By: Jack Mancuso
Everyone has a preference in how they liked their steak cooked, be it an amazing Tomahawk ribeye, luscious steak sandwich, or everything in between, there’s nothing quite so disappointing as cutting your steak open and finding it completely wrong. While restaurants may not have perfect standards for steak temperatures, you can learn how to make steak perfectly. I recommend getting a meat thermometer to eliminate guesswork.
Rare steak is cooked to 125-130 degrees F. A fast sear on the grill makes the steak brown on the outside with a red interior. The inside of a rare steak is typically still cool.
Medium rare steak is cooked to 130-140 degrees F. The interior is now warm, red, and pinkish. The outside of the steak is firmer than that of a rare one.
The interior of a medium steak is mostly pink. If a steak has great marbling, the fat will begin liquifying for added flavor.
A medium-well steak (150-160 degrees F) is very firm on the outside. The meat looks somewhat brown with only a minute portion of the meat remaining pink in the center. If the steak has a lot of marbling it will shrink in size due to fat liquifying.
Any steak cooked to over 160 F is well done. Most of the juices will be cooked out at this point, which causes the steak to shrink. Many chefs do NOT recommend cooking a steak this far as you lose a lot of tenderness.
Steak Temperatures: The Poke Test
If you do not have a heat thermometer, you can use the poke test to check a steak’s doneness. Now, this isn’t an exacting science, but a lot of cooks use it. Basically, you press your fingertip into the meat checking for springiness.
First, you need to get really familiar with your hand. Press the palm of your hand at the base of the thumb. It’s very soft and you may even leave a brief indentation. If your steak feels like this, it’s rare.
Now, press your thumb against your index finger. This isn’t as soft as your palm. A medium-rare piece of meat has this level of pliability.
Using the same basic process, press your second finger to your thumb. This firmness is medium. Pressing the third finger to your thumb matches the feeling of medium-well, and your pinky is the firmness of well done.
Seared to Perfection
Besides getting your steak to the ideal temperature, there’s something very satisfying about searing your meat to perfection.
Dry off the surface of the meat. When you’re searing moisture is the enemy. It will take far longer to sear the steak when there’s dampness, meaning the center of the steak may overcook.
There are several ways to eliminate dampness on the surface of your meat. The easiest is blotting it with paper towels. This is especially important if you use a marinade.
Alternatively, you can unwrap the steak and leave it in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 house. Your fridge has low humidity so it starts evaporating any moisture. WARNING: check your fridge for funky smells that the meat could absorb.
Last, you can salt the meat for one hour (or more) before cooking.
Step Two: Hot, Hot, Hot!
You will get the best sear from a hot cast iron pan. Cast iron not only heats evenly but it retains heat effectively. Preheat the skillet for five minutes over high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil to the pan. Carefully place the steak inside. If you want to ensure an even crust, you can put a pan on top of it for weight. The crust should form in about 3 minutes with a 1-inch thick cut of meat. Turn it over and finish the other side. Note: If you want your crust seasoned, just treat the steak before searing.