A steak is defined as “rare” when it is red on the inside and cooked to no more than 130° Fahrenheit on the inside, when measured with a meat thermometer. If the inside temperature is greater than 130°F, technically it isn’t rare anymore. Just because it is red on the inside doesn’t mean rare—the key is the temperature. You can’t judge how rare a steak is just by looking at its color.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that steak should be prepared to no less than 145°F at center point for proper food safety, which should put it about medium rare (red and juicy). Technically, that means any steak prepared as rare is not being prepared according to USDA recommendations. Whether that means it is actually unsafe or not is up for debate.
What are the different ways steak can be prepared?
The different preparation levels for meat are blue (uncooked inside, barely cooked outside), raw (red), medium rare (red and juicy), medium (juicy), medium well (bit of juice left) and well (no juice left, approaching leather).
Most people prefer their steaks medium. Anything cooked longer than that is practically cremation, according to many cooking experts. You want to be able to taste the juice and flavor of the meat and for that, most chefs assert, it cannot be cooked longer than medium. Less juice means less flavor. And the purpose of a steak, of course, is to bring out the flavor of the beef.
The type of steak being cooked makes a huge difference in how it should be prepared. Very tender cuts of meat have less fat in them and aren’t quite as naturally flavorful as other cuts of meat when cooked for a long time. As a general rule, the better the cut of meat the lower required cooking time to bring out the flavor.
This is especially true with filet mignon. This is a very popular choice of meat to be served medium rare and for good reason. It has very little fat, which brings out flavor naturally, so this cut of meat is best cooked no less than medium. Chuck steak or cube steak, which may have been mechanically tenderized and contains more fat, can handle longer cooking times up to well but is best served medium well.
Can rare steak have adverse health effects?
For every nutritionist touting the benefits of raw and rare meat, another is screaming about the risk of contracting several food-borne illnesses from it. With so many conflicting opinions, which one should you follow?
Undercooked meat may contain e. coli, listeria, salmonella, and other bacteria. These bacteria may lead to nasty cases of diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. The elderly, children, and pregnant women are especially at risk since rapid dehydration can cause serious health effects.
But it’s not just steak that has the potential to contain these bacteria. All meats, including chicken and pork, must be washed and prepared properly. Additionally, proper hygiene in the kitchen is vital to any food preparation; including clean sinks, clean hands, and especially clean fingernails.
Bacteria grow most rapidly in the temperature range of 40°F to 140°F. This is why cooking steak to true raw at an internal temperature of only 130°F is potentially dangerous. Unfortunately, not all bacteria cause food to have an odor, so smelling for safety isn’t effective. And most bacteria don’t alter the look or color of meat, so that isn’t an indication either.
Why won’t some restaurants serve steak rare?
Order a steak cooked “rare” at nationwide chain Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and you’ll be told the lightest they can cook it is “medium rare.” This policy includes nearly all nationwide casual restaurant chains, including Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Chili’s, and Applebee’s.
Since official government guidelines show the importance of cooking steak to a minimum temperature of 145°F, many restaurants do not offer rare as a cooking choice and instead give medium rare (red and juicy) as an option.
Applebee’s actually goes one step further and prints a short explanation and reason on their menu regarding the minimum cooking standard of medium rare (145°F). Some people think they are being good stewards in following USDA recommendations, while others feel it is being done as defense should a food illness lawsuit arise.
The difference between rare and medium rare is only slight but it’s enough to ease some eateries’ fears about serving undercooked meat. There are always exceptions, including an entire steakhouse in Miami called “Rare.”
If the customer is paying for their steak and they truly want it rare, shouldn’t restaurants oblige? After all, the customer has specifically requested it that way and is paying for it. We guess the best indicator will be where the customers choose to spend their money.