The Great Steak Debate: Medium vs. Medium Rare – Which is Better?

  • There are 5 different levels of steak doneness. 
  • The USDA recommends eating steaks with an internal temperature of 140 degrees and up. 
  • Cut, meat quality, and personal preference all play a role in determining the doneness level of a steak. 
  • Following steak-cooking recipes is always a great way to ensure your steak is made as it should be. 

Medium vs. medium rare steak – that is the question.

If you love beef steak, we’re sure you’ve already picked a side and stand firmly behind your decision. But is your choice always the right one?

Even though the topic of steak doneness relies heavily on personal preference, there are still scientific reasons that have to be reviewed. Things like cut, temperature, and meat quality all play their role and can affect the taste and consistency of your steak.

To help you pick the best doneness level every time, we’re going over the facts and specifics in this article.

Understanding Steak Doneness Levels

Before settling the medium vs. medium rare steak debate, we have to look at all the steak cooking levels and analyze them. Understanding how doneness works and how it affects your steak is crucial to making the right decision.


A rare steak is usually browned on the outside and may have charred edges but is bright red in the middle. It’s soft to the touch and extremely juicy. It very much resembles raw meat, even though it’s not.

According to the USDA, a rare steak is any steak that has an internal temperature of 130 and below.


medium-rare steak

When cutting a medium-rare steak, you’ll see a brown top layer, a pinkish middle layer, and a red center. This steak is quite springy inside, but its outer layers are firmer and feature distinct grill marks.

The USDA classifies the internal beef medium rare temp as 130 to 135 degrees.


Any steak cooked to a medium level will be firm to the touch and will usually not feature any springiness. Its middle will be consistently pink, with a deep brown color toward the outside. The outer layer of a medium steak is usually pretty charred but not black.

The USDA-determined internal temp for a medium steak is 140 to 145 degrees.


A medium-well-done steak is pretty firm, with a consistently brown color throughout. A little patch of pink still remains in the center. The outer layer is usually pretty charred, and the grill marks are extremely visible.

The USDA classifies medium-well steaks with an internal steak temp of 150 to 160 degrees.


The internal temperature of a well-done steak is 160 and above.

This steak doesn’t have any pink sections. It’s extremely firm and brown throughout and doesn’t feature springiness or elasticity. The outside of a well-done steak is quite dark, almost black, and the edges are charred.

The Case for Medium-Rare Steak

Now that you understand the steak levels better, it’s time to make a case for medium rare.

A medium-rare steak will always be juicy and tender. Because of the lower internal temp, it will never be tough or chewy. Instead, the medium rare will almost fall apart in all the right ways, making it easy to eat.

Steaks like ribeye, strip, T-bone, sirloin flap, filet mignon, and flank are all best when they’re medium rare. In addition, any steak with extensive marbling will also be best this way, as the internal medium rare temp won’t dissolve those beautiful fat strips.

The Case for Medium Steak

plated steak

A medium steak offers the best of both texture and flavor. This doneness level lets both the true flavor of the meat and its consistency shine through while also allowing any additions like beef steak ingredients and spices to add their kick.

Although it is a bit tougher, the medium steak is not hard, allowing for that desired springiness to still grace your eating experience.

Skirt steaks, Chuck short rib, and Chuck flap are all best when cooked until medium. Marbled steaks eaten medium can be smaller as the internal temperature will cause the fat to start dissolving, shrinking the steak.

Factors to Consider

Whenever deciding whether to have a medium or medium rare steak, take these factors into consideration.

Meat Quality & Cut

Is the meat you’re having high-quality? Will a higher internal temp mess up things like fat consistency or tenderness?

Some steaks just shouldn’t be cooked to a higher internal temperature, and that’s just science. For example, steaks like ribeye or strip steaks with intense marbling or filets with great tenderness will lose those qualities if the temp is higher.

Because of this, it’s always important to pay attention to the cut you’re choosing and its signature features.

Cooking & Resting Time

man holding a cooked beef steak

Allowing your steak to rest after cooking makes a world of difference. Rest time should take a minimum of 5-7 minutes. Optimally, however, you should give your steak about 15 minutes to reabsorb the juices in the fibers.

If you have less time to rest your steak, keep cooking until medium-rare. If you have more, medium doneness can be a great choice.

Personal Preference

No matter what science says, if you’re someone who enjoys that natural redness in your meat, don’t compromise. Cook your beef medium-rare! You liking your food is the most important category to take into consideration anyway. Use your culinary skills and prepare Bistek, a quick and easy dish to make.

The Great Debate

The main arguments when it comes to the medium vs. medium-rare debate always state juiciness, tenderness, and marbling. There are also points made considering the temperature at which bacteria within the meat are destroyed.

Many medium-rare stans quote the destruction of fat at higher temperatures, the potential to compromise the meat’s natural juices, as well as the effects higher temperatures can have on the meat’s consistency.

Medium steak lovers are all about avoiding your meat tasting metal-like, keeping it without any harmful bacteria while still maintaining springiness and high-quality taste and texture.

All in all, this debate is highly affected by personal preference, cultural background, and upbringing. Other highly uncustomizable factors also make it virtually unable to be settled for good.

Medium or Medium-Rare: Final Thoughts

No matter which camp you’re in, taking the cut and quality of the meat into consideration will always leave you with the best steak out there.

If you’re unsure how to cook beef steak, follow a beef steak recipe for the cut you have, and you won’t go wrong. As time goes by, you’ll learn the consistency you like for every cut, making cooking and eating a high-quality experience every time.

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