Grilling a steak may seem like a simple task, but there is actually some finesse to getting it right—especially when it comes to doneness. The type of steak, its thickness, and the heat of the grill will determine how long it will take to cook, but no matter if it is a 1 1/2-inch thick porterhouse or thin flank steak, the internal temperature is what determines when it's done. From rare to well, each level of doneness has a target temperature, which can be measured using a meat thermometer.
In order for the meat to cook properly, it's essential that the steak come to room temperature before it hits the grill. (About a half-hour to 45 minutes before cooking, place the packaged steak on the counter.) This ensures that the entire steak is the same temperature throughout, so it will cook evenly, avoiding a burnt exterior while the interior is still cold.
Watch Now: How Do I Know When a Steak is Done?
Grill Times and Temperature for Steak
- Rare: 120 to 130 F; 5 then 3 minutes per side; pull off the grill at max 125 F
- Medium-Rare: 130 to 135 F; 5 then 4 minutes per side; pull off the grill at max 130 F
- Medium: 140 to 150 F; 6 then 4 minutes per side; pull off the grill at max 145 F
- Medium-Well: 155 to 165 F; 7 then 5 minutes per side; pull off the grill at max 160 F
- Well-Done: 170 F or more; 12 then 10 minutes per side; pull off the grill at max 165 F
How to Use a Meat Thermometer
Since the best way to determine when a steak is done is by checking the internal temperature of the meat, using an instant-read thermometer is key. To test for the correct temperature, stick the thermometer probe in the thickest part, away from fat, bone, or gristle. It's important to keep in mind that the meat will continue cooking with residual heat (carry over cooking) even after it's removed from the grill, by about 5 degrees. So if you're going for a final internal temperature of 160 F, remove the steak from the heat at about 155 F, give or take.
How to Cook Rare Steak
A steak done rare isn't requested that often; it is for the true carnivore who wants something nearly raw but gets it cooked as little as possible. A rare steak should be warm through the center, lightly charred on the outside, browned around the sides, and bright red in the middle. The meat should be soft to the touch, much like raw meat, but browned over the surface.
For a 1-inch steak, place steak on a hot grill for 5 minutes. Turn and continue grilling for another 3 minutes. Cook to an internal temperature of 120 to 130 F (49 to 55 C).
How to Cook Medium-Rare Steak
This is the recommended level of doneness for a good steak; ask any chef how they like their steak prepared and they will almost all say medium-rare. A medium-rare steak should be warm through the middle with most of the center pink in color with a hint of red. The sides should be well browned, the top and bottom caramelized to a dark brown color with good grill marks. This steak's firm surface should give a bit toward the middle (it will spring back quickly).
For a 1-inch steak, place steak on a hot grill for 5 minutes. Turn and continue grilling for another 4 minutes to an internal temperature of 130 to 135 F (55 to 57 C).
How to Cook Medium Steak
If you are grilling for a large group of people, this level of doneness often pleases most everyone. A medium-cooked steak should have a thick band of light pink through the middle but have more browned meat than pink overall. The sides should be a rich brown color and the top and bottom charred darkly (but not black). This steak will have some play through the middle, but feel firm to the touch.
For a 1-inch steak, place steak on a hot grill for 6 minutes. Turn and continue grilling for another 4 minutes until an internal temperature of 140 to 150 F (60 to 66 C) is reached.
How to Cook Medium-Well Steak
This level of doneness is for those who don't want a lot of pink in their meat. A medium-well steak should have just a hint of pink in the very middle of the steak with a dark brown surface and good charring on the top and bottom. The steak will be very stiff but still have a little squish in the center.
For a 1-inch steak, place steak on a hot grill for 7 minutes. Turn and continue grilling for another 5 minutes. Cook to an internal temperature of 155 to 165 F (68 to 74 C).
How to Cook Steak Well-Done
Well-done steak has gotten a bad rap, with some chefs even refusing to cook the meat to this doneness. It may seem well-done would be the easiest to cook, but in actuality, it is the hardest as cooking until the meat is no longer pink and not drying it out is a challenge. The secret is to do it low and slow—the only way to prevent burning while fully cooking it through the middle.
This steak should not be burnt on the outside. While there is not the faintest hint of pink in the middle, it should be browned through, not burnt through. This steak will feel solid to the touch.
For a 1-inch steak, grill over medium heat between 10 and 12 minutes per side. It should reach an internal temperature of 170 F (77 C) or higher.
Rest Your Steak
It's vital that you let the steak rest for at least three minutes after cooking, and not cut into it immediately. Muscle fibers in meat contract and toughen when cooking, pushing the moisture to the surface. (That's why a pan sizzles, because the juices are being released.) If the steak doesn't rest, these same juices won't have time to redistribute throughout the meat and will pool on your plate instead of remaining in the steak, where you want them.
- Because the steak will continue to cook after it is removed from the grill, you want to pull it off when it reaches roughly five degrees under the target temperature. As it rests, it will come up to the correct temperature for doneness due to residual heat.
- While grilling, it's important to not only flip the steak but also rotate it and move around the grill a bit. Some parts of the grill heat up more than others, so this movement will assure even cooking.