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Ways to cook a steak: rare,medium, well done, and?

  • s

At a restaurant, most people know that you can ask for a steak to be cooked 'rare', 'medium', and 'well done'. When someone says 'medium rare', I think that means halfway between medium and rare, right? Can someone confirm that for me? Also, what do you say when you want a steak done halfway between medium and well done? 'Medium well done'? I don't think I've heard someone say that, although I have heard the term 'medium rare'. Are there any other ways to request a steak be cooked?

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  1. You're right on both counts: medium rare and medium well. Or you can order like I do "bleu" or blue. That just means it's not too late for the veterinarian!


    1. Rare: Cool RED Center
      Medium Rare: Hot RED Center
      Medium: Pink Throughout
      Medium Well: Slight trace of Pink
      Well Done: Browned throughout.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Chris

        In my experience, if you order a steak medium rare, it's more likely to be pink in the center than red. After trying different ways of communicating with my waiter, I now describe how I want my meat cooked using your definitions of the usual terms, rather than the terms themselves. For example, I'll say "I want my meat well seared on the outside, cold red inside." This seems to communicate more specifically than asking, as I have in the past, "Is rare really rare?" By specifying the color of the meat, if it comes pink in the middle instead of red, it's real clear to the waiter that the kitchen screwed up and the meat goes back without argument.

        1. re: Tom Armitage

          Very wise.
          Ordering by color is the best way and really shows how the kitchens chops are that night.

          1. re: Chris

            I totally agree, as well. Color is the only true way to identify the results, in my experience, as well. And it does keep the kitchen accountable. I always appreciate as much verbal instructions on desired color as possible from customers who really pay attention to this. (It's amazing to me how many don't.) When I order a medium-rare steak, I usually ask for "the rarer-side of medium rare", heated through, seared well & blood red. . . it's perfect all the time. We were out to a popular Steak House here in Napa recently and my husband sent his steak back twice, feeling at $$$$ a plate, he really wanted to enjoy this meal. The waiter was furious with us. I was totally amazed by the whole experience. You specialize in Steaks, you learn to cook them properly, per instruction, in my book . . . right?

            1. re: Lucy Gore
              Brandon Nelson

              Hey Lucy

              I had a buddy with the same problem with Coles (I assume that was the culprit). Inaccurate results and a surly waiter. I have yet to here kudos for this place (local kudos anyway).


              1. re: Brandon Nelson

                Yeah, that's the place and it's hard to admit as I really like the owner, Greg Cole. It's back to the thread you recently posted on the SF site on chowhound dining experience. Greg can't be in all places at all times to manage front & back of the house and believe me, it's hard to find help that gives a damn these days. Cooking a decent steak, proper temp. (especially with quality meat) is such basic, focused skill.

              2. re: Lucy Gore

                How do you deal with it when items are OVERcooked? Seems that every diner I frequent lately is hell-bent on burning meat to a crisp. I rather like medium rare, but I've taken to ordering "rare...very rare...extremely rare". I'm not talking first-class steakhouse here; just a working class diner serving burgers. I hate to complain, or send anything back. An ounce of prevention, right? Last one I went to I was explicit to the point of rudeness: "EXTREMELY rare...do you hear me...EXTREMELY rare". It came out brown as molasses. I am really sick of this!!

                One place that did this to me three times in a row defended it as "necessary" due to health concerns. Fine, but tell me that at the time I am ORDERING, not after you bring me this dried-out piece of char.

                1. re: Rich Levin

                  I am an fan of rare myself. My problem is that I can never get "Rare" in these chain establishments. I ask for black and blue and the waiter exclaims that the management refuses to serve rare steak fro health reasons.

                  I have no trouble with "real Steakhouses", though.

                  1. re: Pat I.

                    No, I have no problem with "real Steakhouses" either. My point was that in a fancy steakhouse, I'd feel more at ease complaining, than at a cheapo diner filled with construction workers. I would like to cut them *SOME* slack. But not enough to burn my "extremely rare...do you hear me...EXTREMELY rare" burger to ashes.

                    And I wasn't speaking of chains. I was talking about the good-ole-Americana diner in the center of Yourtown, USA. Once upon a time/place, these diners were known for having the BEST food in town...but in my recent experience, they can't even get a BURGER (of all things!) right. UGGGHH!

                    1. re: Rich Levin

                      I have the same problem with diners but mostly when I order burgers. But then I guess it depends if the burger is a n 8oz hand formed patty or your basic 1/4 inch thick frozen one. I just order it rare and hope for the best.

                      PArt of the problem is you don't have cooks but some teenager working the grill who can't tell doneness.

                      but you're right. I cut them a helluva lot of slack. When I get a burger and it comes with fries, soup, rice pudding and a basket of cheese bread and danish for 5.99 I find it hard to complain. One of the places here (NJ) haD a 16 OZ porterhouse, soup, salad, spanikopita (sp) appetizer, dessert and the huge basket of bread as an early bird specialfor 12.95. The steak was a bit gristly and cooked medium well instead of rare, but jeez...

                      1. re: pat i.

                        We're still not on the same page, Pat. I am talking about ***DINERS***. 8oz hand-formed patty is a given. Yet they still burn it to death. If it were a 1/4 thick frozen one (a la McD's), I probably couldn't tell the diff one way or another on the cooking. But it's not, so I can!

                        Cook is a grisly 40-year old ex-Navy cook, complete with tatoos. With a name like "Mel" or "Rocky". I've never seen TEENAGERS cooking in a diner!

                        And what kind of diner is serving rice pudding and "spanikopita" (?) anyway?! I was thinking more along the lines of meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

                        1. re: Rich Levin
                          Caitlin McGrath

                          Spanikopita is a greek dish of spinach and feta cheese baked in filo dought. Regarding what kind of diner serves it, well, pretty much every diner in New York City and some surrounding areas. I guarantee you these places are also likely to serve meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and rice pudding to boot. Why spanikopita? They're either owned and run by Greek immigrants (a *long* tradition in NYC), or they're not, but it will be on the menu because diner patrons in the area have come to expect it because Greek diners are so ubiquitous. Rice pudding? Goes with the territoriy. There are more regional variations in straight "American" food than you might think.

                          1. re: Rich Levin

                            Although you may live in some metropolis where diners have standardized menus and production methods, in most of the country, diners are privately owned, and it's up to the owner whether they're going to give you an 8 ounce hand-formed patty or a frozen 1/4" one.

                            1. re: Rich Levin

                              Out here in New jersey (I maybe same the same for NYC)
                              are greek-owned with Greek Specialties on the menu along side meatloaf and mash. A lot of the diners in my area can be divided into two burger camps: Frozen patty and hand-formed (to achieve a bigger patty). Neither will ensure correct you correct doneness. It'sa crapshoot.

                              Sorry if I struck a nerve. I was only going by my own experience.

                        2. re: Pat I.

                          Steak can be served at any temp, even raw, carpaccio anyone? Its the ground beef for burger that cause some health concerns. In order for the bacteria to be kille, the meat has to be cooked to an internal temp of 160 degrees, or medium. South Carolina law stipulates that all gound beef be cooked to med-well. I cook my burgers at home

                        3. re: Rich Levin

                          Inexpensive, high-turnover diners and such sometimes seem to par-cook batches of burgers in advance of peak periods and finish the cooking when one gets ordered. On several occasions, having made a sufficient fuss of ordering my burger rare, I received a burger that was indeed rare, but cold.

                          For that matter, a few times I've waited for a table at the little bar at The Palm, just outside the kitchen. At least once, it certainly looked like pre-cooked bodies and claws were reassembled and then broiler-finished just prior to delivery.

                        4. re: Lucy Gore

                          Unfortunately many places will respond "so is that rare, medium, or well done" when you try to describe it in other ways. I once told them to err on the side of underdone rather than overdone - and got a blank look. "so is that rare, medium, or well done." I once got sucess by telling them blackened, like fish. Raw in the middle burnt on the outside.

                    2. b
                      Brandon Nelson


                      All this lingo really has to do with the internal temperature of the meat being served. I have a budddy who is a sous chef (Brix&Postrio) who goes crazy over this issue. People use the terminology without knowing it. Most good cookbooks will give you the proper internal temp for the finished steak.


                      1. I love steaks rare - really rare - bloody rare.

                        I was told by a great waiter once, "order it 'black and blue'!" and I have never had trouble since. It arrives nicely charred on the outside and quivery and raw in the center...mmmmm....

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: Em1026

                            Oh WoW! Are you from the Burgh? I'm from Pittsburgh! And I have to admit that is definitely how I prefer a steak. it leaves all the flavor in that way :)

                          2. re: Jill-O

                            Yep, people here order it "Pittsburgh rare". Charred on the outside and rare on the inside. They say that this method originated with steel workers that would bring a raw steak in their lunch box and cook it on a very hot piece of steel. So hot that you could only sear the outside and at the most lightly warm the center. I don't know if that's true, but it's a good story!


                          3. Hi all,

                            My father would only eat rare beef. And, from him, I learned a great ordering techinque.

                            When the waiter/waitress asked him how he would like his steak cooked, he would say, "I would like my steak cooked...", and then pause. He wouldn't say anything until the server stopped writing, and looked at him. Once dad had, and held, eye contact, he would grin, and say, with the slightest of a nod from his head, "rare", while looking the server straight in the eyes.

                            And, after the meal, he would make the effort to thank the waiter/waitress for insuring that his meal was prepared to his liking, (often, personally giving a few extra bucks to the person, as tip addendum). And, he would ask our server to pass along his thanks to the entire kitchen staff.

                            With this method, it was very seldom that he was ever put in the position of sending his order back.

                            Even when, rarely, his order was overcooked, our server seemed to always be at our table, asking if his steak was cooked to his liking. Again, if he paused, looked at his steak, and cocked his head just a bit to the side, the server was always more than happy to bring him another steak, properly cooked.

                            I saw this method work in resaurants that we frequented, and restuarants in which we were first timers. And, I've adopted this method. For some reason, it works.


                            1. Im a chef from england

                              the ways to cook steaks are

                              Blue - Pratically not cooked
                              Rare - Cooked on the outside but raw in the middle
                              Medium Rare - Same but cooked a bit longer
                              Medium - Only a little bit pink in the middle
                              Medium Well - A little less pink
                              Well Done - Cooked through
                              Very Well Done - Burnt

                              cut into the steak a few times and rub a little bit of butter on them and cook them in an oiless pan and you will have perfect steaks every time

                              1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Well_done

                                I think this will explain you the difference.
                                I just saw how old the post is... :)

                                1 Reply
                                1. Well, medium, rare, and "I've seen cows hurt wussn' that and get well".

                                  1. I wan a steak that is black and blue. As much raw as possible (As much blood as possible), I don't really want bacteria. What would be a good temperature to cook at and how long on each side since I obviously wouldn't let the heat cook from the bottom to the top the whole times cause It wouldn't be much raw.

                                    2 Replies
                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                        Just enough to get all the germs out.

                                    1. I order mine "mooing". This really gets across the pint that I want it extremely rare with just a nice exterior char and a cold red center (yes, I also et steak tartare).

                                      Except for true steak houses, most restaurants will overcook an order for an extremely rare steak. Often because the grillman is handling so many orders as to not be able to check mine fast enough after placing on the fire.

                                      Years ago, I had an inept waiter bring my steak and I cut into it and found a pink center, overcooked for me. I gave it back and said it was medium and I ordered extremely rare. The waiter, said, "no problem, I'll take it back and have the chef put it back on the grill and cook it some more to your liking." I said just ring the check.

                                      Moral: I don't usually order steak out, but grill it at home at least once per week.

                                      1. Yes, halfway between medium and rare. There's also blackened and black and blue--charred out the outside, rare in the middle.

                                        1. Well, there's also Chateaubriand - which is supposed to be burnt on the outside and rare in the middle. Most places don't know how to cook it and ask if you want your chateaubriand rare, medium or well done.

                                          1. Gotta love a resurrected 12 y.o. thread.
                                            I get the feeling that no matter how many words a customer uses to describe how they want their steak cooked, the server is going to enter one of the basic terms (rare, med rare, etc.) into their pos (except in the smallest of restaurants).
                                            When a large steak house is doing 400+ steaks a night there is no way someone is going to the grill guy and saying "this one is not just medium rare, it's got a nice char on the outside with a pink but not quite red middle". Maybe the customer feels good using such descriptors but back in the kitchen it's going to be "fire one filet, medium!" If it comes out perfect, it probably had very little to do with how precisely the order was made.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: bobbert

                                              If that "large steak house" is charging premium prices, then they had better have enough staff in the kitchen to do orders the way they are specified.

                                              1. re: kagemusha49

                                                Actually in those steak houses churning out 400 steaks per night you'd be looking at one, tops two, cooks working on the grill. Believe it or not the standard rare, med rare, med, etc. pretty much covers anything that a customer can reasonably come up with (I guess red on the outside and burnt inside might be a stretch). My son worked the grill in two different prime steak houses (charging insane prices) regularly putting out that many steaks and having none sent back. He says the cooks would have laughed at a server getting much more specific. Sure, you want your steak between rare and med rare, they're going to cook it rare. Most steak houses will normally shoot for just right to a half notch below. The rule in a steakhouse is never go over, if you do, it goes in the garbage. You can always heat a steak up to medium. Once you pass medium, there's no getting it back.

                                                1. re: bobbert

                                                  Thank you for the lesson in how to cook a steak but it wasn't needed. My point remains that an expensive steakhouse had better cook a steak the way it is requested (and do it at least as well as I can) or expect it to be returned. The fact that some diners are too stupid to complain or simply cannot tell the difference does not matter to me.

                                                  1. re: kagemusha49

                                                    Wasn't meant as a lesson in how to cook a steak (and rereading my post, I don't think it was). It was more to point out the realities of what is probably happening behind the scenes in a typical steakhouse. I just happen to have some insight into what goes on in that kitchen because I know a lot of people who work there for a living and thought that insight might be of interest to someone although you apparently are not that someone. You (in the group sense) might also be surprised how often a steak that was cooked exactly as ordered is sent back to be re-fired. The overcooked ones are a huge loss for the restaurant hence the reason to more likely get an underdone rather than overdone one in the first place. When the kitchen gets one that is "overdone" they all but perform an autopsy on it to see if indeed it was overcooked. If so, the cook gets hit. If not, the next medium re-fire is done rare. They usually are good at getting it right because cooking steak is what they do. Sure they screw up and usually have to fix it but there are plenty of customers who don't know what they're doing as well.

                                                    1. re: bobbert

                                                      I suspect that customers who order outside of the usual way steaks are ordered are probably customers the place can happily do without.

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        I'm just saying that however the customer orders, it will probably be translated in the kitchen into their (kitchen) language. I've dined with people who will order outside of the "normal" way and, from what I remember, the server will either explain how their kitchen defines rare, med, etc. or ask enough questions so they can send the order to the kitchen with the appropriate doneness ordered. In the U.S. there's a very good chance that the grill guy doesn't even speak English very well so a server straying from the basics can be quite the kitchen adventure.

                                            2. Ya.
                                              Pittsburgh (which is far below rare).