A medium rare ribeye steak on a board with thyme and asparagus.

Achieving the Perfect Steak Temperature

Tongs are used to flip a filet mignon steak on a grill.

Cooking a steak to the proper desired temperatures is a tough skill to master and can make you want to pull your hair out at times. There are so many things to take into account, such as hot spots on your grill, the thickness of your steak, and the type of steak you’re cooking. Once you perfect that skill, you’ll be able to impress your friends with how you can hit their desired steak temperature every time. 

There are plenty of tools available these days to assist you in cooking that perfect steak. The easiest way to measure steak temperature is a meat thermometer, which has its pros and cons. We’ll walk you through the different steak temperatures, their appearance and texture, a couple of ways to measure steak temperature, and some general grilling tips so you can create a steak just like the pros.

Steak Grilling Tips

Flaky salt is used to season a filet mignon steak.

Before we begin, there are a handful of tips that will take you to that next level and ensure you get that perfect steak temperature.

  • Make sure your grill is as clean as possible from your previous cook. This will ensure you get nice grill marks on the steak and produce an even cook throughout the steak.
  • A shortcut to creating a quality steak is choosing a proper thickness—the thinner the steak, the smaller margin for error. With a thicker steak, you can get a good quality sear on the outside while ensuring the inside doesn’t brown too fast. Try to get at least a 1-inch thick steak if possible.
  • Allow the steak to rest on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour until it reaches room temperature. This allows for more even cooking. 
  • Dry steaks completely and season with plenty of salt and cracked black pepper. You can use other seasonings, but salt and pepper should be a minimum. It’s recommended to use a thicker grain salt as using traditional fine table salt can lead to over-seasoning your steak.
  • Make sure heat is at its highest. This will create a nice crust on the outside of the steak and seal in the juices and flavor. 
  • Know your grill. Every grill has hot spots where the heat level is higher than others. These are good areas for creating your initial sear, and then move the steak to a cooler area to continue cooking throughout. If you have a rack in your grill, consider putting the steak there after searing the outside.
  • Avoid opening your grill too often. This will lead to fluctuations in temperature and cause an uneven cook.
  • Remove the steak about 5-10 degrees before your desired temperature, as it’ll cook a little bit more while it rests.
  • Let the steak rest for 5-10 minutes after removing it from the heat. This helps redistribute the juices and allows the fibers to relax, preventing a tough, dry steak.

Measuring Steak Temperature

A dial meat thermometer is used to measure the temperature of a steak.

There are two main ways to measure steak temperature. One is more precise, while the other is more manual. Depending on who you ask, they’ll probably defend one or the other to the death.

Meat Thermometer

The first and easiest method is using a meat thermometer. There are two main types of thermometers available, digital instant-read thermometers and dial-instant thermometers. Which one you use comes down purely to preference. A digital version will give you a reading a little faster than a dial version. In both, you’ll insert the probe midway into the thickest part of the steak, away from any fat or bone. Some don’t prefer meat thermometers as they pierce the steak, so a lot of juice and flavor can leak out.

Finger Test

This method is a little harder and takes time to master, but you’ll look like a professional chef on the grill once you do. A tried and true method for checking the temp on your steak is the finger test—a favorite found in many restaurant kitchens. 

  • Make an OK sign with your thumb and index finger, and feel the fleshy part of your palm at the base of your thumb. This is what rare meat feels like, which is soft and bouncy.
  • Touch your middle finger to your thumb to find a medium-rare temperature. It’ll be similar to rare but a little firmer, and it’ll bounce back quickly.
  • Medium to medium-well will involve your thumb and ring finger and will feel slightly firm.
  • Touching your pinky to your thumb will feel well done and very firm.

How to Cook A Rare Steak

Two pieces of rare steak on a fork.

This is one that isn’t requested often but is one of the easier steak temps to achieve. A rare steak is basically raw with a slight char on the outside with a cool to warm red center. It’ll have a very soft, tender texture in the end. Cook for 5 minutes on one side and flip to cook the other side for an additional 3 minutes. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 120-degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Cook A Medium-Rare Steak

Two pieces of medium-rare steak on a fork.

This is the most preferred method by the majority of chefs because it’s the perfect texture while not losing any of the flavor and juice that makes steak taste so great. A medium-rare steak will be warm in the center with a slightly red to pink color. The top and bottom should have a nice crust with good grill marks. The steak will give a little bit when touched but spring back quickly. Cook for 5 minutes on one side and flip to cook the other side for 4 minutes. The internal temperature of a medium-rare steak should be 130-degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Cook A Medium Steak

Two pieces of medium steak on a fork.

If you’re cooking multiple steaks on the grill, medium is your go-to steak temperature. It’s a perfect blend that’s most likely to appease the carnivores in your group and those that balk at a steak that looks like it’s still mooing. A medium steak has a hot pink center throughout with a deeper brown color on the top and bottom. The steak will be slightly firm to the touch. Cook one side for 6 minutes and then 4 minutes on the opposite side until an internal temperature of 140-degrees Fahrenheit is reached.

How to Cook A Medium Well Steak

Two pieces of medium-well steak on a fork.

This is a steak temperature that many would argue doesn’t truly exist, saying you can’t have a well-done steak that is still juicy like a medium steak. A medium-well steak will have just a hint of pink left in the very center of the steak with a dark brown top and bottom. The steak will feel rather firm but still have a slight bounce in the middle. Cook the first side for 7 minutes and flip to the other and cook for 5 more minutes to an internal temperature of 150-degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Cook A Well Done Steak

Two pieces of well-done steak on a fork.

Despite some purists finding well-done steaks a no-no, others prefer their steak well done. You would think this is the easiest temperature to cook, but it’s actually one of the hardest. The key is not burning the outside. A well-done steak will have zero pink in the middle and be heavily browned on the outside but not burnt. It will feel very firm to the touch. Cook the steak for 12 minutes on one side and flip to cook for 10 minutes on the other. Once the internal temperature has reached 160-degrees Fahrenheit, remove it.

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Guide to the perfect steak temperature.

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