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Steak is extremely versatile meat as it can be found absolutely anywhere. It seems to find its place in both a street BBQ and a high-rated fancy restaurant. It never feels out of place, no matter where it is served. One of the many reasons for this is that it can be cooked so easily but can also be taken a step further. Cooking steak is the epitome of ‘easy to learn, hard to master.’
Table of Contents
- What Is Steak Doneness?
- The 5 Levels Of Steak Doneness
- Rest Your Steak Post-Cooking
- Which Doneness Should I Choose?
- FAQs On Steak Doneness
What Is Steak Doneness?
Steak doneness is a term used to describe how cooked the steak is. Unlike other meats, such as chicken and pork, steak can be eaten no matter how rare (undercooked) it is. As long as the outer layer has been seared to kill all bacteria attached to it, your steak will be completely safe to eat.
Why Do People Prefer Different Levels Of Doneness?
While it might seem weird, the different levels of doneness all have their own merits and reasons for eating them. A lot of people prefer different things and steak can be cooked to cater to every person individually. The more cooked steaks have a very different taste and texture to the steaks that have been cooked less.
On top of this, how you intend to use your steak will also decide what level of doneness will be best suited. Something such as steak ramen would benefit from quite cooked steak as it has a sturdy texture than can be chopped into pieces. However, a steak sandwich would benefit more from a rather lightly cooked steak as it will have a bolder flavor.
The 5 Levels Of Steak Doneness
While you may be able to find a cheat sheet that has all of the proper cooking times for the levels of steak doneness, there are a few things to be aware of.
The cooking time of the steak will vary a lot depending on the thickness of the steak. You can measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, as this is always consistent, but as for the timing, you will have to take into account what type of steak cut it is and how thick it is.
Alongside this, it is also very important to note that you should rest your steak before cooking and allow it to come up to room temperature. The reasoning for this is that you want the stake to be the same temperature all over. Internally and externally, too. This will help the steak cook evenly and will prevent you from burning the exterior while the interior remains undercooked. To also help evenly cook your steak it is important to flip it often while it is cooked. While a lot of people know to do this, it is also worth knowing to move your steak around the pan as well as the heat might not be evenly distributed on your stove or grill.
Using A Meat Thermometer
Using a handy kitchen tool such as a meat thermometer will not only help you with cooking steak but will also help you in countless recipes. Buying one is one of the best investments you can make if you intend to cook a lot.
Measuring the internal temperature of anything is a good way to know if it is cooked or not. You can only be so accurate by timing and guessing when the food is cooked. While they come in different shapes and sizes, almost all meat thermometers are the same.
To use them properly, stick the probe into the thickest part of the meat. It is best to avoid all fat, bone, and gristle when doing this. Not everything does, yet a lot of meat and food will continue to cook via residual heat even after they have been taken away from the initial source. This is essential to keep in mind and to counter it, take your food away from the heat source when you are roughly 5 degrees lower than you desire. As an example, if you are looking for a final internal temperature to be 150 F, you will want to remove your food when it reaches 145 F to counter the residual heat, also known as, carry-over cooking.
Rare steak is the most undercooked version of steak that is commonly found in restaurants. While there is another level below it known as ‘blue steak’ or ‘blue rare’, this is much less common and is usually only made via request specifically from you.
The perfect rare steak should have an internal temperature of around 120-130 F. As for appearance, it should be bright pink in the middle when cut open and should also only have light charring on the outside yet still be quite brown. If you have requested a rare steak and see that it is not brown on the entirety of the exterior, send it back. This color is not needed because of the flavor or anything, it is required as it is a sign that the steak has been properly seared and all bacteria is dead.
Rare steak has a delicious flavor as it is still close to raw. This flavor is rather metallic as you can see the blood-tinted juice run out of the meat when you press it with a fork. While that description may repulse or disgust some people, there is another group of people that are eagerly planning their next rare steak.
While it is one of the most iconic steak doneness levels, a medium-rare steak is also one of the tastiest too. Medium-rare steaks are in perfect balance with the slightly charred exterior with the delicious and tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. They are so iconic and well known for all the best reasons.
Not only should this steak be slightly charred but there should also be very defined grill marks that you can easily see and identify. Chefs will often recommend a medium-rare steak if you ask for their recommendation as it is considered to be the best choice out of the 5 options.
To cook the perfect medium-rare steak, you will want to grill it on a piping hot grill for 5 minutes while you continuously move it around to sear all of the edges. After searing, wait until the internal temperature is at 130-135 F.
If you are looking to serve steak to someone who does not know their preference, or you are cooking steak for yourself and are not sure what you want, a medium-cooked steak is the safest choice. It is a lot more likely to satisfy the majority of a group as it is the perfect mid-point.
A medium steak will have a slightly darker brown exterior and will also be a lot firmer. If you slice open a medium steak you will see a noticeable band of pink meat on the inside, but there will also be a rather large portion of brown cooked meat on the edges. The char lines from the grill will still be really noticeable and will have a stronger taste in this steak than in the ones before it.
If you cook a steak to medium doneness, you will want the internal temperature to be at around 140-150F. This will take around 10 minutes of grilling but may depend on the thickness of your steak.
A medium-well steak is for those who enjoy the slight hint of pink bloody meat in their steak but overall want it to be properly cooked with minimal pink on the inside. This steak will have both incredibly defined char lines and will also be firm to the touch with very little give. The inside should look like a medium steak but with significantly less pink.
To cook your medium-well steak you will want to grill it for about 14 minutes while continuously moving it around, or wait until the internal temperature reaches 155-165F.
Out of all the steak cooking levels, a well-done steak is the most cooked. This is surprisingly difficult to pull off as a lot of people will accidentally burn their steak instead of properly cooking it. The difficulty behind this is that the steak will start to dry out once there is no pink meat left, the only counter to this is to cook it at a low temperature for a longer time.
Despite this method, you still want to sear the edges to kill the bacteria and make it look a lot more appealing. Sear every edge of your steak and then lower the heat to about half of what it was. This is where you want to start cooking your steak and moving it around to ensure it is an evenly cooked steak. This will take between 10-12 minutes on each side and will reach a temperature of 170 F or higher.
A perfectly cooked steak at this level of doneness can be so challenging that some chefs simply refuse to do it. However, if this is your desired doneness then have at it and try your hardest.
Rest Your Steak Post-Cooking
While you rested your steak before cooking it, you will also need to rest it after it has been cooked. This is incredibly important and is quite an overlooked step by a lot of people when they cook steak for themselves at home. Resting your steak is crucial to ensuring it is consistently moist everywhere and not just on the outside.
The muscle fibers in steak will contract while they are being cooked and will also toughen. This pushes all of the moisture to the surface of the steak, leaving the middle of the steak rather dry. This is why a steak will sizzle when being cooked as it is the moisture touching the pan. If you allow the steak three minutes to rest after it has been cooked, the moisture and juices will have ample time to redistribute through the steak and will in turn have an end result of an evenly moist steak.
If you fail to do this, a lot of the juices will end up staying on your plate and making a pool. Don’t worry, this is not enough time for the steak to cool down so much that it is no longer warm when served. I promise, rest your steak after cooking it. Your taste buds will thank me.
Which Doneness Should I Choose?
If you are new to trying steak and do not understand which doneness you prefer, that is fine. It is completely normal to not know and it is super easy to try and figure it out.
You have the obvious method of trying a bunch of different steaks that are all cooked at different levels and seeing which one you like. Many steakhouses will have an item like this on their menu which lets you try multiple cuts of steak at different levels.
However, if you only want to try one steak then I suggest medium-rare as your starting point. It has both the flavors and textures of each side of the spectrum without committing too much to one or the other. If you taste this and really like the pink part and how bloody it is, try it a bit less cooked last time. On the other hand, if you realize that the pink bit is not for you, get it more cooked the next time you try.
If you are looking for side dishes to serve alongside your steak, then look no further. We have an article written all about what to serve with steak.
FAQs On Steak Doneness
What is the best cook level for steak?
While there is no definitive answer, as it is all personal preference, a lot of people will say that medium-rare is the best. There is nothing to prove this other than the fact that it is the most popular choice at restaurants.
Is steak safe at 135?
Steak is completely safe at any temperature as it is red meat and can be eaten raw. The only thing to keep in mind is that the exterior should be seared so that you know all external bacteria are dead and will not make you ill.