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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Tell if Your Steak is Medium Rare



It's what's for dinner.
STEAK is for dinner.

Steak is one of the oldest indulgences when it comes to eating meat. Cows have been with us for thousands of years, and from the first time someone dropped a piece of beef too close to the fire and found that it tasted just that little bit sweeter, it has been a love affair that has survived the centuries. But how do you know when it’s perfectly cooked? These pointers will help you cook a delicious medium rare steak.

Start with the meat

Most people who are even halfway serious about the meat they eat know that a happy cow provides better meat.

While it may be a little over the top to provide massages and a four piece string quartet to serenade Daisy to sleep, a grass or grain fed cow roams around a pasture from time to time is ideal.

These days it is increasingly common for butchers, and even local supermarkets, to know where your beef comes from, sometimes even down to a particular farm.

Restaurants will often mention this on the menu, with an increasingly growing interest in restaurants that shop local.

If you’re cooking the steak yourself, do a little research to get the best possible, locally produced beef.


It will taste better, and you will be supporting the farmers near your community. Just think, if it wasn’t for farmers, there would be no food to eat at all.

Prep time

Cooking steak is very typical of most other cooking techniques, in that everyone has their own favored method… and they’ll defend it to the hilt. Steak cooked in cast iron is one of mine, and check out my recipe. But there are a few basics that (I hope) we can all agree on.

Before you cook it, take your steak out of the fridge for a few hours. You will want to get it up to room temperature. A cold steak is harder to control – the outside can cook too quick, while the center remains raw. For a medium rare steak this is particularly important. Some people (like me) like to unwrap the steak a day or two in advance and let it dry a little in the fridge.

When the steak is room-temperature-ready, give it a good rub with some quality salt (kosher, rock, or sea). Some people also like to grind black pepper at this stage, but if you’re cooking at a very high heat, the pepper can scorch. Also, the steaks are usually better when pepper is added on the plate. Check out my post on how to season steak.

Check out McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning at Amazon

It'll be hard not to eat directly off the pan.
It’ll be hard not to eat directly off the pan.

Get cookin’

If you’re cooking indoors, get the pan very hot and use an oil with a high burning temperature. Canola is a good choice. The pan should be super hot… like, if you don’t see any smoke, it is not hot enough. Be brave, but don’t leave the oil on the stove and start checking your emails. Watch it until it starts to smoke a little. Then, simply lay the steak on the pan and enjoy the crackle. The sound adds flavor, trust me.

Check out Wesson Canola Oil at Amazon

The caramelization of the sugars on the outside of the meat create the brown color of steak, and that equals flavor. There is a debate as to whether the steak should be left to sizzle on one side, then turn, or turn it every fifteen seconds or so. I believe in the happy medium, but keep trying different techniques and see what works best for you!


After it’s brown on either side (about 4-5 minutes on fiery heat), turn the stove down. It’s time to decide how you want your steak to turn out. If you have a thin steak, it could already be medium rare at this point. If you have a big boy you’ll want to let the internal temperature rise until it’s pink in color, with just a suggestion of red in the very center.

You could use a probe thermometer to check the meat, but what if you don’t have one? If you do, it should be between 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the easiest and most famous ways to check for a medium rare steak without using a thermometer is to make the “ok” sign with your hands.

When touching your thumb with your pointing finger, the fleshy part of your hand just under your thumb will feel slightly soft. This is same feel as if you were to press a rare steak. As you touch different fingers, it will get increasingly firm down to the little finger, which is well done – but please don’t cook your steak like that unless your grandmother demands it. The middle finger is medium rare. It is as simple as that.

This method also works for testing the doneness of pork loin!


Time to rest and eat

Just as important as the cooking is the resting. If you cut into the steak immediately, the juices will leave the meat too quickly. Leave your steak on a rack placed over a plate, or a cooling pan. The drippings can be used to make a quick sauce or gravy! Five to ten minutes of cooling, and you have a perfectly medium rare, juicy steak.

Now it’s just a matter of pouring yourself a nice glass of red wine (see my favorite wine key for servers), and grabbing a knife and fork. Enjoy your steak with fries, a salad, or just on its own.

Interested in more kitchen tips and tricks? Find out which foods are best cooked in cast iron. Love beef jerky? Make your own with my favorite dehydrators for beef jerky!

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

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