A note to the reader: what follows is essentially a work of apologetics defending the supremacy of the medium rare steak. We believe that this is objectively the best way to prepare steak. For those of you who already love a good medium rare steak and are looking for how to best cook one at home, you’re welcome to read this article but then please check out this page where we show you how to cook one perfectly.
For those of you who disagree, feel free to read on and glean some understanding into why you are wrong. If you still disagree after reading this masterpiece, please comment below with your defense of your preferred degree of doneness so you can be publicly mocked by the Flawless Steaks community. (Just kidding. We won’t mock you. We love you, but you’re wrong.)
Would you like Medium Rare or Medium Rare?
We almost always prefer to make steaks at home, but this was a special occasion. We were recently celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary and decided to make reservations at a fine prime steakhouse in the city. When the night of the dinner cam, we wore our nice evening clothes. We arrived and were shown to our table as the valet parked our vehicle.
The waiter came and introduced himself and his assistant as he brought us bread, took our drink orders and reviewed the menu with us. After leaving us to consider our choices, he returned to take our order, which for both of us was, of course, filet mignon. The next words out of his mouth were simple but beautifully premeditated:
“Would you like them medium rare?”
Now up to this point we had been receiving excellent service from the valet, matre’d and the server. But this was a question we had never heard and it immediately made an impression.
They did not ask the oft-repeated “how would you like that cooked” question that you hear in all sorts of lesser steakhouses. It was nuanced, but we noticed. They clearly provide the diner with one option – the best option: medium rare steak. The waiters, chefs and proprietor of this fine restaurant knew that while many folks may ask for other “degrees of doneness”, a prime steak is best when cooked medium rare.
We’re All Human
Perhaps you’re reading this and already forming your objections:
“I can’t handle medium rare. I don’t want it mooing!”
Or the always popular:
“That’s practically raw. I don’t want to get sick!”
We’re willing to acknowledge that there is a certain degree of subjectivity to our individual tastes. Much of our preferences are actually long-held biases born of a narrow exposure to tastes and textures during our childhood.
But there are also a few things about food in general that we can know objectively. We each have unique DNA, but we humans all are the same species, are we not? With the rare (and unfortunate) genetic or accidental exception, we each have the same basic setup in our mouths for perceiving tastes.
So because of our passion to help people make the perfect steak at home, equipped with the understanding of our shared humanity, please allow us to try to convince you to try medium rare next time you cook or order a ribeye, filet or strip steak.
That’s Not Mooing You Hear
When we make steak for a group of friends, there’s always at least one who says it. Without fail. Every. Single. Time.
“I don’t want my steak to be mooing.”
It’s the second most annoying cliche we hear. The most annoying cliche is when strangers spot us with our six children in the grocery store and volunteer, “You know how that happens, right?” Seriously, if you ever do that, you are the worst. You probably are the kind of person who orders steak well done, and you should reevaluate your entire life.
By default, all cliches are annoying. But the mooing objection and its various permutations cause particular frustration because it’s based on the misconception that the red inside your steak is blood. Now we know most people who call a rare or medium rare steak bloody don’t mean any harm, but if that’s you, you’re perpetuating a myth and we’re here to help set the record straight. So let’s clear this up:
The red liquid in your raw, rare or medium rare steak is NOT blood. It is water.
Water. Good old fashioned H-2-Oh-yeah-that’s-right. Refreshing, life-giving water. In fact, your steak is actually about 75 percent water. This particular water has various meat proteins in it, sure. The only reason the water looks pink or red is because one of these proteins, myoglobin, is red and is along for the ride. But it’s not blood. (And to the strange man in the fruit aisle: Yes, we do know how “that” happens, thank you very much!)
So with the but-it’s-bleeding part of this objection off the table, the only possible basis left for the “mooing objection” to the medium rare steak is the visual: some people just can’t handle the pink color.
Hide Your Lyin’ Eyes
If this is you, we sympathize. It’s been scientifically documented that the eyes play a significant role in how we perceive the taste of our food.
In his interview with the American Chemical Society, Terry E Acree, Ph.D. of Cornell University put it this way: “Years ago, taste was a table with two legs — taste and odor. Now we are beginning to understand that flavor depends on parts of the brain that involve taste, odor, touch and vision. The sum total of these signals, plus our emotions and past experiences, result in perception of flavors, and determine whether we like or dislike specific foods”
So you hate pink meat because science. We truly do sympathize. And we would be inclined to simply let you live your life outside of the medium rare steak club.
But thankfully Dr. Acree gives hope. He adds: “The human desire for novelty and new experiences also is a factor in the human tendency to ignore what the eyes may be tasting and listening to the tongue and nose.”
There it is. The desire for novelty and new experiences will push you to listen to your tongue and your nose. That’s what we’re asking you to do. If you can do that, your tongue and nose will reward your mind with culinary bliss when you bite into a perfect medium rare steak.
The Juice is Loose
The main reason that medium rare is the best degree of doneness is that it has the maximum juiciness and the perfect texture. Every other degree of doneness leaves you with a compromise.
Rare and blue rare (basically raw meat that’s been seared) can be juicy but has a rubbery texture that is generally considered to be unpleasant. Medium and above begin to lose the juiciness and can therefore have a dry, too-chewy texture.
We should note that we can very much enjoy a medium steak, so long as it is actually cooked medium. There is still a ton of juice, and it tastes great. When we “overcook” a medium rare steak to medium doneness, we still enjoy it.
But often medium gets too close to medium well. And when that happens, the delicious juices and much of that precious rendered fat has left the steak and taken so much of the flavor with it.
So if you can muster up the mental fortitude to overcome your lying eyes, give medium rare a try.
But It’s Not Cooked. I’ll Get Sick!
The USDA recommends to cook your steak to at least 145 degrees (medium) to be safe.
Well, here’s the truth: Nothing you eat is completely safe. And frankly, if you try to sterilize your meat, it will be inedible. Pretty much everything we eat was at one point living, and none of us lives in a vacuum. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world full of microscopic things that have the potential to harm us.
We’re completely comfortable using the reverse-sear method to cook our steaks to 130-135 degrees in the oven (for a thick steak it usually takes about 40 minutes). We do it all the time and we’ve never gotten sick from it.
But if you’re not willing to take the risk, there’s still hope for you to enjoy the perfect medium rare steak. You see, killing bacteria takes heat, but it also takes time. Excessive heat is what overcooks a steak. If you could only find a way to cook a steak for a long time at exactly 135 degrees, you could have the perfect steak and feel pretty darn safe too.
Well, it’s your lucky day. Meet Sous Vide.
Sous Vide, meaning “under vacuum”, is a method of cooking whereby you seal your food (in this case, a steak) in a vacuum pouch and cook it in a water bath. The hot water cooks the food with a high degree of precision and it is impossible to over cook it. Once it reaches the target temperature, it can stay there for hours.
If you cook the steak at 135 degrees for at least 37 minutes (or 130 degrees for at least two hours) the steak will essentially be pasteurized and pretty much the safest meat you can eat.
The downside to sous vide cooking is that you need a special machine to do it. And that machine basically only does one thing: cook in water. But fortunately, these devices have come down in price significantly to the point where they are worth having in your kitchen if you’re serious about steak and concerned about safety.
Now Go Enjoy The Perfect Steak
With any luck, we have put to rest the myths and allayed your fears behind the medium rare steak. Hopefully we didn’t lose any friends over it. We did it all for you, because we want you to enjoy the perfect steak. Please check out this page where we show you how to cook one perfectly, and once you’re making great steaks at home, please check out our recommended online steak companies.