How Steak Works

Cooking Steak

Whether grilling, frying or broiling, cook steak over a dry heat source -- that is, don't use much oil or butter, if any. If you've marinated the steak, the oil in the marinade is probably sufficient. The dryness caramelizes sugars on the surface of the meat, which is the key to achieving a flavorful crust [source: Stradley].

Perhaps nothing provokes the passions of steak aficionados more than the issue of cooking temperature. Food safety and flavor walk a fine line here. Some chefs consider the food safety temperatures flavorless and too conservative. A chef gauges a steak's doneness with a meat thermometer, which should be inserted horizontally, from the side of the steak [source: Tyree]. The meat's color also reveals how thoroughly it has been cooked. But in general, don't slice open a cooking steak; you'll let out the juices, and with them, you'll lose flavor and tenderness.

Steak's doneness is ranked according to the following system. The lower end of the temperature range represents the opinion of fans of rare steak. The higher end represents the opinion of food safety types. Low temperatures may not kill all food-borne pathogens, so eat at your own risk.

  • Rare - internal temperature of 120°F to 140°F; blood red to dark pink interior
  • Medium-rare - internal temperature of 125°F to 145°F; pink interior
  • Medium - internal temperature of 130°F to 160°F; pink to rosy brown interior
  • Medium-well - internal temperature of 135°F to 165°F; brown interior
  • Well done - internal temperature of 140°F to 170°F; brown to gray interior [sources: Stradley, Tyree]

Whether you like it rare or well done, the key to cooking a steak to the ideal degree -- and no more -- is to remove it from the heat before the meat is done. Let it rest for a few minutes before you serve it [source: Tyree]. The steak will continue to cook in its own juices for up to five minutes after leaving the heat source. In fact, its temperature will actually go up [source: Stradley].

Try pairing the steak with some steamed or sautéed vegetables and a side of sweet potatoes, and you have a balanced, gloriously flavorful meal.

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