Are you a novice who doesn’t understand the distinction between the serving temperatures for red meat? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
This guide will tell you all you need to know about the difference between steak that’s raw versus steak that’s served rare. In fact, we’ll cover the entire scale of steak serving temperatures, so you’ll be well prepared when it’s time to fire up the grill.
What’s The Difference Between Rare and Raw Steak?
Raw steak has never been exposed to heat. It’s soft and cool to the touch, and often bright red all over. Rare steak, meanwhile, has been charred slightly. As a result, the exterior is brown while the interior remains cool and red.
Is It Safe To Eat Raw Steak?
Chefs will sometimes serve raw steak in dishes like carpaccio, where the meat is sliced very thin and dressed with a sauce; or steak tartare, which mixes finely chopped beef with egg yolks, minced onion, and other seasonings.
While these dishes are considered delicacies, it’s tricky to prepare raw beef for consumption. The meat needs to be refrigerated at a temperature below 40 degrees right up until serving time. Otherwise, it could become a playground for harmful bacteria.
When raw beef becomes contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, it can cause food-borne illnesses. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most healthy adults will recover from these illnesses, but pregnant women, children, and the elderly should avoid consuming steak that’s either raw or served very rare.
Rare As You Dare: Understanding The Finer Points
There are various gradations even within the confines of the “rare” definition. In general, a steak is considered rare if it’s cooked to 120 degrees (see A Guide To Steak Serving Temperatures, below).
When steak is “blue” or “blue rare,” it was only exposed to the heat for about 1 minute per side. The edges have been cooked until they’re nicely browned, but the interior will still have a purplish-blue tinge. That’s where the name comes from.
A similar term you might come across is “Pittsburgh rare.” This refers to a steak that was seared rapidly on a hot surface. The surface is typically coated in butter or oil, which blackens the outside of the steak.
Although safety guidelines state that steak should be cooked to a minimum of 125 degrees Fahrenheit, studies have shown that E. coli bacteria are only present on the outside of the steak. As long as they’ve been seared properly, the steak should be safe to eat.
What’s The Difference Between Rare and Raw Steak?
Let’s take a look at the most obvious distinctions between steak that’s still raw and steak that’s been cooked to rare.
When you look at a piece of fresh steak, you should notice a bright red color. This color should be more or less the same on both the interior and exterior, although there may be some brown spots due to the meat’s exposure to oxygen.
Rare steak, on the other hand, is brown on the outside, though the center will still be an intense red shade. The browning comes about when the steak’s natural sugars and amino acids are exposed to the heat. This is known as the Maillard reaction.
If you cut into the steak and find that it’s pink or brown rather than red, it’s been cooked past the rare stage.
Raw steak feels mushy and soft to the touch. It has a spongy feel and a slightly damp surface. Browning the meat will toughen it slightly, although it will still be tender and juicy when you bite into it.
You’ll probably taste blood when you take a bite of raw steak. That’s why most classic preparations will include seasonings like lemon, capers, Worcestershire, and mustard. These stronger flavors are sufficient to offset the bloody taste, which could be off-putting to diners.
When the steak is cooked—even if it’s just cooked to rare—it will have a slightly smoky or charred flavor. If you seared the steak in a skillet instead of on the grill, you might also be able to detect a buttery taste.
A Guide To Steak Serving Temperatures
Now that you understand what sets raw steak apart from rare steak, let’s talk about the other serving temperatures. This should help you determine which one you prefer.
Blue steak has been seared briefly on a very hot surface—often for just 1 minute per side. Its serving temperature is around 115 degrees. The exterior should be a dark nut-brown, but the interior should retain its raw appearance.
Steak that’s served rare is usually cooked to 120 degrees. The edges are nicely browned, and the center will be dark red and cool to the touch. This is the preferred serving temperature for high-quality tenderloin and Porterhouse steaks.
Many steak aficionados prefer their steak cooked medium-rare, which refers to a serving temperature of about 130 degrees. The meat will be charred on the outside and red on the inside, but it should be warm to the touch.
If you want a hint of pink but don’t enjoy the sight of blood on your plate, consider cooking your steaks to medium. At this point, the meat should have a dark brown exterior and a pink interior that’s piping hot. This occurs when the steak hits 140 degrees.
When you continue cooking the steak until the interior temperature reaches 150 degrees, it’s considered medium-well. The inside may still retain a hint of pink, but it’s usually darkened to a brownish hue.
At 160 degrees, the steak will be brownish-gray throughout. It will have a tough, dry texture that’s reminiscent of shoe leather.
In our opinion, you should never cook a good steak past the 145-degree marker. A serving temp of 130 to 140 degrees is preferable. If you think you prefer your steak well done, try taking it off the heat a bit sooner next time. You might be surprised at how much better it is.
Also, remember that steak will continue to cook when you set it aside to rest. You should remove it from the heat when it’s still 5 degrees below your preferred temperature.
Tips For Handling Raw and Cooked Steak
As we mentioned, you should keep steak refrigerated at temperatures below 40 degrees for optimum food safety. When meat is stored at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for longer than 2 hours, it’s no longer safe to consume.
Similar guidelines apply to steak that’s fully cooked. Refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours, or 1 hour if the ambient temperature exceeds 90 degrees.
Raw steaks should keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, or in the freezer for 4 to 6 months. Once you’ve cooked the steak, the leftovers should still be good for 3 to 4 days. If you freeze the cooked meat, you should reheat and consume it within 3 months.
The Bottom Line
Raw steak might be an acquired taste, but many carnivores enjoy the pleasures of steak that’s cooked just past this point. Those of you who love rare steak might want to experiment with the “blue” or “Pittsburgh rare” techniques, if you haven’t already done so.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!