Steak Doneness Guide

Published Categorized as Grills and Outdoor Cooking, Guide, Meat

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Steak is not the easiest of meats to grill (including skirt and flank steak) because people are fussy about the way they like their steak cooked. You can make or break a dinner party with the way you cook steaks. Some people like their steaks rare, others medium-rare. Then there’s medium, medium well done, and well done. You have to time the grilling of steaks to the last second to get what your guests would consider the perfect steak. It can also be exceedingly difficult if you are grilling steaks for a crowd and everybody is asking for different levels of doneness.

Before you start grilling steaks, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the grades and cuts of steak so you know what you are dealing with. In this article, we will be telling you more about these things and will tell you how to cook a steak from rare right up to well done. 

Table of Contents

Grades of Steak

Government agencies like the USDA usually grade steak. The age of the cow and the marbling tell what grade it is going to get. In the US, there are 3 grades, prime, choice, and select. Prime is the top of the tree. There are other cuts, but these are usually used as meat by-products. 

Prime grade steak is usually exported or used in upmarket restaurants. You will usually just find choice and select on your supermarket shelves or in the butchers. Naturally, the choice is the more expensive of the two.

When buying your steak, look at the marbling. If there is no marbling, meaning that there is no fat, the steak will be lean and tender, but it won’t be as flavorsome as beef with small streaks of fat. You will have to try and get a compromise if you want both tender and flavorsome meat. Our advice is to buy steak with a little fat. Don’t buy meat with thick lines of fat as that will make the steak tough.  

The color is also important when choosing which steak to buy. Choose steak which is bright red in color, with creamy white marbling. The marbling should be evenly distributed.

Cuts of Steak

The next thing to consider is the cut of steak you want and there are quite a few out there. Most people have their favorites.

3 sections of the cow are used for steak: the rib, the short loin, and the sirloin. From the rib area, you will get such cuts as the rib-eye, the rib roast, and the back ribs. You will find that these steaks are not very tender, but they are full of flavor.

The short loin produces steaks such as the porterhouse, the tenderloin, top loin, and the T-bone. These are all flavorful, but not as flavorsome as the steaks you get from the rib section. They are, however, more tender. From the tenderloin, you get cuts such as chateaubriand.

The sirloin area gives steaks such as the top sirloin and the sirloin steak. They too are less tender than steaks from the short loin, but they are jam-packed with flavor.

Cooking Steak to the Desired Doneness

You have bought your steak and now comes the hard bit which is cooking it to the required doneness. How do you tell? Well, the best way is with a probe thermometer which you need to put into the center of the meat when you are nearing the finishing time of grilling. What’s even better is a Bluetooth thermometer. The probe is attached to the thermometer and you download an app on your phone through which you can check on the temperature. You can even select the doneness of your steak. 

Here we will go through all the choices from rare to well done and tell you more about them.


We won’t mention blue steaks which are for the true carnivore and you would be hard pushed to find a restaurant serving it. A rare steak is the least level of doneness that you can expect to get in all restaurants serving steak. 

A rare steak should be warm in the middle, but hot on the outside. It should be bright red in the inside, but with a slightly charred outside. The sides should be brown. It should be soft to the touch which is remarkably similar to raw meat. Raw steak is spongy to the touch and becomes firmer as the meat cooks. As a rare steak is grilled for a minimum of time it too will feel a little spongy.

To cook a 1-inch rare steak, put it on a hot grill for 5 minutes. Then turn over and grill the other side for 3 minutes. The inside temperature of the steak should be 120 – 130F.


Medium rare is probably the most popular way of cooking steaks. Ask any chef and most will recommend that you have your steak cooked medium-rare. If you are cooking steaks for a big crowd and don’t have the time to ask each individual what they want, cook them all medium-rare.

The center of a medium-rare steak should be pink as a rare steak is, but there should be a hint of redness. The top and bottom of the steak should be caramelized and the sides brown. It should have better grill marks than a rare steak because of the longer cooking time. A medium-rare steak should be warm in the middle and hot on the outside.

To grill a 1-inch medium-rare steak put the grill onto hot and cook for 5 minutes. Turn it over and cook for another 4 minutes. The internal temperature of the steak should be between 130F and 135F.


A medium steak is almost as popular as medium-rare and could also be prepared for a large crowd of people. There is only a little leeway between the two so whichever you do should go down well unless you have someone desperate for a rare or well-done steak.

A medium steak is firmer than the last two, but it should still have a little give. It will be a brownish pink in color, pinker in the center, and getting browner going to the outside. The sides should be brown and the top and bottom charred, but not black. 

To grill a 1-inch steak, cook it for 6 minutes on a hot grill and then turn it over and cook for a further 4 minutes. The internal temperature should be 140F – 150F.

Medium Well Done

Now we are coming to the territory of what some chefs would call overdone steaks. Most chefs would be reluctant to cook them, but if you are running a restaurant you have to please the customer.

A medium well-done steak will be brown inside, but there will still be a streak of pink in the center. The outside should be dark brown with plenty of charring. There will be a little give in this steak, but it is generally hard.

To cook a 1-inch steak medium-well done, grill for 7 minutes on a hot grill and then turn over and grill for an additional 5 minutes. The internal temperature of the steak should be 155F – 165F.

Well Done

A lot of people will criticize those who want a well-done steak, but it is nevertheless popular, so you do need to know how to cook it. In fact, although it is criticized, it is not easy to cook. You can’t cook it on high heat because the outside will be burned and the inside not cooked enough. The way to cook it is low and slow. In this way, you will get a brown inside without a hint of pink and an outside that is brown and caramelized. The steak should feel solid, not squishy like you get with a rare steak.

To cook a 1-inch well-done steak you need to put the grill on a medium heat. Then you need to cook it for 10 – 12 minutes on each side. The internal temperature should be 170F when it is done.


The juices of a steak need to redistribute after cooking so it is best to rest a steak after cooking otherwise these juices will flow out and you won’t get the benefit of them. The best way to rest a steak is to wrap the steak in foil so it doesn’t lose too much heat. Put it on a chopping board and leave for around 5 minutes or every inch of thickness. Then it’s ready to serve. Steak goes well with fried potatoes and mushrooms. Roasted sweet potatoes also suit steak as does a nice jazzed up salad, not just a boring piece of lettuce. And don’t forget the steak sandwich which goes well with creamy coleslaw. 

Final Thoughts

We hope that you have found this article informative and that you now know how to cook the perfect steak for everybody’s taste. It may seem a daunting task, but a little practice and a good thermometer should point you in the right direction. We hope that you will have a good summer grilling steaks for family and friends in the back yard. 

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