Whenever you ask for steak at a restaurant, your order is always chased by a follow-up question; how would you like your steak? Whether you are dining out at a fancy steakhouse or are dining in, nothing beats cutting into a juicy slab of beef. But attaining that perfect melt-in-your-mouth steak is a lot harder than you can imagine.
5 typical temperatures are used to prepare steak. These are well done, medium-well, medium, medium-rare, and rare. Some people also like to cook their steaks to the absolute minimum safest temperature, which is referred to as super rare.
Cooking a steak to perfection seems like it should be simple and easy. After all, you already have the most important ingredient. The basic steps of preparing a steak couldn’t be more straightforward: toss the slab on the grill or pan, flip it, and cook it until it reaches your preferred level of doneness and voila!
Simple enough right? In theory, preparing a steak is as simple as that. In reality, however, things are always a little different. If what you usually end up with is a tough, overcooked, bland mess of meat, there are a lot more people like you than you realize.
While professionals can typically achieve the perfect level of doneness on any cut of beef they are handling, it is not often easy for amateur cooks to master this skill. The good news is that things don’t have to stay that way.
A little knowledge, confidence, and lots of practice can help you avoid these common mishaps when preparing steak. To ensure that you are getting it right each time, here is the best way to tell if your steak is done:
Having a quality meat thermometer is non-negotiable
No matter how great of a grillmaster you think you are, the best way to tell if a steak is done is by using a correctly calibrated meat thermometer. Although some cooks claim to be able to tell a steak’s doneness simply by looking at it, visual cues, especially when grilling, can be deceiving.
The exterior of your steak may seem perfectly charred and tantalizing while the inside sits cold and raw. And poking your steak with a fork as some misguided cooks might tell you will only release those nice juices that help to make your steak tender and delicious.
Therefore, a grill thermometer is the only way to accurately tell whether your steak has been cooked properly. To check whether your steak is done, place your trusty meat thermometer at the center of your steak. The middle will give you an accurate indication of whether your steak is cooked to your desired doneness.
No meat thermometer? No problem
If you don’t have a meat thermometer close by, even though you really should, you can also use the touch test to check for doneness. Here is how it works:
Hold out your hand, palm up, and relaxed. With your other hand, use the index finger to prod the fleshy area between your thumb and the base of your palm. Your index finger should sink into the flesh with little resistance. This is what your raw steak should feel like.
Now using your thumb and the index finger, make a circle. When you touch the fleshy area again, you will immediately realize that it has tensed up a little. This is what your steak should feel like when cooked rare.
Use your thumb to make a circle again but this time; use your ring or little finger. You will notice the further you move along the fingers, the more the muscle around the thumb becomes tenser. The feel of the fleshy area will correspond to the doneness of the steak; the further you go (up to your little finger) the more well done the steak becomes.
Cook your steak based on the cut
It turns out that the trick to preparing the perfect steak lies in matching the grilling temperature to the cut that you are working with. Most people don’t know this, but the amount of fat on your meat is what will largely determine what temperature to grill your cut of meat at.
Not all cuts of meat are created equal even when they are removed from the same animal. The difference between one cut of meat and the next boils down to how certain muscles of the animals are worked harder than other parts.
That’s why certain cuts that are better for grilling and roasting while others are best used for braising and stewing. Lean cuts of meat are removed from the part of the animal that has more developed cuts like the shank or shoulder.
The fattiest cuts are produced from less muscular sots such as the loin. It is generally a good idea to grill leaner cuts of meat until they are medium-rare or rare. By cooking them for a shorter time, you can ensure that they remain tender. Cooking them thoroughly until they are well done will cause them to toughen up.
When dealing with marbled cuts like rib eye, however, grilling until medium-done is best. The longer grilling time ensures that the fat in the meat is grilled until it is tender. Marble cuts that have been cooked rare are not as flavorful as those cooked to medium doneness as the meat’s flavor comes from all the rendered fat present.
A well-cooked steak can be just what you need to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or the end of a long, exhausting week. A hunk of perfectly seasoned rib eye or juicy and tender flank steak can cheer you up when you are in the dumps.
If you don’t know how to prepare your steak though, it’s easy to end up with a dry, tough disaster on your hands. But that doesn’t have to be the case. With these tips shared above, you can prepare perfectly cooked steak each time.