A Visual Guide to Cooking Steak: Temperatures, Tips, and Timing
People have strong feelings about how they like their steak — for some, it needs to be barely cooked, while for others any hint of pink is horrifying. If you go to a favorite steakhouse or restaurant and order a steak, you will always be asked how you like your steak cooked. But how do you reproduce your favorite doneness at home — and cook delicious steaks to your guests’ or family’s liking?
While you might think that cooking a steak to a specific doneness requires serious technical skills, with the proper tools and a little bit of patience, learning how to cook a steak until it’s rare, well-done, or anything in between is a simple task. Plus, there’s an easy trick you can use if you don’t have a meat thermometer handy.
In the photo above, you’ll see steaks cooked to varying degrees of doneness, ranging from deep-red rare meat to grayish-pink well-done slices. Read on for more about the levels of doneness and how to achieve them at home.
How to Test a Steak’s Doneness with a Meat Thermometer
Shawn Matijevich, chef and culinary instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, strongly recommends that all home cooks buy a meat thermometer and use it to gauge a steak’s doneness. “I think a common error is [only] relying on time or ambiguous terms like high heat or medium-high heat,” says Matijevich. “If you are inexperienced in cooking a steak, buy a thermometer. They are inexpensive and available in every grocery store and online.”
To properly use a meat thermometer to take the temperature of a steak, insert it horizontally into the side of the meat, making sure the tip of the thermometer reaches the center, avoiding any fat or bone. Below you’ll see the correct temperature for each level of doneness. And be sure to let your steak rest for five to 10 minutes after taking its temperature and removing it from the heat.
How to Cook a Rare Steak
Temperature: 125°F to 130°F
Cook time (for a 1-inch-thick boneless steak): 3 minutes per side on high heat
Rare steak is the least-cooked type of steak. A properly made rare steak will be bright red in the center and almost all the way to the edges. On the outside, a rare steak has light to moderate searing, as it spends a short amount of time in the skillet. To cook a rare steak, sear it in a hot cast iron skillet for about three minutes per side over high heat, or until the internal temperature reads at least 125°F. Let the steak rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing.
How to Cook a Medium-Rare Steak
Temperature: 130°F to 140°F
Cook time (for a 1-inch-thick boneless steak): 4 minutes per side on high heat
Medium-rare steak is one of the most popular levels of doneness. A medium-rare steak will have a seared outside layer with a reddish-pink center. To cook a medium-rare steak, sear it in a hot cast iron skillet over high heat for about four minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reads between 130°F and 140°F. Let the steak rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing.
How to Cook a Medium Steak
Temperature: 140°F to 150°F
Cook time (for a 1-inch-thick, boneless steak): 5 minutes per side on high heat
A medium steak typically has a prominently seared outside layer with a light pink center. As the name implies, a medium steak is a good middle ground — especially for people who are just starting out eating red meat. To cook a medium steak, sear it in a hot cast iron skillet over high heat for about five minutes per side, or until the internal temperature taken on a meat thermometer registers at least 140°F. Let the steak rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing.
How to Cook a Medium-Well Steak
Temperature: 150°F to 160°F
Cook time (for a 1-inch-thick, boneless steak): 5 1/2 to 6 minutes per side
A medium-well steak has a very prominently seared outside layer and the center of the steak will be primarily grayish-brown, with very little pink. To cook a medium-well steak, sear it in a hot cast iron skillet over high heat for about five-and-a-half to six minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reads at least 150°F. Let the steak rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing.
How to Cook a Well-Done Steak
Temperature: 160°F and above
Cook time (for a 1-inch-thick, boneless steak): 6 to 6 1/2 minutes per side
A well-done steak is cooked the longest. The inside of a well-done steak is typically a light grayish-brown and the steak will be firm to the touch. Because well-done steak is cooked the longest, you sometimes run the risk of drying out the meat. To cook a well-done steak, sear it in a hot cast iron skillet on high heat for about six to six-and-a-half minutes per side, or until the temperature reads at least 160°F. Let the steak rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing.
The Hand Test: How to Test a Steak’s Doneness Without a Meat Thermometer
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, there’s an easy way you can check the doneness of your steak — and the only tool you need is your hand. This hand test has you use the firmness of a spot in your palm to determine the doneness of your steak.
By touching your thumb to one of your other fingers and then using a finger from the other hand to feel the palm of your hand (just under your thumb), you can match the texture to your preferred level of doneness. For medium-well, look for a feel somewhere in between medium and well-done. See the series of photos below to see the hand test in action.