Different Levels of Cooked Steak | A Guide to Steak Doneness

November 3, 2022

It’s high time we talked about steak doneness. There are a lot of opinions about it, so it’s important to know the facts. When preparing steak, there is an art to hitting the desired degree of doneness. 

Banking on decades of experience as a pitmaster and a chef who graduated from cooking school, in this article, I’ll show you the different steak temperatures. I’ll also tell you how a steak cooks, the best tools for cooking steak, and how to hit the spot like a marksman.

different levels of cooked steak

Different Steak Doneness Levels 

The doneness levels indicate how well a piece of meat is done. Apart from the color of the core and the internal temperature, the crust of the meat is also different from one level of doneness to the other.

Degree of Doneness: Side-by-side Comparison 

Degree of Doneness

Cooking Time

Internal Temperature (°F)

Condition

Very Rare
(Blue Steak)

1½ minutes of searing on each side 

115 to 120 degrees

The steak is cooked/seared to a light shade of grey. Inside it's cool, all deep dark red and raw.

Rare
(Bleeding)

2 minutes of searing on each side

120 to 125 degrees 

The steak is red in the middle. 

Medium Rare

3 minutes of searing on each side

130 to 135 degrees

A hot, red core surrounded by a pink layer. 

Medium

4 minutes of searing on each side

135 to 145 degrees

The crust is medium brown, which is great for fatty meats like roast beef.

Well Done

5 minutes of searing on each side

145 to 150 degrees

The steak is cooked until it turns brown inside and out and has an appetizing crust. There is a little hint of pink in the middle. 

Very Well Done

6 minutes of searing on each side

150 and above

Hard to the touch and difficult to chew

As can be seen above, there are up to six doneness levels. However, at home and in most restaurants, we’ve only been told there are four. These include rare steak, medium-rare steak, medium done steak, and well-done steak. 

But here’s a more in-depth look at the different levels of doneness of steak. 

Blue steak

Blue steak is the lowest meat doneness, although some will tell you there’s still one before this (around 110 degrees Fahrenheit). I don’t see a point in that. Why not have the meat eaten raw instead?

Blue steak, known as Bleu in French cuisine, is almost like uncooked meat. Except the steak is seared on the outside of each side for one and a half minutes. But I think this is a more healthy option for those who like to eat their steaks raw

The external parts of meat are the most contaminated with bacteria. So, by searing it briefly on the outside, these bacteria die off. 

I’ll be honest with you. Some microorganisms are dead stubborn that a minute and a half searing will not kill them. So the risk of getting sick eating steak that is rare is high.

Cooked in medium heat, blue steaks are still bloody inside and as good as raw meat. Not everyone likes this doneness. For connoisseurs, meat with this doneness is a real delicacy.

Inside, the flesh is raw and deep dark red. The fibers of the meat are unchanged. The meat has a thin, light brown crust on the outside. The meat juice is still coming out. It is tender and can be crushed between the tongue and palate.

Rare steak 

Rare is a steak with a slightly higher internal temp. This level of doneness is somewhat more cooked than blue.

The very middle part of the rare steak is completely red and still almost raw. The meat fibers are only changed at the edge. It also has a warm center temperature.

The crust of the steak is already a little darker than the blue cooking level. Since the steak is juicy and tender, it’s easy to bite.

The blue and rare steaks are almost uncooked. They have close to a raw texture and are not for everyone. It might be too juicy for some people. I still don’t recommend this for food safety reasons.

Medium rare steak

The medium rare steak has a nice pink center. It keeps most of its juice, has a great chew, and is still tender. It’s most people’s favorite (including mine). 

The steak has dark red meat juices and a red center. This runs onto the plate when the meat is cut. The crust on the surface is usually nicely browned because the steak has been on the grill for longer.

This is ideally how you should have your steak cooked. The vital nutrients are not overcooked, and the bacteria and other microorganisms are cooked to death. 

Medium rare steak with salt

Medium steak

Those who love their steak medium get it with a pink core throughout. As the meat has been on the grill longer, it will have a darker crust on the surface. 

The medium steak will also have a fine-fibrous structure. Medium steaks are perfectly cooked and wonderfully juicy. 

The core is minimally raw. The medium steak is nice and tender on the inside and has a firmer bite on the outside.

Medium well

If a steak is medium well, the core is hardly pink anymore. The steak has a consistently fibrous meat structure. The crust is already very dark due to the longer grilling time.

When you cook steak medium well, the meat no longer has bloody meat juices. The core is almost well done but still juicy. Since the crust has already worked its way deep into the meat, the meat is already much firmer to the bite.

Well done steaks

The highest degree of doneness for a steak is well done. A well-done steak is just tougher and drier. No matter how good a steak is, there will be almost no juice left. 

The flesh has a completely brown or gray core. The meat juice is brown. You’d find that the back is very dark.

Because the steak has a thick bark, it is firm to the bite. When you prepare it well using good quality meat, the steak will still be juicy on the inside. But no way is the steak any tender. 

You have no reason to make your steak this way if you like an easy-to-eat steak. However, some do this when they want to keep the meat for a long away from the fridge. 

Related Reading

Which Temperature for Which Doneness?

For the steak to actually have the desired cooking level, the correct core temperature is important. The internal temperature is the temperature of the core of the meat. It can be measured with a meat thermometer. 

You should note, however, that the grilling temperature is higher than the core temperature.

There are different sources on the internet where the core temperatures for the cooking levels vary slightly. A temperature range is therefore specified.

Here is an overview of the core temperature for the respective cooking levels:

  1. The internal temperature for the blue steak cooking level is 115 to 120 degrees, as shown in the table earlier. 
  2. To cook steak rare, the core temperature should be between 120 and 125 degrees.
  3. The core temperature of medium rare is between 130 to 135 degrees when you insert a meat thermometer. You can achieve this by searing it in 3 minutes on each side. 
  4. The right temperature for a medium level of doneness is between 135 and 145 degrees
  5. The core temperature for a medium-well steak should be between 145 and 150 degrees.
  6. Steaks with a well-done cooking level have the right internal temperature at 150 to 160 degrees and above. 
Steak on the Grill

How to Properly Prepare the Steak?  

If you want to grill a steak, the right preparation is the be-all and end-all. To prepare steak cuts for the grill, you must get it out of the fridge in good time. 

This means that the food to be grilled should be taken out of the fridge at least one hour before grilling so that the meat can reach room temperature.

If you want to prepare a steak that is still in the freezer, you must defrost it gently and slowly. It is best to put this in the refrigerator the evening before the grilling – here, it can thaw slowly while cooling. 

If you forgot to take the steak out of the freezer and don’t have more time, there is a little trick:

For this, you need a metal pot, a saucepan with hot water (not boiling), and the meat. Turn the metal pot upside down and place the flat frozen steak in the freezer bag on top. 

Now place the saucepan with the warm water on top. The metal pot retains the cold from the meat, and it thaws quickly and gently after a few minutes. 

When preparing steak, ensure that you sear the meat on both sides over direct heat. The time required for cooking steak depends on the thickness of the steak

Once the desired cooking point has been reached, the steak must rest for a few minutes over indirect heat. During this time, the heat and meat juices are distributed even further in the meat, and the core temperature rises by 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit maximum. 

Related Reading

How to Measure the Temperature of Your Steak?

Temperature is always measured in the very middle of the steak. Putting the thermometer right there in the middle will give you a true and accurate readout of the temperature and the steak every single time.

The best way is with fast digital or instant-read thermometer like the Nonley Digital Meat Thermometer. It’s okay to check the temperature of your steak as often as you want. The juices aren’t going to run out; a steak is not a balloon! A few pokes will not change your results too. 

Another easy and helpful tool is the Omaha Steaks app. There’s a built-in timer,  so you can just enter your steak thickness and doneness, and it will tell you exactly what to do. 

It’s also great to know that when you’re looking for the temperature, it’s best to remove it when it’s five degrees below your target temperature.

Moreover, you must remember that once it’s on that plate or cutting board, it will continue cooking while resting. It can cook for 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit during resting. The heat will continue to rise for these final five degrees. So that’s a very important part of it. 

3 to 5 degrees is usually the difference between a rare and medium rare or medium and medium well. A little bit more, and you’ll be having an overcooked steak more than what you’re shooting for. 

Steaks Temperature Test in Front of Grill

How to Test the Doneness of a Steak With Your Hands?

The palm test is a pressure test. The meat doesn’t have to be cut to test the right degree of doneness. With the palm of your hand, you can feel how done the steak is.

The test is performed with the fingers of the left hand. Each cooking level, except for the Blue cooking level, is assigned a finger. 

The corresponding finger of the left hand is brought together with the thumb of the left hand. The tip of the finger and the tip of the thumb are allowed to touch. The index finger of the right-hand feels on the palm of the left hand.

The steak should feel similar to the palm of your hand. To do this, feel the thickest part of the steak with the index finger of your right hand.

Different muscles are contracted with each finger. Therefore, the heel of the hand always feels different.

If a steak is supposed to be rare, just feel the heel of the hand. The fingers do not need to be brought together. The steak is rare when it feels like the heel of your hand.

For a steak that is meant to be medium rare, the index finger and thumb are brought together. If the steak feels like the palm of your hand with this tension, it is medium rare.

To get a medium-done steak, you need to bring your thumb and middle finger together. The tension is a little stronger, which must also apply to the steak.

A medium-well steak must feel like the palm of your hand when your thumb and ring finger are brought together. That means more muscle tension.

The pinky and thumb are brought together when you want the steak to be well done. The heel of the hand feels quite hard, as does the steak.

It’s not foolproof, but it’s a simple trick. Still don’t get it? Below is a video that shows exactly how this test is done: 

Conclusion 

However you cook, heat comes from the outside of the steak. So the outside cooks the fastest, and the middle of the steak cooks the slowest. 

That’s good because it creates a great sear on the outside. It’s bad because the outside of the steak can overcook while you’re waiting for the inside to come to temperature. So, all methods for cooking steak are attempted to get the inside cooked evenly. The longer it cooks, the harder the entire steak gets. 

This is what you need to know about steak cooking, temperatures, and meat doneness. So take this information and this newfound knowledge, go forth, and make some amazing steaks!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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