No. I am not necessarily saying this is 'the best' way to eat or cook a steak–unless this is how you like it (it's perfectly fine if you do!). I'm here to shed light on the often-controversial beef doneness and why it might not be as bad as the general public might think—quite the opposite.
Cooking a steak well-done does not have to result in a dry and burnt piece of meat. When done correctly, a well-done steak can be just as enjoyable as a medium or rare steak. By following the proper temperature guidelines and honing your steak-cooking skills, you will find that a well-done steak can be juicy, tender, and rich in flavor.
A steak only starts realeasing liquids once the fat starts melting and its fibers become narrower and shrink
When raw, a steak isn't 'juicy.' A steak only starts releasing liquids once the fat starts melting, and its fibers become narrower and shrink, pushing some of its juices out due to the pressure. So, if a steak is rare in the center or pink, it has not begun releasing its juices in that area. It will only do so once there's enough temperature.
If raw or rare beef is so flavorful, why drown it in liquids and seasonings? Why even cook it? Aside from your need to kill any possible harmful bacteria, it's because raw beef tastes very little when raw. Steak Tartare? Remove all the dressings and ingredients, tastes like nothing. Beef Carpaccio? Remove the acid, salt, and other components. What do you get? Paper-thin sheets of tasteless beef. You need to apply heat to proteins for flavors to develop. And why stop that process halfway? Why leave half of the steak rare or pink? It's not because it's better tasting. That's for sure. It's likely due to our fear of overcooking the steak and having it dry and tough, so we undercook it to be safe.
Think of chicken breast. If appropriately cooked to no more than ~160 degrees, it's very flavorful and juicy. The same applies to beef or any other protein, for that matter.
water and other liquids in the meat begin to evaporate, which concentrates the flavors.
Why Not Order A Steak Well-Done? Thanks for asking. I would not have a problem ordering a steak well-done. My concern is that most of the population, including professional cooks, unfortunately, are under the impression that this means the customer wants a dry pale rubbery piece of meat. I have seen it in restaurant kitchens all over; the steak gets thrown on a pan or grill without care or attention until it feels tough. This is perhaps why people hate well-done steaks. But a properly cooked, well-done steak is a thing of beauty. It just requires a skilled cook with attention to detail.
Not convinced yet? Think about Brisket. A brisket becomes tender and ultra juicy when it reaches above 200 degrees–203 F, to be exact. As a point of comparison, the 'well-done' temperature range is 150-155 F. That's 50 degrees colder than the brisket. Of course, different cuts of meat need to be treated differently. Cuts as tough as Chuck or Brisket have a lot of connective tissue, or collagen, that requires time and higher temperatures to break down. But notice the temperatures. Anyone would naturally think cooking them close to water-boiling temperatures (212 F) would dry them out. Try and eat them before they reach 203 F, and they will be tough and dry. Fascinating.
Here are a few things to help understand what happens when you apply heat to proteins:
Caramelization: As the beef cooks, the natural sugars in the meat begin to caramelize or break down and turn brown. This adds sweetness and depth of flavor to the beef.
Evaporation: As the beef cooks, water and other liquids in the meat begin to evaporate, which concentrates the flavors.
Maillard reaction: The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs between the amino acids and reducing sugars in the beef when it is exposed to heat. This reaction produces hundreds of new flavor compounds, such as savory, meaty, and nutty notes, giving cooked beef a complex and delicious taste.
Denaturation of proteins: Cooking also causes the proteins in beef to denature or unwind from their natural shape. As the proteins denature, they coagulate or solidify, which gives cooked beef its characteristic texture.
Breaking down of connective tissue: Cooked beef is also more tender than raw beef because the heat breaks down the connective tissue, or collagen, in the meat. This makes it easier to chew and swallow.
In conclusion, while a medium rare steak may be the traditional and popular choice, a well-done steak can be just as delicious and even more flavorful. The key is to use high-quality cuts of meat and not overcook them. Using proper cooking temperatures, a well-done steak can have a delicious crust outside while maintaining a moist and tender center. So next time you're grilling, don't be afraid to cook your steak a little longer – you may be surprised at how much tastier it can be.
Beef Doneness Guide
Different doneness temperatures refer to the internal temperature of the beef when cooked. Here are the most common temperatures of doneness for beef:
Rare: 120-125°F (49-51°C) - The beef is red in the center and cool to the touch.
Medium-rare: 130°F (54°C) - The beef is pink in the center and warm to the touch.
Medium: 135°F (57°C) - The beef is slightly pink in the center and warm to the touch.
Medium-well: 140°F (60°C) - The beef is primarily brown in the center, with some pink.
Well-done: 150°F (65°C) - The beef has no pink hue and is hot to the touch.
NOTE: The USDA recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) to kill any bacteria that may be present.