Everyone has a preference when it comes to food. Some like their food spicy and others might like it mild. Same is the case when we talk about meat cooking levels, or in other words, the doneness of meat. The more experience you have, the more accurately you can tell how cooked the meat is merely by pressing it. If you don’t want to take the guesswork out, use an instant-read thermometer to check the meat for its doneness.
Be sure to check out the USDA’s guide to cooking meat.
In this article, we have put together a guide to different meat cooking levels, i.e. rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well, and well. Before starting, have a look at what happens when you cook meat:
You break down its proteins
When you grill your meat, the first thing that happens is the muscle proteins, which are tightly balled over it, begin to melt. This is the reason why rare (raw) meat is chewer than cooked meat.
You evaporate the water in the meat
About three-quarters of steak’s muscle fibers, out of four, are made of water. So as you cook the meat, it will have lesser juice and less mass than rare-cooked meat.
You melt fat
There is fat on the meat, and when you start cooking it, the layers of fat inside start melting and get absorbed into the muscle. Fat is what gives the steak a juicy texture and better taste due to the chemicals it contains.
Meat Cooking Levels (Doneness)
As the name refers, blue meat is entirely raw. It is usually seared and seasoned on the outside but is red (raw) throughout. As it is raw, it isn’t juicy and tougher to chew because it isn’t heated or grilled throughout. Everyone doesn’t prefer it, and according to the Food Safety Department, the internal temperature of the meat should be at least 160°F. When the meat reaches this temperature, all the harmful germs inside that cause food poisoning, are killed.
Rare-cooked meat is for people who really like it smooth and soft, but this is also not for everyone. It is lightly charred on the outside, warm through the center, a bit brownish around the sides, and red in the mid. It should be soft to touch, just like raw meat. Preferred temperature for rare-cooked meat is 120° F to 130° F, internally.
Medium-rare is the most recommended doneness level for meat. It is charred from the outside with grill marks, warm through the center, and the middle is light pink with a hint of red. To know if it is medium rare, touch and press the center of the meat steak; it will spring back quickly. The internal temperature of a medium-rare steak is 130° F to 135° F.
This level of doneness usually pleases everyone. Suppose you are grilling for a large group of people, you should go for medium-cooked meat. It is browner than pink from the inside and has a light pink color through the center. Its outside is charred darkly but not completely black, while the sides are of vibrant brown color. A medium-cooked steak feels firm to the touch but has some play through the middle. Its internal temperature ranges from 140° F to 150° F.
If you don’t want much pink in your meat, then a medium-well steak is for you. However, it does have a little bit of pinkness and tenderness in it. It is well charred on the top and bottom with a dark brown surface overall. It is very firm but a little squishy in the center. The internal temperature of a medium-well-cooked steak ranges from 155° F to 165° F.
Precisely, well done is not the right name for this doneness level of meat, it should be over-done, according to most grill masters and chefs. At this stage, enough moisture and fat have either been melted or evaporated from the meat that it tastes dry and becomes tough to eat than the types above. In other words, a well-done steak is for those who actually don’t like steak or know what it is.
It is also the hardest to cook as most people burn it while cooking their meet to well done. The secret is to simmer it on low heat for a longer time. It shouldn’t be black on the outside (from top and bottom), and it doesn’t have even the slightest hint of pink inside. On touch, it will feel solid and harder as compared to the types discussed above. Its internal temperature usually is 170° F.
Temperature Guide for Different Types of Meat
- Rare: 120°F to 130° F
- Medium-rare: 130°F to 135° F
- Medium: 140° F to 150° F
- Medium-well: 155° F to 165° F
- Well-done: 170° F
- Medium-Rare: 130° F
- Medium: 140° F
- Medium-Well: 150° F
- Well-Done: 155° F
- White Meat: 160° F
- Dark Meat: 165° F
- Medium: 145° F
- Well-Done: 160° F
Now that you know what perfectly cooked meat is and how to check if it’s done according to your desire, you should fire up the grill and get going. If you are looking for tips on grilling, check out our article on The Ultimate Guide to Grilling. Happy Grilling!