There are a few things in the world we despise more than over or undercooked steak. You probably agree! Everybody just has their own preference on how their steak has to be cooked.
Medium rare and medium are two terms that are most associated with how steak is cooked. But, what exactly do these terms mean?
What’s the difference between medium and medium rare? Medium rare steak is cooked for a shorter amount of time as compared to medium steak. This also means that the texture and flavor do differ. Medium rare has a pinkish color, is extremely juicy, and lightly browned on the outside. Medium-cooked steak has much less pink and is more tender than juicy.
In today’s in-depth article, we will look at exactly what each of these terms means, how to cook the steak to that level, and even how you can serve them.
We will also have a look at other important information such as testing the level of doneness and how to properly prepare steak for cooking. So, are you ready to get right to it?
Level Of Doneness For Meat
First things first. Almost everybody has heard of these terms being used to describe meat. But, what do they actually mean?
When people use the phrase “level of doneness” they refer to how long and how much the piece of meat has been cooked. There are essentially 6 main levels of doneness that are often used.
They include blue rare, rare, medium-rare, medium, medium well, and well done. These levels are determined, as we have said, by how long something cooks.
Naturally, the longer a piece of meat cooks, the more moisture it will lose and the drier it will become.
So, as an example, rare is the term used to describe meat that has barely been cooked, whereas well done is used to describe meat that isn’t bloody (or juicy) at all and has been cooked for much longer.
So, if you are cooking a steak for only 1 minute on each side, it will basically only be browned on the outside and still raw on the inside (aka rare).
But, if you cook steak for 5 minutes on each side, it will be cooked a lot more and is considered to be well done.
|Level of Doneness||Description||Cooking Time per Side|
|Blue rare||These meats have barely been seared. You quickly flash fry them on each side to simply seal in the juices. But, they are essentially raw.||20 seconds per side|
|Rare||Center cool and red in color with outside lightly browned.||1 minute per side|
|Medium rare||Warm on the inside with pinkish-red color. Soft and juicy texture and firm outside.||2 minutes per side|
|Medium||Brownish-gray color on the inside and dark brown color on the outside. Very clear pink band in the middle which contains most of the meat juices.||3 minutes per side|
|Medium well||Only a slight hue of pink on the inside of the meat. It is very cooked so primarily has a brownish-gray color to it. We highly recommend serving it with a sauce.||4-5 minutes per side|
|Well done||No pink or red color on the inside or outside. These meats have been completely cooked and don't have any running juices.||8-12 minutes per side|
What Is Medium?
So, now we get to more specific levels. We will first start with medium-cooked steaks and meats.
When food has been cooked to a medium level of doneness, it usually has a very prominent pink band in the center of the piece, surrounded by brownish-gray cooked flesh.
The outside of the cut is completely cooked and has a deep brown color with delicious caramelized meaty flavors.
These cuts are considered the ultimate in-between option. It isn’t extremely juicy, but it also isn’t completely cooked. It has some meaty juices left, but they won’t run all over the plate.
The meats are often still soft with only a slight amount of chewiness.
How To Know When Meat Has Been Cooked To Medium
For this level of doneness, the meat has to reach an internal temperature of roughly 135-155ºF. You can test the temperature using an internal digital thermometer.
This is the most accurate way to measure how far your meat (of any kind or thickness) has been cooked.
You can also time how long you cook the piece on each side. For medium doneness, you can cook the piece for roughly 3 minutes on each side. However, the exact time will be affected by how thick the piece of meat is.
A thicker piece of meat will have to cook for longer to reach the correct internal temperature. 3 minutes per side may not be enough.
And, the same goes for very thin pieces of meat. You may need to reduce the cooking time to prevent overcooking the piece completely.
And finally, you can do the finger test. To do this test, you can compare the consistency of your hand to the meat. Place your thumb and ring finger together.
Then, feel the consistency of your flesh at the base of your thumb, almost on your palm. This is similar to medium.
Naturally, this method isn’t by any means accurate, but in a pinch, it will do good enough.
What Is Medium Rare?
Next, we move on to the medium-rare term. This level has been cooked for a shorter amount of time as compared to medium steaks. Think of it as being less cooked and more raw.
Medium rare steaks are mostly pink on the inside with a slight hint of red. The red color is the shade of uncooked meat (or slightly warmed meat).
It turns pink once it starts cooking. So, medium-rare steaks are basically in the beginning stage of being cooked.
The outside of the steak isn’t as browned or crispy as medium steaks. But, when you think about it this makes sense as it has been cooked for a shorter amount of time.
Overall, medium-rare steaks and meats are much softer and less chewy than more cooked versions. They also have a lot more meaty juices that help add even more flavor to the meat cut.
How To Know When Meat Has Been Cooked to Medium Rare
The most accurate way to determine if meat has been cooked to medium rare is to check the internal temperature again.
It should be between 130-135ºF. Again, you can use an internal thermometer to best test the temperature internally.
Then, you can also check the cooking times. Your meat only has to cook for 2 minutes per side. And, as we have discussed above, you may need to adjust the exact times depending on the thickness of your meat.
And finally, to use the finger test method, touch your thumb and middle finger together and feel the consistency of your palm again, at the base of your thumb.
You will feel that it is much softer as medium (when using your thumb and ring finger).
Medium Vs Medium Rare – Which Is Best?
This is entirely up to you! Meat is such a personal thing and everybody has their own preferences. Some people love their meat bloody while others like it to be completely cooked and juice-free.
Now, generally, medium and medium-rare are the two most loved levels. To test which you specifically like more, simply try both at the same time.
Just make sure they are accurately cooked by testing their internal temperatures. You don’t accidentally want an undercooked or overcooked piece!
If we can give you another tip is to consider which textures you like. The more meat has been cooked, the drier and chewier it gets. So, if you don’t love that, you may want to try medium-rare meat first.
Does The Level Of Doneness Vary Depending On The Type of Meat?
The level of doneness does vary depending on the type of meat you are cooking.
Because different meats have different compositions, they will cook in different ways. They also aren’t all safe to consume raw or rare—even medium rare!
For example, chicken and pork carry a ton of dangerous bacteria including Campylobacter bacteria, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens bacteria. These are all extremely dangerous and could cause serious food poisoning!
But, even though they cannot be raw or undercooked, there are still different levels you can cook them too. Also, depending on the type of meat you are cooking, the cooking method and times can vary.
For chicken, even medium is considered to be undercooked. But, you can cook the chicken to well done with an internal temperature of 165ºF.
For pork, medium rare is reached when the internal temperature is around 145-150ºF. Medium is reached when the internal temperature is 150-155ºF.
Lamb is quite versatile and can be cooked to virtually all stages except for blue rare (or raw). Medium rare lamb is juicy and soft. You can cook the lamb until you reach 130-135ºF internally for medium-rare and 140-145ºF for medium.
Fish on the other hand can only really be cooked to a certain level. It should be served completely raw (as sushi), pan-seared for a couple of seconds to seal the edges and develop flavor, or be completely cooked.
Cooked fish should have an internal temperature of 145ºF to be safe to consume. Anything above that is considered overcooked. This temperature will give you medium-cooked fish that is soft, juicy, tender, and flaky.
Is Medium Rare And Medium Meat Safe To Eat?
For beef, pork, and lamb, these stages (medium rare and medium) are completely safe to eat.
Beef and lamb are naturally not as dangerous to eat raw and only require minimal processing to be safe, even if that is just a quick flash-fry or curing.
Pork on the other hand needs to be slightly cooked. You cannot serve pork rare because of the risks involved with potentially hazardous bacteria. So, pork needs to be cooked to at least medium-rare, which is at 145-150ºF internally.
Poultry, which includes chicken, duck, and turkey amongst others, should always be well done. Their internal temperature should reach 165ºF. You cannot undercook them to medium-rare or medium to retain more juices.
There are other techniques that can be used to keep chicken moist, but undercooking is not one of them.
Fish is also an exception. It should either be served raw or completely cooked. You do get some types of fish, like tuna, that can be served rare.
How To Cook And Prepare Steak
Let’s get to how you can properly prepare and cook steaks. We have included some delicious preparation ideas, the best cooking techniques, how to test the doneness, and how to serve these steaks.
First things first, you have to allow the steak to come up to room temperature. You can simply leave the steak on a plate or inside of a tray. Place the meat on a piece of paper towel if it isn’t inside of the packaging anymore.
Then, during this time, you can also allow the steak to marinate in a delicious sauce. This marination process only has to take about 30 minutes, but you can even do it overnight inside of a fridge.
If you have marinated or spice-rubbed meat, you don’t have to pat the meat dry before cooking it. You can add it directly to the pan.
If you have plain meat, first, pat it dry with some kitchen towels. Then, drizzle it with a generous amount of olive oil and add some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt flakes.
How To Cook Steaks
Preheat a non-stick pan or griddle pan over medium-high heat. Add some olive oil to the pan so that it can preheat too.
Then, gently place the steak down inside of the pan. Cook the steak for 2 minutes (for medium-rare) or 3 minutes (for medium).
Then, gently flip it over and allow it to cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side, depending on how done you want them to be.
These times work great for 1-inch steaks. These times work best for 1-inch thick steaks. Thicker steaks can cook for slightly longer. And, thinner steaks can cook for a little bit shorter.
How To Test The Steak
To test the doneness of your steaks, the best method to use is by testing the internal temperature of the steaks.
We’d recommend using a digital meat thermometer (such as this one). Insert it in the thickest part of the steak and leave it in the center.
Do not remove the steak from the heat before testing it. You don’t want it to cool and be undercooked.
How To Serve Steaks
After the steaks have been cooked, you have to allow them to rest for a bit. This will allow the juice to redistribute throughout the meat which will ultimately leave you with an overall more juicy and tender piece of meat.
Steaks are extremely versatile and are mostly served as the main dish on a plate. You can serve it with cooked vegetables like mashed potatoes, roasted onions, or grilled carrots. You can also serve it with some grains or pulses.
However, steaks can be sliced and incorporated into salads or even incorporated into a sandwich.
If you’re new to cooking steaks, here’s a great tutorial on cooking steaks from chef Joshua Weissman!
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