Steak Doneness: Your Guide to Perfection

sliced medium rare steak on cutting board with vegetables

How do you like your steak? If you are like most steak lovers, you probably prefer a nice, juicy medium-rare steak.

So, how do you cook a perfect medium-rare steak? It helps to understand the levels of steak doneness. Here is your guide to perfection.


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steak doneness illustration

Six Levels of Steak Doneness

There are six primary levels for evaluating the doneness of your steak:

  • Blue rare
  • Rare
  • Medium rare
  • Medium
  • Medium well
  • Well done

These levels provide a universal way to determine if a steak is cooked properly. When you order a medium-rare steak at a restaurant, the chef knows that you want a tender, juicy steak with a pink ring around the center.

To reach a specific steak doneness level, the meat needs to achieve the right temperature. As the meat heats, muscle proteins start to break down, which is why raw steaks are chewy.

Along with breaking down proteins, heating steak causes water to evaporate and fat to melt. About three-fourths of the muscle fibers in a steak is comprised of water. With less water, the steak becomes tougher and less juicy.

The melting fat helps give the steak a tender, buttery texture while retaining more juices. However, cooking the steak too long eliminates these benefits, leaving you with a dry piece of meat.

The following descriptions should help you understand the differences between cooking a rare steak and a well-done steak.

Blue Rare – 115-degrees

Blue rare steaks are seared on the outside while the inside remains mostly uncooked. Other names include “bloody” and “very rare.” No matter what you call it, the inside of a blue-rare steak is often cool and raw. After searing, chefs tend to place the steak in an oven set at a low temperature just to warm the inside.

To cook a blue-rare steak, you need to heat the grill or heating surface to 500-degrees Fahrenheit or hotter. You then sear both sides of the steak on the extremely hot surface, giving the exterior a crunchy texture without losing any of the flavors or juiciness. 

Rare – 120-degrees

Unlike a blue-rare steak, the inside of a rare steak is warm in the center, but still very pink. At 120-degrees, the fats have not started to melt into the muscle fibers.

As the fats are still present, rare is a common choice for low-fat cuts of beef, such as tenderloin. Well-marbled steaks, such as porterhouses and rib-eyes, contain more fat and may not have a desirable taste without hotter temperatures.

Medium Rare – 130-degrees

Medium rare is widely considered the optimal choice for most types of steak. When the meat reaches 130-degrees, the fats have started to melt, allowing the buttery flavor to spread throughout the steak. The meat is still extremely tender and juicy, as it has not yet lost much water content.

The center of a medium-rare steak should be red with a pink ring around it. If you want a perfectly cooked top sirloin steak, medium rare is the level that you should try to achieve.

Medium – 140-degrees

A medium steak is mostly pink and still has some of the buttery flavor provided by the melting fats. At 140-degrees, the steak is just starting to lose some of its juiciness, making it a little less tender. However, the extra 10-degrees compared to a medium-rare steak may help kill bacteria.

Medium Well – 150-degrees

Medium-well steaks have less moisture and pinkness compared to medium steaks. They have lost more moisture, making them a little drier.

A medium-well steak may be too cooked for most steak aficionados. The meat is likely to be tougher to chew and may not have the same flavor as a slightly less cooked steak.

Well Done – 160-degrees

A well-done steak is dry, tough, and contains less flavor. By the time the steak reaches 160-degrees, most of the fats are melted and a lot of the water content has evaporated.

Most chefs would agree that a well-done steak is overdone. At this point, the steak has lost a lot of its flavor, which could ruin a high-end cut of beef, such as Premium Angus Beef Top Sirloin.

What are the Health Risks of Eating Rare Steak?

Cooking meat to a high temperature is necessary to kill bacteria. Raw meat may contain all types of bacteria, from salmonella to E. coli.

Consuming undercooked food may lead to food poisoning, listeriosis, salmonellosis, and even parasitic infections. The risks are greater for those with children, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.

Due to these concerns, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking meat to a minimum of 145-degrees Fahrenheit.

How do you Check the Temperature of Steak?

Experienced chefs can visually check steak doneness, which requires years of experience cooking the same cuts of beef each day.

You can also check if steak is done by pressing your finger into the center. While this may press some of the juices out of the steak, it allows you to test the firmness.

For the average steak lover, using a food thermometer is the best option. A quality thermometer is the most reliable way to check the temperature of the meat and avoid the risks associated with raw beef.

Keep in mind that the steak continues to heat for up to 10 minutes after you remove it from the heat, increasing the temperature about 5 to 10 degrees.

For example, if you want a medium-rare steak, you need to achieve a temperature of about 130-degrees. If the temperature climbs to 140-degrees after you take the steak off the grill, it may become a medium steak instead of a medium-rare steak.

To get the most accurate reading, press the thermometer into the side of the steak instead of the center. Ensure that the end of the thermometer is fully inserted into the thickest part of the steak.

Wait a few seconds for the thermometer to read the temperature. If you are within a few degrees of your desired steak doneness, take it off the heat. You now have a perfectly cooked steak.

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