Is there such a thing as undercooked steak? Folks who prefer their steak “blue rare” would likely say no. But in truth, steak that’s undercooked can be almost as tough to chew as well done steak.
In order to find the right degree of tenderness—not to mention juiciness—you should ensure that the meat hits a certain temperature before you attempt to serve it. That’s where this guide comes in.
When steak is cooked to “blue rare,” it’s taken off the heat at 108 degrees and served at 115 degrees. If the internal temp is any lower than this, we would consider the steak to be undercooked. In fact, we think steaks are best when cooked a bit longer.
About Steak Serving Temperatures
Before we get into the intricacies of undercooked steak, let’s talk about serving temperatures and techniques.
Note that the steaks will keep cooking when you take them off the heat, at least slightly. That’s true of all meat, the larger the cut is, the longer it can rest. We advocate taking the steak off the heat when it’s within 5 to 10 degrees of its ideal serving temperature.
Have you ever heard of blue rare steak? It’s not as common a term as the others on our list. But since our primary topic is undercooking, it makes sense to include it here.
Steak that’s cooked blue is what’s known as “rare as you dare.” In fact, it’s hardly cooked at all, but seared quickly on each side—often for no more than 1 minute. This gives it a crisp exterior crust, but leaves the inside cool and mostly raw.
Blue steak is thought to have originated in France, but steak that’s cooked this lightly is also known as “Pittsburgh steak.” It’s customary to cook a blue steak to 108-110 degrees Fahrenheit for a serving temperature of 115.
Next up on the spectrum is rare steak, which is left on the heat for a little bit longer. The center of a rare steak should be juicy and deep red, though it will be warmer in the center than a steak cooked to blue rare.
You don’t need to cook a rare steak very long, but keep an eye on the internal temperature. It’s best to pull it off the heat when the internal temperature reaches 115 to 120 degrees.
There’s a reason why medium rare is the preferred temperature of most chefs and numerous foodies. When the steak cooks to around 130 degrees, the center will be warm and dark pink to red, with plenty of savory juices.
Unlike rare and blue rare steak, which can be fairly chewy, medium rare steak is tender to the bite. Of course, the degree of tenderness may vary depending on which cut you use. But as a rule, steaks that are tender to begin with will be ideal when cooked to medium rare.
To achieve this level of doneness, take the steak off the heat when it’s cooked to 125 degrees. Don’t forget to let it rest for at least 5 minutes so it can finish cooking. The resting period will also give the juices the time they need to redistribute.
Steak that’s considered medium is characterized by a hot core temperature and a light pink color. If you prefer not to flood your mouth with steak juices with every bite, you should appreciate this degree of doneness.
Instead of leaving a pool of myoglobin—the red substance we often mistake for blood—behind on the plate, the meat will only have a “bloody” appearance when you apply light pressure to it. The steak might be slightly charred around the edges, but it should be pink in the middle.
Remove the steak from the grill, broiler or frying pan when it hits the 130-degree mark if you’re aiming for medium.
When you let steak cook to medium well, there will only be a hint of light pink remaining in the center. The outer edges will be brownish grey, and the meat will have very little moisture remaining.
We advocate removing most steaks from the heat before they’ve reached this threshold. But if it’s your preferred serving temperature, let the steaks cook to 140-145 degrees.
When steaks are permitted to cook to 155 degrees, their centers turn brown or grey. The meat may also be dry and tough, depending on the cut of meat and the method of preparation.
Serious steak fans consider their steak ruined if it’s cooked to well done. Keep that in mind before you allow your steak to hit this temperature.
Is Undercooked Steak Safe To Eat?
There are recipes that call for raw beef. Carpaccio, which is thinly sliced raw beef drizzled with olive oil and served with capers and herbs, is one example. Steak tartare, chopped raw beef mixed with egg and Worcestershire sauce, is another.
The reason why the USDA recommends cooking steak (and other meat) before eating it is because the flesh might harbor bacteria that cause food-borne illness. Cooking the meat is the only surefire way to eliminate these bacteria.
However, if the beef is fresh and handled properly, the risk of infection is greatly diminished. What’s more, as long as you’ve seared the steak on the outside, you should have gotten rid of any potential bacteria.
The only real drawback to eating undercooked steak is the texture. When the insides are still rare to the point of being almost raw, the steak can be unpleasantly chewy. You can avoid this pitfall by cooking the meat to at least 115 degrees before serving it.
How To Get An Accurate Temperature
How can you tell when your steak has cooked to the correct temperature? The easiest and most reliable method is to use an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
Without a thermometer, you won’t be able to tell exactly when you should take the steak off the heat. It should be an instant-read model because the steak’s temperature will be rising slightly as you’re taking the reading.
Those who prefer their steaks cooked medium well to well done don’t need to be slaves to the thermometer. It’s still a good idea to use one, but the step is more critical when you’re dealing with lower temps. Steaks can go from blue rare to medium rare in just a few seconds.
Be sure to take the temperature from the thickest portion of the steak. That’s where the meat will be coolest. If you take the temp from the outside edge, you’ll get a misleadingly high readout.
Wait until the numbers hold steady before removing the thermometer probe. Once they’ve stopped jumping around, you can determine whether it’s best to leave the steak where it is for a bit longer, or if it’s cooked long enough.
The Hand Method
If you’ve misplaced your thermometer, there’s another method for determining whether the steak is cooked to your liking. It may not be as accurate, but it will do in a pinch, especially if you’ve practiced it enough times.
Press two of your middle fingers against the steak’s surface. Then compare the way the steak feels to the way those fingers feel when pressed against the skin of the opposite hand as you touch your thumb to each finger.
You’ll be using the muscle just below your thumb as a guide. If the steak feels as squishy as this muscle does when your thumb is pressed to your index finger, then it’s rare. If it feels more like it does when you press your thumb to your middle finger, then it’s medium rare.
When you press your thumb to your ring finger, the muscle will be even firmer—similar to the feel of a steak cooked to medium. A well done steak will feel as firm as that muscle does when you press your thumb against your pinky.
How to Tell the Difference Between Raw and Rare Steak
As we’ve pointed out, rare steak has cooked to an internal temperature over 100 degrees. While this might not be enough for some people, it has been exposed to heat for at least a little while.
Conversely, raw steak hasn’t been cooked at all. The outside will still be a bright red, owing to the myoglobin that darkens up when it’s exposed to heat. That’s how you can tell the difference between the two.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps you’re one of those people who believes there’s no such thing as undercooked steak. But if you’re like us, you prefer to cook the meat until it’s achieved an internal temp that classifies it as medium rare. In our opinion, that’s when steak is at its best.