How to Cook the Perfect Steak: A Guide to Steak Cooking Levels

Are you tired of serving up overcooked or undercooked steaks? Do you want to impress your guests with perfectly cooked meat every time? Look no further! In this guide, we will walk you through the different steak cooking levels and teach you how to achieve the perfect doneness like a seasoned chef.

The Different Steak Cooking Levels

Steak is a beloved choice for dinner, with the average American consuming a whopping 79 pounds of beef per year. However, what constitutes the “perfect” steak can vary from person to person. There are five typical steak cooking levels that people often request:

  • Rare: The meat is bright red and juicy on the inside, with a lightly browned exterior.
  • Medium Rare: The steak is paler red, with slightly darker outer edges.
  • Medium: There’s a thin layer of light-red meat in the center, surrounded by pink to brown shades.
  • Medium Well: The meat is drier, with minimal pinkness.
  • Well Done: The meat is fully cooked throughout.

Each steak doneness level requires the meat to reach a specific internal temperature.

Grilling Times and Temperature

The key factor in achieving the perfect steak is the internal temperature of the meat. Regardless of the thickness of your steak, reaching the desired temperature will determine its doneness and color.

To cook a typical steak with a thickness between 1 inch (2.5cm) and 2 inches (5cm), follow this general guide: a 1-inch rare steak takes about 9 minutes in total (4.5 minutes on each side). Increase the cooking time by an additional minute for every quarter of an inch of thickness or for each level of doneness you desire.

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If you prefer a more precise approach, you can use a meat thermometer. Simply insert the pointy metal tip of the thermometer into the center of the meat, avoiding contact with the pan or grill. Allow the thermometer to sit for 10 to 15 seconds to get an accurate reading. Choosing a properly calibrated thermometer is crucial to avoid undercooking or overcooking your steak.

How to Grill a Steak

Grilling a steak is an art form, with several factors to consider. First and foremost, it’s important to cook your steak at high heat to achieve those desired high temperatures. Slow cooking can lead to the degradation of muscle fibers rather than just their contraction.

Searing the meat creates a temperature gradient that progresses from the outside inwards, while allowing moisture to escape. To find your ideal steak cooking level, consider the following tips:

Rare

Cooking a rare steak poses a challenge, as the meat quickly transitions from red to pink. Keep in mind that thick cuts will continue to cook for a few minutes even after being removed from the grill, due to residual heat. To achieve a perfect rare steak, cook a 1-inch-thick cut for around 9 minutes (4 minutes and 30 seconds on each side). For a 2-inch thick steak, grill it for approximately 13 minutes (6 minutes and 30 seconds on each side). The ideal internal temperature for rare steak, as measured by a thermometer, is 120 to 130°F (48-55°C).

Medium-Rare

A medium-rare steak is a popular choice, as it retains juiciness with a pink center and slightly darker edges. It requires about one additional minute of grilling compared to a rare steak. Grill a 1-inch medium-rare steak for 10 minutes (5 minutes on each side), or up to 14 minutes (7 minutes on each side) for a 2-inch cut. The desired internal temperature ranges from 131 to 139°F (55-60°C).

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Medium

A medium steak offers a balance of tenderness and a stronger meat taste, with slightly crispy edges. It requires an additional minute of grilling compared to a medium-rare steak. For a 1-inch cut, grill for 11 minutes, and for a 2-inch steak, grill for 15 minutes. The internal temperature should be between 140 and 149°F (60-65°C) for optimal flavor and texture.

Medium-Well

For a meatier taste, crispier edges, and less moisture, opt for a medium-well steak. Grill a 1-inch cut for at least 12 minutes, and a 2-inch steak for up to 16 minutes until the desired doneness is achieved. The internal temperature should reach 150 to 158°F (65-69°C).

Well Done

Well-done steaks have the strongest meat taste and tend to be dry and less juicy. The outer layer may be slightly caramelized, with the interior and exterior textures resembling each other. Grill a 1-inch well-done steak for 13 minutes, and a 2-inch cut for 17 minutes. The internal temperature should range from 158 to 212°F (70-100°C). Be cautious not to overcook the steak, as it won’t significantly change in appearance once it reaches the well-done stage, resulting in a rubbery texture.

Storing Cooked Steaks

If you have leftovers from your barbecue, you’ll need to store them properly to maintain flavor and safety. Tightly wrap each steak and place them in an airtight container to protect against bacteria growth and preserve moisture. Cooked steaks can be stored for up to 3 days.

When reheating pre-cooked steaks, use a warm frying pan to ensure they reach a minimum internal temperature of 149°F to kill any bacteria. However, be aware that reheating will increase the doneness level by at least two levels. For example, a rare steak that was frozen and then reheated will become a medium or medium-well steak. Keep in mind that well-done steaks are not recommended for storing unless you plan to use them in slow-cooking recipes or casseroles.

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The Best Cuts of Meat for Grilling

Contrary to common belief, a steak does not refer to a specific part of the animal or a single muscle. Different cuts of beef can result in varying tastes and textures. Here are some common cuts for grilling:

  • Short Loin: Home to T-Bone steak and porterhouse steak, known for their superb taste.
  • Tenderloin: The most tender part of the animal, perfect for rare or medium-rare steaks.
  • Brisket: Often used for barbecue due to its affordability, although it may be less tender.
  • Sirloin: Similar to the short loin but with a stronger meat flavor.
  • Ribs: Prime rib and ribeye are among the best cuts from this section.

The Best Side Dishes for Steak

A great steak deserves an equally impressive side dish. Here are some of my favorite accompaniments for grilled or barbecued steaks.

Best Steak Sauces

And if you’re looking to elevate your steak even further, consider these delicious sauces to complement its flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you’re armed with knowledge about steak cooking levels and techniques, here are some frequently asked questions to further enhance your understanding.