Steaks are delicious when cooked to the exact degree of doneness that you want. We have all the answers you need to know about steak doneness, temperature guides and charts, the best thermometers, and touch test.
Ah, steaks. There’s nothing like them. But, what is the best steak doneness? Rare? Medium? Well-done? And an even better question is how can you achieve the best steak doneness from your own kitchen?
No matter how you like your steak, there are a few tips and tricks that will help you make the perfect steak every time.
- What are the Degrees of Doneness for Steak?
- How to Tell if Steak is Done (VIDEO)
- Why is Steak Doneness Important?
- What is the Best Internal Temperature for Steak?
- Steak Doneness Chart
- How to Tell When Steak is Done?
- Carryover Cooking
- Let it Rest
- Touch Tests for Steak
- Choosing the Right Steak
- Practice Makes Perfect
- Kitchen Tools We Love
- One More Thing!
What are the Degrees of Doneness for Steak?
You’ve probably heard the terms for doneness before. The terms “rare,” “medium rare,” “medium,” “medium-well”, and “well” describe how meat is cooked. But, did you know their definition goes beyond the color of the meat? For example, a medium-well steak is more than just, “only a little pink in the middle”
Steak doneness is about the steak’s temperature. It’s not about the color or visual appearance of the beef. The secret to nailing the perfect doneness every time is a quality meat thermometer (more on that below).
The reason for this is because steaks have different thicknesses and characteristics based on the cut and quality. Therefore, they all cook differently and to achieve a “medium rare” filet steak is going to be slightly different than a flank steak.
How to Tell if Steak is Done (VIDEO)
Why is Steak Doneness Important?
Doneness affects the steak’s flavor, texture and juiciness of steak. Since no one wants to eat a tough, dried out piece of beef, steak doneness is critical for any home chef making steak. When you learn how to cook a steak to the desired doneness, you’ll be eating steakhouse steaks at home.
What is the Best Internal Temperature for Steak?
Rare – 120-129°F
Rare steak has cool-to-warm red center, and soft, tender texture. The USDA does not recommend eating rare meat, nor do many restaurants. However, if this is how you want to cook your steak, it’s an excellent choice for leaner steaks like top sirloin or filet mignon that don’t have as much fat to melt.
When cooking a steak to rare, it’s often seared on the outside at high temperatures (400°F) for a few minutes on each side. This results in a bright red center. When touched, the meat is soft and has almost no resistance to pressing with a finger.
Medium Rare – 130-134°F
Medium-rare steak is the most popular level of doneness. Steaks served at this temperature are slightly warm, and have the best juiciness and texture. Medium-rare steaks are seared on the outside and the center has a dark pink red color. When touched, medium-rare steak gives only a slight resistance.
Medium – 135-144°F
A medium steak is also a very popular option. It has a pink center surrounded by brown meat. Medium steak meets the USDA’s recommended internal cooking temperature. A medium steak is completely warm and has no visible dark red in the center. Pressing on a medium steak with your finger gives slight resistance and it springs back a little.
A medium-well steak will have a mostly brown center, with a faint pink color in the hot center. The meat will be much drier and chewier because the juices inside the steak will evaporate during the cooking process. If you press on it with your finger, it will be firm with a considerable amount of spring.
Well done -155-164°F
We don’t recommend cooking a steak to well-done because it becomes chewy and has very little flavor. At this level of doneness, the beef loses all of its natural juices and the steak shrinks. The color will be entirely brown with no pink. When touched, it will be firm and springy to the touch.
Steak Doneness Chart
|Cool, bright red center Soft to the touch
|Warm red center Beginning to firm up with red juices
|Warm pink center; outer portions beginning to brown Completely firm to the touch with red juices
|Slightly pink center Completely firm to the touch with brown juices
|No pink or red Firm to touch
|Fully brown throughout with no pink
Note: The temperatures in this chart are final doneness. You need to pull your beef off the heat about 5-10°F before these temperatures are reached.
How to Tell When Steak is Done?
There’s only one way to tell when steaks are done to the appropriate doneness – an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
Every kitchen needs a quality meat thermometer. Period. (As a side note, we’ve tried dozens of thermometers and our favorite is the Thermapen by Thermoworks. It’s the best by far.)
When taking a temperature reading, measure in the center or the thickest part of the beef, not touching bone or fat. For steaks 1/2 inch or thicker, it’s usually best to insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally from the side.
Another tip to achieve the perfect steak at home is to be mindful of carryover cooking, which is the rise in the steak’s temperature once it leaves the heat source.
When you take a temperature reading of steak, you’re not looking for the specific number in the chart above. Rather, you want to pull your steaks off at a high enough temperature so that carryover cooking will do the rest of the work and raise the temperature of the steak to your desired doneness.
This means it’s best to pull your steaks off the heat source when the thermometer reads about 5-10°F lower than the desired doneness.
Let it Rest
All cooked beef needs to rest before serving. The reason for this is because meat is a muscle with two main parts – protein and water. When steak is cooked, the muscle fibers contract because of the increased temperature. Then, the water is squeezed out of the fibers and the liquid moves towards the center of the steak.
If meat is cut before it rests, the juice goes directly on the plate because the juices haven’t had a chance to be reabsorbed by the meat yet. When steaks are removed from the heat and given a chance to rest, the muscle fibers relax and widen and allows the juice and moisture to redistribute throughout the meat.
There are different guidelines about how long should steak rest. Some say 5-minutes for every inch of thickness, others say 10-minutes for each pound of meat, and still others say for as long as you cooked the meat. At our house, we let all steaks rest 5-7 minutes.
Touch Tests for Steak
Because steaks muscles widen and relax in the cooking process, the meat gets firmer the more done it is. This makes it possible to touch the steak and guesstimate its doneness. Touch tests are very subjective, but they’re popular with some cooks. These tests are great when you’re in a pinch, but remember, the only real way to tell a steak’s doneness is by temperature, which requires a thermometer.
Touch Test Method 1: Palm of your Hand
Hold your hand out, palm up. Poke the base of your hand by the base of the thumb. What does it feel like? If you guessed raw meat, you’re right.
Now, make an OK sign with your hand by touching your forefinger and thumb together. Feel the same part of your hand. It’s a little firmer. This is how meat feels when it’s rare.
You’re now going to move to your other fingers, and as you do, you’ll notice the pad of your hand will get progressively firmer.
Touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. That’s how a medium rare steak feels.
Next, touch the tip of your ring finger to your thumb. This is what a medium-well will feel like.
Last but not least, touch your pinky to your thumb. That’s the equivalent of a well-done steak.
Touch Test Method 2: Make a Fist
You can also do a touch test by making a fist.
First, make a relaxed fist. The fleshy area of your hand between your thumb and forefinger is soft, which is how a rare steak feels.
If you slightly clench your fist, it’s a little firmer like medium doneness.
Clench your fist tightly and the area will feel like well-done.
Touch Test Method 3: Face Test
Your third option is the face test. Personally, we like methods 1 and 2 the best, but some people really like touching their face.
When your face is relaxed (don’t smile), touch your finger to your cheek. A rare steak is soft like your check
Next, touch your chin. Notice that it’s fleshy with some resistance. This is similar to medium doneness.
If you like a steak that’s medium, or with a pink center, you’ll want it will be similar to when you touch the end of your nose.
Lastly, touch your forehead, it’s firmer, which is like well done.
Choosing the Right Steak
All steaks are different and have different qualities. Some steaks are known to be lean and others are known to be tough. Some usually have a bone and others don’t. These differences make it important to choose the right cooking method with the cut of beef. Here’s a quick overview of each cut and the best cooking method:
A Ribeye Steak is a tender and flavorful steak that has the most marbling of any steak. It is cut from the rib area just behind the shoulder. For this cut of beef, less cooking time results in a more tender steak. Grill, broil or pan sear this cut.
A Strip Steak is a steakhouse classic and an all-around favorite. It’s known for mild marbling, tenderness and flavor. Strip Steaks are lean with a fine, tight grain that makes them moderately tender. Grill, broil or pan sear this cut.
A Tenderloin Steak is the most lean, tender and expensive steak. It’s known for its buttery texture that will melt in your mouth, but it’s not very flavorful. It cooks much faster than other cuts since it’s so low in fat. A whole tenderloin can be cut into different steaks: a Filet is 1-2 inches thick, Chateaubriand is 3-inches thick. Grill, broil or pan sear this cut.
The T-Bone is a combination of two steaks – Tenderloin and Strip – and the “T” shaped bone is what divides the beefy strip and tender tenderloin. A T-Bone and Porterhouse are very similar, but a T-Bone is slightly smaller. Grill, broil or pan sear this cut.
Sirloin is the large primal section of beef in the hip section of the animal, just ahead of the rump. A Sirloin Steak is a lean, inexpensive cut that makes it an all-around favorite. In addition to being a great steak, it’s also ideal for kabobs and stew meat. There are two sirloin areas – bottom and top. Grill, broil or pan sear this cut.
The Tri-Tip gets its name from its triangle shape. There is typically only one Tri-Tip on an animal, so it’s not a common cut of beef. It comes from the bottom sirloin and is a well marbled cut that has a mild flavor. Grill, broil, stir-fry, or pan sear this cut.
Round Steak/Cubed Steak
A Top Round Steak is from the back leg and rump section of the beef. The meat has a very good beefy flavor, but it can be tough. Often times Round Steaks are sold as a tenderized steak. They are usually large steaks, and one steak can often feed two people.
A Skirt Steak is a thin, flavorful cut of beef that’s from the diaphragm area. This cut is ideal for fajitas. Grill, stir-fry, or pan sear this cut.
Flank Steak is very distinct because of grains that run the length of the cut. It’s a lean and flavorful cut that can sometimes be slightly chewy. It’s a thin cut that will cook quickly, so it’s ideal for a weeknight meal. Grill, stir-fry, or pan sear this cut.
There is only one hanger steak per animal and it’s a flavorful cut. The hanger steak has a distinct look and is pointed and thinner at one end. Grill or pan sear this cut.
Practice Makes Perfect
The perfect steak is only a few minutes away. Grab a thermometer and your favorite cut of beef, and start cooking! Cook steak regularly to learn the different cooking methods and you’ll be eating steakhouse steaks at home in no time!
Kitchen Tools We Love
One More Thing!
Do you want to learn more about beef? Join our weekly e-newsletter where we share farm happenings, recipes and beef availability. Sign-up and get a cheat sheet with 9-must-ask questions before buying beef directly from a farmer. Or, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a cattle farmer’s perspective.
Here are a few other links you may like:
- What everybody ought to know about beef cuts
- Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?
- Is It Done Yet? The Best Meat Thermometer
- How We Raise Our Grass Fed Beef
- Defrosting Meat: 4 Safe & Easy Ways
- Slow Cooker Pepper Steak
- Prime Rib Roast with Garlic Herb Butter
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