Steak is sacred. A good quality steak starts from a good quality piece of meat, and these sorts of cuts aren't always the friendliest to a university student's budget. In this sense, it's pretty important to get your grilling game down – overcooking your meat can cost you a large amount of flavour, depending on your preferences.

Before I became a trusted grill master among my circles of friends, I struggled with identifying when to take a steak off the heat. This was especially problematic for my delicate tastes, as my preferred level of doneness was a steak as rare as a taxi with dice in the mirror, and a vanity plate emblazoned with "FRESH."

It wasn't until I landed a gig at a steakhouse some years ago that I started confidently nailing my consistency with a nicely grilled steak. Think of this article as a visual primer of the little details to look for when trying to grill a steak to perfection... or at least, to whatever level of doneness you prefer.

Just a few things to keep in mind when working a steak on the grill:

1. Meat doesn't have to be on the grilling surface to physically cook.

Thermal energy collects internally, and cooks the steak from within for some time after taking it off the heat. When in doubt, take your meat off the heat – you can remedy undercooking, but not overcooking.

2. A meat thermometer will be your best friend when mastering the grill.

Sure, you could just cut into the steak to check its doneness, but that exposes more surface area with which to dry out your steak. If taste is important to you at all, don't cut corners.

3. Heat sources are usually inconsistent.

A barbecuing surface may have areas with relatively higher cooking temperatures, and relatively cooler areas – these areas can also vary across barbecues. Conversely, medium-high on one stovetop may not reach the same grilling temperature on another. Learn your grill.

This being said, don't forget that practice makes perfect!

Blue Rare

This range starts when the steak's internal temperature reaches about 115°F, or 46°C. At first glance, the inside will still look like a bloody pulp, but some people swear by this level of finish. The outside will appear to be gently seared, but as you can see, almost the entirety of the inside surface will appear deep red.

One thing to mention for the squeamish or unadventurous: the red juice you see within the meat for relatively rarer levels of doneness is actually myoglobin, not blood. Without getting into the chemistry of it, myoglobin is simply just a protein that gives meat both its signature colour, as well as its dietary iron content.

The best way to describe the texture for a blue rare piece of steak is "sinewy." Meat will remain somewhat hard to chew, and just as in the case of beef carpaccio, flavour will be much more dependent on the accompanying seasoning rather than the innate taste of the beef.


This range starts when the steak's internal temperature reaches about 125°F, or about 51°C. Just as in the cross-section above, about 75-80% of the inside should contain a delightful reddish hue. In my personal opinion, this is the level of doneness that leads to a taste resembling some form of nirvana.

Because this range is the optimal soft point for a steak's texture, carving meat is basically like plunging a hot knife through butter. While the beef's innate flavour shines through best when rare, you should leave the steak to sit for at least five to ten minutes for optimal moisture retention.

Medium Rare

This range starts when the steak's internal temperature reaches about 130°F, or about 54°C. When inspecting the interior, between 45-55% of the visible portion should be a deep pink, with the exterior running a tasty shade of deep brown. This is also arguably the juiciest your steak will possibly get.

As the internal temperature runs so close to the range of a rare steak, it helps to actually physically feel it while on the grill for further sensory cues of doneness. While pressing your thumb and index finger together, feel the fleshy muscle at the base of your thumb – that's how the steak should feel to the touch. Feel for some give when you press down, but the meat should spring back after releasing pressure.


This range starts when the steak's internal temperature reaches about 140°F, or 60°C. Only about 15-20% of the meat should show some modicum of pink, and at this point, you've hit a marginal rate of juiciness where every moment from then on will cause moisture to disappear from your steak into the nothingness surrounding us.

Less moisture logically means that the texture of a medium steak would be slightly tougher. Pressing on the surface of the steak should yield a feel similar to touching the tip of your nose. You can also expect slightly more chewing.

Medium Well

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Eddie Ngai

This range starts when the steak's internal temperature reaches about 150°F, or 65°C. There should be the ghost of a pink outline within the meat, if there remains anything other than a tan colour remaining. Tread lightly, for this range represents none other than the Danger Zone – it's dangerously close to being well done.

That pink area we discussed in previous sections usually appears in the same proportion to both moisture, and the beef's innate flavour. With most of this gone, you can imagine that all the subtle flavours hidden within a good cut of steak are pretty much nigh-undetectable. However, if you like it medium well, this can be mitigated by constantly basting the beef with butter to minimize both moisture and flavour loss.

Well Done

If you've somehow reached an internal temperature of 160°F/71°C or higher by not actively minding the grill or some freak accident occurring, you've just ruined a perfectly good cut of steak. There's always next time.

Believe it or not, well done steak could actually be quite good; however, this usually applies to extremely expensive cuts like a Tomahawk ribeye done masterfully at a quality steakhouse. If you're at a level of grilling where you still need a visual guide to determine a proper level of doneness, the above point still stands. Remember, practice makes perfect!