From Rare to Well Done, We Break Down the Steak Doneness Scale for You
From rare to well done, most people have a go-to steak order. But if you’re a steak lover, you may be curious about the steak doneness scale and how your cut of meat changes, say, between medium rare and medium well.
When you order a steak at a restaurant the highest-stake steak question—the one that will determine the texture and flavor of your meaty main dish—is this: “How would you like that cooked?”
The most popular response is “medium,” according to steak order data from LongHorn Steakhouse analyzed by FiveThirtyEight. We talked to a couple of chefs and asked them to share their expertise on the topic.
One thing to remember is that cooking times and temperatures may vary depending on the size of your steak. In general, thicker steaks require lower heat and thinner steaks require higher heat. Texas-based supermarket chain HEB, for example, recommends grilling steaks that are 1/2 inch thick at 425 to 450 degrees. Steaks that are 3/4 to 1-inch thick should cook at 325 to 350 degrees.
Keep in mind that restaurants typically have multiple grills going. LongHorn Steakhouse, for example, uses both a flat-top grill, which has a constant temperature of 425 degrees, and an open-flame char grill that is at a higher temperature of 500 to 550 degrees. The key for home chefs appeasing a crowd with different steak orders is to keep a meat thermometer on hand.
Certified Angus Beef recommends removing steak from heat when the thermometer registers five degrees lower than the desired doneness. And you’ll want to make sure the thermometer is in the middle of the meat to get an accurate reading.
Now, here’s how to tell the different levels of steak doneness apart. After all, you’ll want to make sure you’re ordering and cooking your steaks just the way you want them.
Temperature: 125 degrees
What it looks like and how to cook it: When a steak is cooked rare, it has a cool, red center, explains grill master Eric Bates, who was recently crowned LongHorn Steakhouse’s newest Steak Master Series Champion. “What this means is that the center of the steak will be a solid red color, and the temperature is cooler than the rest of the steak because it isn’t cooked as long,” Bates says. This steak will be on the grill for no more than seven to eight minutes. Bates recommends grilling a rare steak for three to four minutes on each side.
“I also like to flip the steak one more time to quickly sear the outside of the steak,” Bates adds. The texture of this steak is very soft to the touch, and it’s extremely tender with a lot of juice.
Temperature: 135 degrees
What it looks like and how to cook it: As with a rare steak, the center of a medium rare steak is still red. But it’s warm, rather than cool. A medium rare steak should be grilled for about eight to 10 minutes and flipped every three to four minutes, Bates says.
“Depending on the thickness of the cut, if I still see some redness showing through the outside of the cut, I’ll flip it onto both sides once again for a quick sear,” the chef explains. The texture of this steak is slightly less soft than a rare cut, but still very tender.
Temperature: 145 degrees
What it looks like and how to cook it: Once a steak heats up to medium, the red center turns to pink. Bates suggests grilling a medium steak for approximately 10 to 12 minutes.
When cooking on the chargrill, he chooses a thicker cut of steak to help prevent overcooking the steak. A steak grilled to a medium temperature gives you a moist steak cut that is still soft, he explains.
Temperature: 150 degrees
What it looks like and how to cook it: With just a slightly pink center, this steak is grilled for about 12 to 15 minutes. And again, cooks flip it about every three to four minutes, Bates says.
The steakhouse goes for a thinner cut of steak for medium-well orders, and chefs are sure to pull the steak off the grill before it reaches the ideal temperature. As the juices settle in, the steak cooks a little bit longer and stays juicy.
“The steak turns out a bit firmer when it’s medium-well, so I recommend going with a filet, which is traditionally a softer and more tender cut of steak with a buttery texture,” Bates says.
Temperature: 160 degrees
What it looks like and how to cook it: A well-done steak has just a little bit of pink in its center and no red at all. The total time on the grill will be about 15 to 18 minutes, Bates says, to make sure there’s no pink in the center. If you order a well-done steak in a restaurant, it will tend to be a thinner cut than some of the other steak doneness levels, so that it will cook faster.
While a well-done steak may not be as juicy or flavorful as a less-cooked steak, it’s the safest, says Shelley Blechar, a personal chef with a background in catering and restaurants. The FDA recommends cooking beef to at least 145 degrees with three minutes of rest time before eating it.
“Cooking it up to well-done causes the protein to tighten up so that the steak is not as tender, and this forces the moisture out so that it’s not as juicy,” Blechar says. She suggests opting for a ribeye with good marbling and grilling it to 155 degrees.
However you like your steak cooked, it’s worth knowing the basics about safe doneness levels for meat. And if you don’t have one already, it really is worth investing in a meat thermometer—you’ll get the right steak doneness every time.