Knowing When Your Steak Is Perfectly Cooked: The Key to Savoring Every Bite
Grilling a juicy and succulent cut of meat, like a steak, may appear to be a straightforward endeavor, but it's a culinary role that requires skill and mastery, particularly when it comes to achieving the desired level of doneness. The thickness and kind of steak, as well as the heat of your grill, will dictate the cooking time, but what ultimately matters is the internal temperature. Each level of doneness corresponds to a specific target temperature that can be measured with a handy kitchen gadget, a meat thermometer.
To guarantee that your steak cooks evenly, it's crucial to allow it to reach room temperature before throwing it on the grill. To achieve this, remove the steak from the packaging and place it on the counter for approximately 30-45 minutes before cooking. Doing this helps the entire steak absorb the same temperature and ensures that the exterior doesn't end up charred while the inside remains chilling.
The best way to determine if steak is cooked is by examining its internal temperature, and the ideal tool for this is an instant-read thermometer. After placing the probe into the thickest part of the meat, far from any bone, fat, or gristle, check to see if it has reached the recommended temperature. Also, note that there is residual heat that continues to cook the meat even when you remove it from the grill. It's best to take the steak off the grill 5 degrees prior to its ideal internal temperature as carry-over cooking makes it reach the perfect temperature.
A rare steak is not frequently requested, but it's a preference for those who appreciate a nearly raw cut of beef cooked the least amount possible. A rare steak should have a warm internal temperature, a light char on the outside, slightly browned edges, and a center that is unmistakably bright red and soft to the touch. For a 1-inch steak, place it on a hot grill for about 5 minutes and then continue grilling it for an additional 3 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 120-130 F (49-55 C).
Medium-rare is the steak level of doneness that most chefs prefer, and it's what you'll normally find recommended in steak menus. A medium-rare steak should have a warm internal temperature with its center displaying a pink hue while having a bit of redness. Its upper and lower parts should caramelize and display perfect char marks with the sides having an excellent brown color. A perfectly prepared medium-rare steak should be slightly firm but tender and supple to the touch and quickly spring back into position.
When using a meat thermometer, it's easier to gauge if a steak is cooked thoroughly and achieve your preferred level of doneness easily. So next time you are considering preparing a steak, remember that while it may appear simple, there is an art to achieving the perfect steak, and attention to detail during preparation and cooking is key to achieving perfection.
If you're grilling a 1-inch steak, you'll want to cook it for 5 minutes on a hot grill. Flip it and continue grilling for another 4 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 F (55 to 57 C).
The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
If you're cooking for a crowd, this level of doneness tends to satisfy most people. A medium-cooked steak should display a substantial light pink section in the center, but possess more browned meat than pink overall. The sides should show a rich brown color, and the top and bottom should exhibit dark charring (but not black). The steak will have some give in the center, but feel solid to the touch.
For a 1-inch steak, grill it on high for 6 minutes. Flip it and grill for an additional 4 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 140 to 150 F (60 to 66 C).
The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
This level of doneness suits those who aren't fans of distinctly pink meat. A medium-well steak should feature a small hint of pink in the very center of the steak with a dark brown surface and solid charring on the top and bottom. The steak will be quite rigid but remain slightly squishy in the center.
For a 1-inch steak, grill it on high for 7 minutes. Flip it and grill for another 5 minutes. Cook it until the internal temperature reaches 155 to 165 F (68 to 74 C).
The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga
Well-done steaks have a poor reputation, with some chefs even refusing to cook them to this degree. It might seem as though a well-done steak would be the simplest to cook, but in truth, it's the most difficult because cooking it until there's no pink left while preventing it from becoming dry is challenging. The key is to cook it slowly and steadily—the only method that can prevent it from burning while still cooking it through the middle.
This steak should not be charred on the surface. Although there should be no trace of pink in the center, it ought to be beautifully browned, not overcooked. This steak will feel dense to the touch.
For a 1-inch steak, grill it over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes per side. It should reach an internal temperature of 170 F (77 C) or higher.
It's crucial that you allow the steak to rest for a minimum of three minutes after cooking and not slice it immediately. Muscle fibers in meat contract and harden when cooking, pushing moisture to the surface; that's why a pan sizzles—the juices are being released. If you don't let the steak rest, these same juices won't have enough time to spread throughout the meat, and instead, they'll pool on your plate rather than remain in the steak where they belong.
Since the steak will continue to cook once it's off the grill, you should extract it when it's approximately five degrees below the target temperature. As it rests, residual heat will bring it up to the right temperature for the appropriate level of doneness. When grilling, it's essential to flip the steak and rotate it while moving it around the grill a bit. Some areas of the grill are hotter than others, so this movement will ensure that the steak cooks uniformly.
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