When cooking a steak (or ordering it in a restaurant), it should be noted that, in my opinion, well-done should not even be an option. Not only does it destroy the delicate notes of the interior flavor, but it can turn the texture of the beef into that of shoe leather. I am not exactly sure how many people in the world still want their steaks well-done, except for children who don’t know any better and old men who believe the burnt crust on the outside is where all the flavor is.
When cooking a steak if you are asking yourself if a steak is done, the answer is always “yes” (but then again, I enjoy steak still moving slightly). If you have a guest who wants theirs medium rare, and a guest asking for medium well, you may have difficulty reaching the exact desired doneness. Fear not, there are a few simple ways to tell how done a steak is.
The Visual Test
The first method most people learn is simply hacking into a steak to see what it looks like. This method does have a pretty nasty drawback – it can dry out steaks something terrible. Cutting into a steak that is still cooking releases all of the juices that are being pulled towards the surface while cooking. This is the reason you should always let your steaks rest for a few minutes after taking them off the grill and should always use tongs rather than a fork when handling them. So, I only recommend this method to a novice and no one else. However, initially it is an excellent teaching tool.
The Temperature Test
The second method is that of the temperature test. This is the scientific approach, and probably the most accurate. Taking an instant read digital thermometer, poke it into the center of the steak and allow it to take a reading. Based on the internal temperature you can tell when the steak is done to your liking. Be careful not to stab the thermometer through the steak or into a bone. Both methods will provide unsavory results.
One thing to keep in mind is that just because you take a steak off of the grill doesn’t mean its finished cooking. Steaks build up heat and will continue to cook until it begins to cool off, adding up to an additional 5-10º to your initial temp reading. This means you have to undershoot your steaks, removing them from the grill just before they reach the desired temperature. Undershooting is a good strategy anyhow, because you can always throw it back on the grill (in shame) if its not properly cooked, but uncooking the hockey puck you just removed from the grill is certainly not an option.
The Poke Test
Once you have mastered the thermometer test, you can graduate to the method the pros use, a simple finger poke that allows you to judge the approximate doneness. As you test the temperature with your thermometer, give the steak a gentle poke and note its firmness. This will help you develop a feel for doneness and you can eventually put that thermometer away.
According to Men’s Health, you can gauge how done your steaks are by comparing the elasticity of the steak to the way the meaty part of your thumb feels as it progressively flexes.
It works like this: You touch your thumb to your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers, and the further you reach, the harder your muscle becomes. Apparently this should match up relatively well with rare, medium rare, medium, and well done steaks as you work your way from index to pinky. Here is a handy guide to explain how this works.
The following are the various results from visual, temperature, and poke tests.
Rare – 125º – soft to the touch
Rare is a cold red to red blue center with just a bit of searing on the outside of the steak. This is the lowest temperature you can order your steak. Many people like their prime rib at this temperature. The steak may be quite bloody so it is not for the squeamish. If the steak was procured from a healthy cow and kept at a safe temperature (40º F or lower) then it is generally as safe to eat as ordering it at any other temperature.
Medium Rare – 130-135º – yields gently to the touch
Medium rare is a cool center (but warmer center than rare) with more browning on the outside. When steak is cooked at this temperature you will find you have a lot of red juices on your plate afterwards but the steak itself is very juicy and flavorful. I suggest this temperature for the ribeye steak or for prime rib. This is personally my favorite way to order any steak.
Medium – 140-145º – yields only slightly to the touch, beginning to firm
Medium is the middle of the road. Your steak will have a warm red pink center and be brown on the outside as well as about half way through. It still contains a lot of juices and flavor. I suggest this temperature for the ribeye, t-bone, or the new york strip.
Medium Well – 150-155º – firm to the touch
Medium well will arrive at your table with a thin line of pink in the center of the steak with the rest being throughly cooked. This steak will not be as juicy as some of the lesser cooked temperatures. You will find this steak will be more chewy. My tip to you on this temperature is if you like your steak at medium well order your steak just once at medium and see the difference. You may just enjoy it much better. For this temperature I suggest a thinker steak if your looking for a juicy steak. The steaks I would suggest would be ribeye, or the new york strip. Both should be thicker cuts and will stay juicy even at this temperature.
Well – 160º – hard to the touch; brick-like
Ordering your steak at the well temperature will mean your steak will arrive cooked completely through. No trace of pink should remain. Be prepared for your steak to be dry and possibly burnt. If you are searching for a steak to cook at this temperature I would again suggest going with a thicker cut of steak such as a ribeye or a new york strip. I find well done steaks chewy and unfavorable. I think Anthony Bourdain said it best when he declared, “People who order their meat well-done perform a valuable service for those of us in the business who are cost-conscious: they pay for the privilege of eating our garbage.”
Have fun with your steaks everybody! Check out these Tasty Planner steak recipes and Happy Cooking!