The holidays are rapidly approaching, and we are certain that grilling will be prevalent, particularly of a mouth-watering and richly marbled, perfectly aged prime steak. However, before you finish tying the strings on your apron, it’s a good idea to brush up on the fundamentals of steak doneness.
With this guide to steak doneness, we’ll explain what happens when you cook your meat, what the various levels of doneness are (and what they mean for the tenderness and flavor of your steak), and how to ensure you’ve cooked it to the ideal level of doneness.
The Effects of Cooking on Your Steak
Grilling a gorgeous ribeye or strip steak is a two-step process. The first step is to ensure that the steak reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. This internal temperature is used to determine the doneness.
When you cook meat, you accomplish three goals:
You’re degrading its proteins: Muscle proteins, which are typically tightly balled together, begin to unravel. This is why raw steaks are more chewy than cooked steaks.
You’re evaporating water: approximately 34% of the muscle fibers in a steak are composed of water. That water evaporates as you cook the meat. As a result, a well-done type contains less mass and juices than its rare counterpart.
As you cook it, the small streaks and pockets of fat within begin to melt. Fat is absorbed into the muscle when it melts. This improves the flavor (fat contains the chemicals that give beef its flavor) and the texture, making it smoother, more tender, and buttery.
Searing is the second stage of grilling. Searing a steak involves briefly exposing its surface to extremely high temperatures (500° or higher). This produces the Maillard reaction, which imparts a crunchy, brown flavorful exterior that meat lovers adore.
Levels of Doneness
Searing is required for all excellent steaks (for flavor, texture, and killing surface bacteria). However, it is the internal temperature of the steak that determines its doneness. There are six distinct degrees of doneness at which you can cook.
NOTE: Always remove your steak from the grill when it reaches a temperature of 5° below the desired temperature. This is because it retains heat and will continue to cook and heat up for a few minutes longer after you remove it from the grill, increasing the internal temperature.
This chart will assist you in determining the difference between a rare doneness and other cooking temperatures (all temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit):
Blue Rare (115°)
Alternative names include Very Rare, Blood Rare, Black & Blue, Pittsburgh Rare, and Bloody As Hell. Blue Rare steaks are seared on the outside only, leaving the interior nearly uncooked and raw. Blue Rare doneness are frequently still cold on the inside and can be warmed in a low-temperature oven.
Rare doneness have a red center that is warm to the touch. This gives the surface the delectable flavor and texture associated with the Maillard reaction, but also prevents the fats from melting properly. As a result, Rare is an excellent choice for low-fat type like tenderloins but should be avoided for well-marbled cuts like rib-eyes, strips, and porterhouses.
Medium Rare (130°)
The ideal level of doneness for a steak. Ask nearly any chef or connoisseur: Medium Rare doneness has the best flavor and are the most tender to grill. At this temperature, the fat on the meat has melted, distributing butter and flavor, but not much moisture has evaporated, resulting in an exceptionally tender, juicy, and plump steak. A medium-rare doneness has a red center and a pink ring between the center and the crust.
A medium steak no longer has a red center and is mostly pink throughout. While medium steaks retain the buttery, flavorful flavor of Medium-Rare doneness, they are slightly less juicy and tender due to moisture loss.
Medium Well (150°)
Medium Well doneness retain some pinkness and tenderness but have begun to lose enough moisture to become drier and less tender than the majority of steak lovers prefer.
Well Done (160°)
The majority of chefs and grillmasters would argue that this level of doneness is misnamed; “Over-Done” would be a more accurate description. By this point, enough moisture (and fat) will have evaporated or leaked from the steak, leaving it much drier and tougher than you prefer.
Is Rare Steak Safe to Consume?
Many people are concerned about eating rare steaks that are red to purplish on the inside, and some even avoid medium rare steaks that are pink to light pink in the center. Indeed it is recommended that steaks should be cooked to a minimum of 145 degrees and then rested for at least three minutes to ensure their safety.
This recommendation is made to this temperature as it ensures that it reaches a safe internal temperature. Beef cooked at a temperature lower than this, with a very pink or red center, increases the risk of harmful bacteria multiplying to dangerous levels.
While the core temperature at which you cook a steak is ultimately up to you, it’s important to keep in mind that rare and even some medium rare steaks with pink centers may not be the safest to consume. When ordering at a restaurant, it’s always a good idea to request that it be cooked to 145 degrees rather than specifying a level of doneness, just to be sure.
The most accurate way to determine whether your steak has reached the desired temperature and degree of doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Invest in a high-quality food thermometer that provides precise readings. With your thumb and forefinger, firmly grasp it and slide it into the side toward the center to obtain an accurate temperature reading.
Certain individuals will advise you not to do so, as poking a steak will allow the juices to escape. True, some will escape, but not enough to cause damage to your steak. Additionally, it is more critical for food safety to obtain an accurate reading from your instant read thermometer than it is to retain juices!
Additionally, you can use the finger test, although checking with your hand and finger is not always the most accurate method, as it does not account for degrees. Different breeds of beef, cuts of meat, and thicknesses of steaks can all result in significant differences in how a cooked steak feels to the touch, i.e., its firmness, which may ruin your Wagyu or Kobe-style steak.
Prepare to Grill the Steak
Now that you’ve determined the ideal doneness and temperature for grilling your ribeye (hint: Medium Rare, Medium Rare, Medium Rare), it’s time to fire up the grill and transform into the steak chef of your dreams. There is no stopping you with a raw steak in one hand, a reliable thermometer in the other, and a grill by your side.