Why Medium Rare is Always the Perfect Steak Temperature
Some strong opinions can come out when you're at a restaurant and someone at the table orders a well-done steak. You might see the look of disgust on another person's face, the shocked puzzlement of why anyone would ever order an overcooked steak. It might seem funny or even over the top, but there are actual reasons that medium-rare is considered to be the optimal temperature for steak. We'll explain why medium-rare steak temp is ideal and also give you some tips to help hit the perfect internal temperature each time you cook so that you get consistent results.
What is Medium-Rare
Medium-rare is defined by the United States Department of Food and Agriculture as beef with an internal temperature between 130 and 135 degrees. A medium steak will measure at 140 or above, while anything below 130 is going to be rare. According to foodsafety.net, a minimum internal temperature for beef products is 145 degrees to ensure that potentially harmful bacteria and other nasty things won't grow in your meat and make you sick. We like to live a little on the dangerous side and usually cook our steaks to an internal temperature between 135 and 140 degrees.
Why Medium-Rare is Best for Steak
There is a reason that medium-rare is the most popular way to cook a steak. A medium-rare steak is juicy, tender, and packed with flavor. When you cut a medium-rare steak, you'll see that the meat is pinkish on the outside and a deeper red inside, but not so red that it looks like raw beef. Instead, it's the ideal point between undercooked and ruined.
The Science of Medium-Rare
There is science behind why humans tend to prefer medium-rare steak and it's more than our primal need for meat. In fact, there is a chemical reaction that occurs right around 135 degrees in which certain protein compounds break down that make a steak have better texture and flavor.
The process begins at about 104 degrees when myosin begins to denature. Myosin is responsible for contracting of muscles. At about 122 degrees, the denaturing of myosin is in full effect. This process is what changes meat from having a raw texture to a cooked texture.
At about 150 degrees, another protein begins to denature. The protein responsible is actin, and when it denatures, muscle fibers become hard and shorten, forcing moisture out of the meat. This is why overcooked steak is tough and dry.
How Long Do I Cook a Steak for Medium-Rare?
The length of time it takes to cook a perfect medium rare steak will depend on a number of factors, including the method you use to cook your steak, the temperature you cook your steak at, and the thickness of the steak you are cooking. The good news is that cooking a medium-rare steak is usually a quick process. Rather than try to predict when your steak is the correct level of doneness, you can use few tips to know when it is ready.
Tips on Cooking a Medium Rare Steak
We say this a lot, but it bears repeating; if you want to cook your meat to the perfect temperature, invest in a high-quality meat thermometer. When you're cooking on a smoker, a barbecue thermometer comes in very handy. But usually all you need for the perfect steak is an instant-read thermometer, like our favorite Bearded Butchers design. These handy tools let you get an accurate temperature reading in seconds so you never have to worry about over or under cooking anything.
You can also get a feel for when a medium-rare steak is at the perfect level of steak doneness by, well, feeling it. This technique takes practice, but it's also fairly intuitive. You can use the palm of your hand to determine when your steak is done. Simply touch the surface of the steak, then touch the area between your thumb and index finger with your hand loosely open. When the steak is at the proper temperature, it will feel similar to that spot on your hand.
The Best Cooking Method for a Medium-Rare Steak
You've probably heard the terms "sear" and "reverse-sear" used a bunch when it comes to cooking steaks. We are big fans of reverse-searing steak for a couple reasons, the main one being that our steaks always come out perfect this way. We will explain a little about the differences and why we think you should be reverse-searing your steaks at home.
Searing and Reverse-Searing Differences
This is going to be a quick bit of information here, and there is a lot that goes into getting things right. If you'd like to know more, we've done a blog on reverse-searing a tomahawk steak and filet mignon. Check those out for some in-depth deliciousness.
The primary difference is that searing is done before cooking, while a reverse-sear is done after the fact. With steaks – and lots of other meats, too – you can run the risk of overcooking the outer layers of meat when you sear. Reverse-searing ensures that the meat is fully cooked before the sear is done, reducing the chance you'll make the steak turn grey.
Reverse Searing Steak at Home
This method is a great way to get an excellent sear without overcooking, and it doesn't require that you have an expensive pellet smoker or a fancy barbecue. In fact, you can use this method to throw together a steak dinner on a random weekday in practically no time at all.
Start by seasoning your steaks. We like to use our Bearded Butcher Blend Seasonings for this recipe because they draw out the natural flavors of the beef without adding any harmful ingredients or chemicals. Let the seasoned steaks sit more a few minutes. Use this time to prep your cooking area.
For this method, you'll need an oven and a cast iron skillet large enough to fit the steak, but one that can also be placed in the oven. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees with the skillet in the oven. When the oven is up to temperature, remove the skillet and add about one tablespoon of butter and swirl until it is fully melted.
Place the steak in the skillet and put it in the oven. Cook until you've got an internal temperature of 110 degrees using either a meat thermometer or an instant read thermometer. The length of time will depend on the cut of beef, the thickness, and how accurate your oven temperature is. This is a good time to experiment with the touch method of verifying the doneness, because you'll easily notice the difference and can check it with your thermometer.
Next, remove the skillet from the oven and place it on a burner on high heat. Sear for one to two minutes per side, flipping only once. This will give you the crispy, crackly seared surface you want without overcooking the beef. You can check the temperature to make sure that your steak is at 135 degrees.
The final step is to wrap the steak in pink butcher paper or aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. We usually shoot for about 25-30 minutes when we can. Resting allows the juices in the steak to thicken so less is lost when you cut the steak. The residual heat will allow the steak to stay warm
The Perfect Steak Every Time
Hitting the sweet spot between rare and overcooked isn't a huge challenge when you know what to look for and what temperature is ideal. We highly recommend using the reverse sear method to ensure that you get the perfect steakhouse results you want without over doing it. Reverse sear works as well on a rib eye as it does on a porterhouse and we think it's the best searing process for cooking most types of beef. Don't be intimidated by the idea of hitting the sweet spot when cooking a steak. Simply follow our guide here and you'll turn out the best steaks of your life, each and every time.
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