steak-done

Knowing When It’s Done: Cooking Temperatures for the Best Steak Ever

Guesstimations, poking with your fingers, hoping you aren’t going to be serving either an overcooked hockey puck or beyond rare filet to your guests. All of these are the rituals passed down through generations when it comes to the most challenging part of cooking a steak: knowing when it’s done.

I can understand why such a delicious, beautiful piece of meat might be a little intimidating. Cooking it to juicy, mouthwatering perfection without overdoing it (or underdoing it) might seem like a tricky balancing act—but it doesn’t have to be.

I’m going to help you cook steak to the proper temperature with a few quick cooking tips. Follow along, and your friends and family will soon be wondering when you transformed into a “Master of Meat.”

It’s in your hands

One of the telltale signs of a steak’s doneness level is how it feels to the touch. Lots of people compare the feel of a cooked steak to the feel of the palm of your hand. Hold your hand out, relaxed, and touch the tender part below your thumb. That’s the spot—your north star of meat. A rare steak will feel soft and supple, similar to the part of your hand that’s closest to your thumb. As you move up the doneness scale, the meat will feel firmer, the way your palm feels as you move further from your thumb.

See it to believe it

The color of beef goes from bright red to pink as it cooks, but that’s not the only visual change that happens. If you take a close look at freshly sliced steaks of different levels of doneness, you’ll see an important distinction. There’s a noticeable texture difference. That’s thanks to the muscle fibers and moisture levels of the meat. The longer you cook a steak, the shorter its muscle fibers will be. The shorter you cook it, the longer the fibers.

Trust the temp

If the visual and tactile cues just aren’t clear, don’t worry. When in doubt, let a food thermometer be your failsafe. I recommend a digital, instant-read thermometer for ultimate accuracy. These are the internal temperatures you should keep an eye out for, always measuring at the thickest part of the cut:

Rare: 115°F

Medium rare: 125°F

Medium: 135°F

Medium well: 145°F (note: This is the USDA’s guideline for safe minimum internal temperature)

Well done: 155°F

Remember—cooking steak to the proper temperature isn’t just about taste preference. Flavor is king, but so is food safety. The USDA has a temperature guide for all types of proteins, from ground beef and ground chicken to whole cuts, to help you avoid mishaps in the kitchen.

Whether you’re grilling, sauteing, roasting, braising, or doing something entirely different, I’m happy to help you every step of the way. Check out Meat University for more of my favorite kitchen tips.

Now it’s time to cook something unforgettably delicious. Get out there and get grilling, sauteing, roasting, and enjoying. Best of luck!

Yankel Polak

Yankel Polak is the Head Chef at ButcherBox.