F. When you cut into it, it will be full of juices and it will continue to cook to 125°F in the outside before you have the opportunity to injure the inside via the Maillard reaction as you continue to eat it. Rare steak is the favourite of people that like their meat more on the cooked, tender side.

A medium rare steak is one that is cooked to 135°F to 150°F in the center.

Avoid the USDA recommendation for steak

Doneness!

The USDA recommends rare steaks to be cooked to 145°F/63°C and medium rare steak to be cooked at 150°F/68°C.

These recommendations, by the way, have been heavily criticized by all the top chefs. Cooked to these temperatures, you cannot expect the steak to taste good or be enjoyable to eat.

I recommend that you use your own senses (eyes and touch) to judge the doneness of meat. The steak is ready for eating when the outside is brown and it feels soft and pliable and the juice runs clear.

There is no exact method to determine the doneness.

But you can get there quickly by following these rules:

{1}. The rarest a steak can get is red, or nearly red.
{2}. The medium rare steak falls somewhere in between rare and medium, and the color is pink outside, red inside.
{3}. Medium is a deeper pink, almost gray, with just a hint of red.
{4}. If the steak is going to be well done, it is gray, firm and dry.
{5}. The doneness is also affected by the thickness of the steak. It takes 1 to 2 minutes extra to cook a thick steak than a thin one.

So, is rare steak unsafe?

If you’ve ever dared to ask, you are not alone. It would be insulting to imply that as a society we have reached a point where we are no longer allowed to ask a simple question without getting lectured or branded as a savage. But that’s the sad state of affairs in most conversations these days. Why?

The pursuit of food safety is a relatively modern phenomenon. And if you draw a line through history, it would be difficult to pinpoint the moment when food safety became such a major concern. But that’s not an excuse to commit the sin of indifference, and refuse to acknowledge the “new” findings regarding the perfectly safe consumption of rare to medium rare steaks.

How to cook a steak to your desired doneness

The best method for cooking a steak is to cook it slowly over low heat. However, a steak cooked this way may not come out the way you like it.

Steaks are best eaten after they have been cooked to a certain level of doneness. There are different levels of doneness for a steak, ranging from pretty rare to well done.

Rare is best served within a medium-rare considered the most desirable steak because of the tender texture it has. However, note that a rare steak is up to a maximum 1-inch thick. Any further and the chances of it becoming undercooked will increase.

Medium-rare is the stage of when the steak starts to change the done look and is best served to those who want their steak to be tender but are too afraid to eat rare.

A medium steak has a little more firmness in its texture but will need to be cooked to at least medium or medium-plus to get by.

Medium-plus is when the steak has turned tender with a hint of well done in the middle. This stage of doneness is best for those who want to have their steak tender yet have a little crispiness to it.

Well done is when the steak is quite hard, and all the redness in it has turned to brown. This stage of doneness can be best to those who want to have it the classic way, where the meat is cooked to a crisp.

What happens to your steak while it’s cooking?

Steak comes from the muscles of an animal that are used for movement.Your steak gets more tender the more you move your body.

The less active you are, the less your steak will be tender.

Steak gets its characteristic flavors and browning from a series of reactions that happen when it’s heated.

Even though the temperatures at which the reactions take place are the same, the rate of reaction depends on a number of factors, including the heat of your grill or pan, the size of the steak, and the cut of the meat.

All steaks are red when raw.

The dissolved proteins on the outside of the steak combine with oxygen and the other reactants such as sugars in the cut of meat to form new compounds in a process called the Maillard reaction. As the color of your meat increases, the water inside the cells is expelled and the meat becomes more dry.

The Maillard reaction is also responsible for the development of flavor compounds in cooked meats, including the flavor of bread crust.

The doneness of your steak depends on the temperature at which the reaction takes place.

You can directly control the doneness of a steak by using the temperatures of the grill or pan to control the rate of the Maillard reaction.

The chart below should give you a general idea of how temperatures can affect the doneness of a steak.

How to know when your steak is done

When it comes to cooking steak, there are a lot of variables you need to consider, from the type of steak to the cooking method to the amount of time you spend preparing it.

In most cases, steaks should be cooked to a point between rare and medium. Rare steaks are red and springy to the touch while medium steaks are pink in the middle.

Remember that each steak is unique and even meat from the same package can vary in terms of doneness.

For instance, some parts of a sirloin steak may be more tender than others, so that’s why you should test the steak’s readiness in different areas.

Here’s how to test steak for doneness:

Can I tell by the color of the meat?

There is no way to tell if a steak is done to your liking by the color. The only way to tell is to do a quick check with a meat thermometer.

Beef is one of the most popular foods to prepare in the home. However, cooking the perfect steak isn’t as easy as it sounds.

How To Tell How Well Done Is Your Steak?

There are a lot of different ways to tell whether the steak is done or not. The question is what are the best methods to use. Also, there are differences in opinion.

Firstly let’s look at each your options for measuring.

The rarer you like your steak is, the quicker you need to measure.

A lot of people feel they can tell when a steak is done by poking or pressing the steak. This is not a very good way to judge.

Try pressing on the side of the steak with your thumb. The thumb test should give you an indication of tenderness. If the steak feels soft and compressible, it’s probably overcooked. But if it’s pretty firm, it’s raw or undercooked.

Avoid the finger test to check steak doneness

Taste is a better indicator, particularly if you don’t want your fingers burned.

It is good to keep in mind that for safety reasons and to avoid lawsuits that chefs should never make steak more than medium rare.

If you are serving anyone who may have a low temperature tolerance then you should always order a steak that’s well done that way the other person will be safe if they can’t tell if their steak is done.

If you decide to take the ‘finger test,’ try this:

Do not use the thumb. It is the most sensitive finger, so it would be too easy to burn yourself.

Don’t use your best dining flatware either. Woody disposable forks are quite safe.

As always, make sure the interior temperature of your steak is at least 141 degrees for medium rare, and 155 degrees for medium.

Here is a quick guide to steak doneness.

Tip – Take your steak off the heat early to avoid over cooking it

The majority of Americans prefer medium-rare to medium-well doneness steaks. Here’s a visual guide that will help you determine your preference for steak doneness.

We recommend that you take your steak off the heat earlier than the indicated time and then let it rest for three minutes before cutting it. This will ensure that your steak is cooked to your liking.

Rare: 125°F

Blue/Cool: 130-135°F

Medium-Rare: 135-140°F

Medium: 145°F

Medium-Well: 150-155°F

Cook to temperature, not to touch

Have you ever noticed that a grayish-brown color on the inside of a cut piece of meat signifies that the meat is well done?

If the color is only on the outside, the inside of the meat should be tinged pink, but not much.

When you cook meat to the proper temperature, you kill any harmful bacteria that could make you sick.

When is that temperature just right? Well, there are several options for when you cook your meat. The problem is that you can’t tell just by looking at the meat whether or not it is done.

Common sense usually works. If you can poke it with a fork, cut part of it with a knife, or put a skewer into it, it’s undercooked. Your muscle tester may not feel anything, it’s still pink inside.

If you cook to a higher temperature, it will be over-cooked, even though it would still be tough, dry, and probably rubbery.

The best way to be sure that the meat is done is to measure its internal temperature with a meat thermometer. When you insert it in the center of the thickest part of the meat, it should read the temperature that corresponds to the stage of doneness you desire.

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