A Degree of Difference: Medium vs Medium Rare

May 23, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The main difference is that medium is cooked for longer than medium rare.

I spent many hours in culinary school perfecting the exact degree of doneness for steaks. So, showing you the variations between these two points is a breeze!

In this post, I will outline medium vs. medium rare for you, along with how to prepare each option. Let's begin!

Medium vs Medium Rare

What is the Difference Between Medium Rare and Medium?

The main difference between medium rare and medium steak is the level of doneness - or the degree to which the meat has been cooked.

A medium rare steak is cooked until the center of the meat registers between 130 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. It is almost completely pink in the center, except for a little red. Each side will be well-browned and have grill marks.

A medium steak, on the other hand, is cooked until the middle has reached between 135 and 145 degrees. There will be a significant band of pale pink here as well, but overall the meat is more brown than anything else. You will find a great deal of charring on either side.

steak with carrot puree

In short, medium steaks are cooked for longer than medium rare steaks.

Understanding the Different Levels of Doneness

To gain a better understanding of medium vs. medium rare steak, here is what you need to about the varying levels of doneness:

  • Rare: you cook rare steak to 125 degrees and then allowed to rest for 3 minutes. Here, the meat will be bright red in the middle and lightly charred on the sides. This is a slightly juicy steak as well.
  • Medium-rare: as mentioned, there is quite a bit of pink here, but most of the red is gone. While it is a juicier steak, it is far more firm to the touch than a rare steak.
  • Medium: this steak has spent far more time on the grill and this shows in the fact that the center has cooked more thoroughly. However, it isn't entirely cooked all the way through.
  • Medium Well: the meat is cooked to 140 to 150 degrees. This produces a steak that is almost completely brown except for just a hint of a light pink strip in the middle. A medium well steak is quite firm, but still slightly soft at the center.
  • Well Done: the meat is grilled at temperatures of 155 degrees or more. The entire steak is brown all the way through and there isn't even a hint of pink. The steak is quite firm to the touch.

Yet another level of doneness has surfaced recently - a blue rare steak. This is practically raw meat and you can expect it to be a rather bloody steak. While it is more or less safe to eat, it is certainly an acquired taste.

In case you have ever wondered:

What's between medium rare and medium?

There isn't anything. There is just rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done, and well done steak.

Now, whether you like your steak rare or well done, is all down to personal preference. The perfect steak depends on what you like, nothing else.

That being said, you should know that some people tend to look down on well done steaks. In some steakhouses, the chefs may even refuse to prepare the meat in such a way. Of course, this is a rare occurrence.

Still, you may be wondering if medium-rare or medium is more popular. Well, the results are in and it appears that medium rare steaks are more popular. Around 23 percent of patrons will order this. So, if you like ordering your steak medium rare, you are in good company.

Is One Better Than the Other?

How about in terms of health and safety? Is one better than other under these circumstances?

The good news is that contrary to popular belief, medium-rare is a safe way to eat your meat. Many people were afraid that the temperature at which medium-rare meat is cooked isn't high enough to destroy bacteria. However, the risk of food poisoning is low here.

grilled steak

This isn't the case with ground beef, though. Such meat needs to be cooked more thoroughly.

What's interesting to learn is that meat that is less well cooked may actually be better for you. Apparently, well done steak can increase your risk of high blood pressure.

There is also some concern that well done meat that has been cooked for longer may produce carcinogens.

Now, these studies only focus on people who consume a significant amount of red meat. Thus, you can enjoy your steak however you like it on occasion without having to worry about any side effects.

Does the Type of Steak Matter?

As you are aware, there are many different types of steaks available to you. From filet mignon to New York strip steak, the options are endless.

Now, despite all being beef steaks, they can vary quite a bit. As such, they need to be cooked in specific ways to bring out the best flavor and texture. So, yes, the type of steak can matter.

The best way to serve a filet mignon is medium-rare, but medium can work as well. A T-bone steak, on the other hand, works equally well cooked medium-rare to medium. A New York strip steak is ideal when grilled to medium-rare.

Now, with sirloin steak, you can cook it to medium doneness, but in this case, the rarer the better. This is especially true if you are dealing with a top sirloin.

How to Cook a Medium Rare Steak?

Now that you know the difference between the two, it is time to learn how to cook each level of doneness. Here is how to cook steak to a medium-rare level:

Here you can choose to have the meat cooked on a cast iron pan and then transferred to the oven. Or, you can simply grill it.

If you wish to use the former method, then first let your steaks come to room temperature. This should take about 30 to 40 minutes - never leave meat outside for longer than an hour or your risk food poisoning.

While this is happening, preheat the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, add oil to the cast iron pan and heat it until the pan is smoking. Then, pat the steaks dry, season, and place in the pan. Then, carefully, take the pan off the flame and place it into the oven.

The cooking time for each side should be four minutes each. However, there should be no guess work involved. Instead, use a meat thermometer or instant read thermometer to take the internal temperature of the steak.

It can be tempting to cut into the meat to check the color, but avoid doing this as you will mess with the texture. Instead, rely on the thermometer.

Once the meat is taken off the heat, let it rest. As a rule of thumb, you should allow the meat to rest one minute for every 3.5 ounces.

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How to Cook a Medium Steak?

Now, you can use the same method as above for this kind of steak as well. As you can imagine, the cooking times will vary and you should roast each side of the steak for about 6 to 7 minutes instead.

Or, you can place the steaks on the grill.

As with the other method, you first need to bring the steaks to room temperature. Heat the grill to high.

Brush each side of the steak liberally with oil and pepper and salt. Then, place on the hot grill. Let the meat cook for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side.

Once again, use an instant read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature and decide whether or not the meat is done to perfection.

After the meat is done grilling, let it rest. Follow the rule of one minute per 3.5 ounces.

As you can see, there is an art to grilling and if there doesn't seem to be too much difference between the two levels of cooking, there is a subtlety that is important to master. And, now you know just how to do this.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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