It’s a well-known adage, handed down from meat lovers from generations past. “A good steak”, they say, “is cooked to no more than medium rare.” While some steak enthusiasts out there may be nodding their heads in silent approval of this sage advice, those among us without a degree in “proper meat doneness” from the “University of Beef” may be wondering just what it means when someone advises to cook steaks to medium rare. Well never fear, this Steak University feature will delve into the mysteries of medium rare steak and have you grilling like an expert in no time.
Just What is Medium Rare Anyways
“Medium rare” is a shorthand term used to describe the degree of doneness of a cut of beef. While the encyclopedic definition is fine and dandy, calling steaks medium rare doesn’t convey much without a few key points of reference. Heat wise, the temperature of a medium rare steak will reach a maximum of 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Visually, a medium rare steak will have a medium pink to red center and will be warm to the touch.
The benefits to cooking medium rare steak are numerous. The temperature of medium rare steak is just hot enough to allow the marbling, or fat, to melt into the meat and distribute flavor and juiciness. Cook a steak to medium or well done and you’ll most likely get a tough piece of meat that will give your jaw muscles a work out. Cook a steak less than medium rare and the fat doesn’t have the same opportunity to distribute; not to mention you will also be jamming a hunk of cold squishy beef in your mouth.
Now that you are armed with the what, and why, it’s time to talk application. Since cutting into a steak constantly while cooking to assess the appearance of your medium rare steak will allow juices to escape, and leave you with something resembling steak tartare, we recommend checking doneness in other ways. When it comes to how to grill a steak medium rare, there are a few tried and true techniques to choose from.
One of the oldest, and least complicated, methods when it comes to how to grill a steak to medium rare is the standby timing method. Generally speaking, 3-5 minutes per side on a hot grill or pan will ensure your steaks are medium rare and juicy. The problem with this technique is that not all grills, pans, oven or steaks for that matter, are uniform.
A grill that’s just 20 degrees too hot, or a pan that’s been left in the oven just a few minutes too long, or even an irregular or thicker cut of meat, can be the difference between cooking medium rare steak and cooking well done steak. The 3-5 minute guidelines will apply to a pre-heated grill or pan and to steaks that are about 1” thick. Thinner steaks will need less time, thicker steaks more, to reach the perfect, drool-worthy temperature of a medium rare steak.
The Handy Meat Thermometer
What the timing method lacks in precision, the modern meat thermometer makes up for with technological accuracy. Cooking medium rare steak to the perfect temperature has never been easier. Simply insert your probe into the middle of the meat, make sure it is in the medium rare temperature threshold of 130-140 degrees, and voila: your medium rare steak is ready to be served. But there’s some drawbacks to determining doneness with a thermometer, no matter how advanced.
For starters, inserting a probe thermometer requires you to pierce the meat, creating an escape path for vital juices. Additionally, depending on your cooking method, inserting a thermometer may be inconvenient in tight spaces, or require you placing the cooking instrument in the direct path of fire or high heat, which could lead to disaster. Modern thermometers do have infra-red technology, eliminating both of these issues, but also measuring only surface temperature, which isn’t nearly as handy for determining the internal temperature of a medium rare steak.
The Expert Level “Touch” Technique
The final technique when it comes to how to grill a steak to medium rare perfection can require a bit of trial and error. In the long run, however, mastering the “touch” technique to steak doneness can not only create perfect medium rare steak every time, it also looks pretty darn impressive to friends and family.
When it comes to execution, a medium rare steak will have some squish, or give, when lightly pressed on with your finger. If a steak is rare it will be all squish and will hold an indent from where it’s been pressed. A medium steak, or one cooked even longer, won’t give at all, or only minimally. It may take some time, trial and error to perfect the “touch” method, but we’ve found this is surely the best for ensuring the perfect level of medium rare doneness time in and out.
The Wrap Up
Steak University has given you the tools to medium rare success. Now it’s your turn to go out and put these skills to good use. Don’t worry, like the proud parents we are, Steak University will always be here to serve as your handy dandy reference to grilled steak perfection.