Medium vs Medium Well: What It Means When Grilling Steak

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Juicy Medium Steak on Wood

The debate over steak temperatures is one that has raged since time immemorial. There’s something about the contrast of a seared exterior and a juicy interior that gets people as fired up as the grill itself. 

What’s the difference between medium vs medium well? That’s what we’re here to talk about. 

Medium vs Medium Well 

Steaks cooked to medium are hot and pink in the center, with an internal temperature between 135 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit. When they’ve cooked to 155-164 degrees, they’re mostly brown in the middle and have earned the classification of medium well. 

Medium Steak Defined

A steak that’s cooked to medium has achieved an internal temperature somewhere between 135 and 155 degrees. At this point, any hazardous bacteria have been eradicated, so this is considered a safe temperature for beef. 

When you cut into a medium steak, you’ll see that the top and bottom layers are nicely browned, while a pink ring is visible in the center. The level of pinkness depends on the temperature—at 135, the pink will be brighter than if the steak were cooked to 155. 

Medium Grilled Steak

Steaks that are cooked to medium should have a great deal of flavor and a moderate amount of juiciness. They’re not cooked to the point where all the moisture has evaporated, but not so rare as to leave pools of red liquid behind. 

Medium Well Steak Defined

Once the steak cooks to 155-160 or so, it’s considered medium well. The outside will be nicely charred, and the interior should be mostly brown, with just a trace of pink remaining. 

Medium well steaks don’t have a great deal of moisture left. The higher temperatures have forced the juices out, leaving behind a steak that’s more difficult to chew. That’s why many chefs consider this serving temperature to be an abomination. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the elderly or anyone with compromised immune systems have to be very careful when consuming undercooked meat products. Steaks that are cooked to rare or even medium rare might be too much for their stomachs to handle. 

For this reason, knowing how to properly cook a steak to medium well is an important tool in a griller’s arsenal. I’ll provide tips on how to get it right later on. 

Medium vs Medium Well: Breaking it Down 

Texture 

When you bite into a medium steak, you’ll be rewarded with a slightly juicy mouthfeel and only a hint of chewiness. By contrast, medium well steaks are harder to chew, and they don’t leave much moisture behind. 

Medium Welldone Steak on Wood

Color 

You might not be able to tell a medium steak from a medium well steak from the exterior alone. Both will be brown on the outside, often with a bit of char, depending on the cooking technique. 

On the inside, though, the medium steak will have a visible pink layer in the middle, while the medium well steak is almost a uniform brownish-gray. There might be a hint of pink in the very center, but that’s it. 

Cooking Time 

Depending on what type of steak it is, medium steaks should cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side. For medium well, expect the steak to cook for about 7 minutes on the first side, then an additional 5 minutes once it’s flipped. 

Can You Cook Any Steak to Medium or Medium Well? 

Medium is a good temperature for ribeye steaks. This cut contains a lot of marbling, which needs to cook in order to render. When you serve the steaks too rare, the fat hasn’t had a chance to render and flavor the meat. 

Skirt and flank steak can cook to medium without sacrificing too much flavor and texture. These are good cuts to use for fajitas or other recipes that require slicing the beef into strips before or after cooking. 

If you’re hoping to cook the steak to medium well, opt for a hanger steak. These have a coarse grain and a bold, beefy flavor that won’t suffer too much with the loss of moisture. 

Stay away from filet mignon and other steaks from the tenderloin when cooking to medium or medium well. The fine texture of these cuts makes them unsuitable for this type of cooking. They’ll be dry as sawdust once they hit the 140-degree mark. 

Cooking Steak in Pen

Tips on Cooking a Steak to Medium or Medium Well

Let the steaks come to room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour before you start to cook them. This will allow them to cook evenly, so your temperature readout is accurate throughout the entire steak. 

Season them lightly. If the steaks are too salty, they’ll leave behind an even drier sensation in the mouth. 

—Pull the steaks off the heat when they’ve cooked to 5-10 degrees below your target temperature. Carryover cooking will ensure that they’re the right temp when you’re ready to serve them. 

Let the steaks rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. 

Top the steaks with a compound butter during the resting period to impart moisture. 

Final Thoughts

Most grilling aficionados think the debate over medium vs medium well isn’t worth the time or effort. However, the distinction is important, especially if you’re dealing with immunocompromised guests. 

Happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar

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