Medium vs. Medium Rare: How to Tell the Difference

Different degrees of roasting steak on a meat fork on a stone background

Medium vs. Medium Rare: How to Tell the Difference

If you've ever ordered a steak at a restaurant, the waiter has likely asked how you'd like your meat prepared. There are many options that range from rare all the way to well-done. While we know that rare steaks are barely cooked, and well-done steaks are extremely cooked, what can be confusing are the options in the middle. What's the difference between medium and medium rare anyway?

The main difference between medium and medium rare steak is the cooking time and the temperature of the meat. Medium is cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F and appears brown on the inside with a pronounced pink center, while medium rare is only cooked to 130°-140°F and has more of an overall pink color on the inside.

Of course, these are not the only distinctions between the two, so let's take a deep dive into the differences and how you can prepare your own healthily cooked medium or medium-rare steak.

Medium steak usually has a band of pink through the center, while medium rare steak has more of a general allover pinkness when prepared.

Medium vs. Medium Rare: What are the Differences?

As mentioned, the main difference between medium and medium rare is how long each steak is cooked. Not surprisingly, the longer the meat cooks, the more well-done it becomes. But what else sets these two types of cooked steak apart? Let's take a closer look.

Texture and Appearance

The texture is one of the first things you'll notice that's different between medium and medium rare steak. In general, the longer a steak cooks, the more firm to the touch it will be. This means that medium steak tends to be firmer to the touch than medium rare.

Additionally, both medium and medium rare will be seared and appear fully cooked on the outside. It's how they look on the inside that sets them apart. When cut into, medium-cooked steak will be more brown or gray on the inside and have a signature band of pink through the middle. Medium rare, on the other hand, will have less brown and more of an allover pink color.

It's important to note that rare steak has more of an allover red appearance, while medium-rare is more pink since the meat has cooked longer.


Before we dive into flavor differences, keep in mind that the cut of your beef and how it's prepared can affect the overall flavor. Each cut, from sirloin to the New York Strip and a filet mignon, brings its own levels of juiciness and flavor to the table.

In general, medium steak will retain much of its flavor since it hasn't been overcooked. However, because it's cooked longer than medium rare, it loses some moisture during cooking, resulting in a less juicy and tender steak. Medium rare steak is preferred by many due to the fact that it's cooked longer than rare steak but is still incredibly juicy and flavorful.

Cooking Time

As we've mentioned, the main difference between the two cooking methods is how long the meat is cooked. The longer a steak sits on the grill, the higher its level of doneness.

The best way to tell the difference between medium and medium rare is to use a meat thermometer. Medium steak should only be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of about 145°F. This normally takes about 4-6 minutes per side. This timeline depends on your heat level and the thickness of your cut of beef.

Medium rare, on the other hand, should only be cooked until the internal temperature reaches about 135°F. To reach this temperature and avoid overcooking, cook each side for 3-4 minutes. Again, this recommended time frame depends on which cut of steak you're preparing as well as your heat level.

Sliced grilled Medium rare barbecue steak Ribeye with herb butter on cutting board close up
Medium rare steaks are more pink, less firm, and don't take as long to cook as medium steaks.

©Natalia Lisovskaya/Shutterstock.com

Healthy Cooking Instructions for Each

We talked a little about the difference in cooking times, but there are a few ways you can successfully prepare both a medium and medium rare steak so it's both delicious and done to your liking. Keep in mind the temperature differences we discussed above when cooking (or grilling) your favorite cut of beef.

Remember that no matter how you plan to prepare your steak, you should always let it rest for at least three minutes when the cooking process is complete. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat before you cut into it. Bon Appetit also has some other advice if you're seeking to cook the perfect steak.

How to Cook a Medium Steak

In order to cook a medium steak, you'll need to cook a one-inch thick cut for about 4-6 minutes per side. The steak should appear dark and charred but not black on the outside. When cooked correctly, a medium steak will be more brown than pink on the inside and have a thick band of pink in the middle. It will also be firm to the touch.

How to Cook a Medium Rare Steak

For a one-inch thick steak, you'll need to grill or cook it for about 3-4 minutes per side. It should also have good grill marks and a seared appearance. The sides should be browned, and the center should be pink with a hint of red. The steak should also be warm throughout.

When a medium-rare steak is cooked to perfection, you'll also notice its firm surface spring back quickly when you touch it, similar to a cake.

Beef steak: degrees of doneness from rare to well done
Steaks can range in doneness from rare (on the left) to well-done (on the right). Medium and medium-rare fall in the middle and illustrate how your steak should look when prepared to your liking.

©Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock.com

Which is Better: Medium or Medium Rare?

While there is much debate about which cooking method is the best (and most delicious), which one you choose all comes down to your preferences. If you're looking for a juicier, more tender steak, you may want to try medium rare. However, if you prefer a steak cooked at higher temperatures, medium might be the best way to go.

Keep in mind that while FoodSafety.gov recommends an internal temperature of 145°F for all meat, a medium-rare steak is still widely considered relatively safe to eat. By searing the outside of the meat, you can reduce the risk of food poisoning or bacteria issues. If internal meat temperatures concern you, though, you can always choose a more cooked method.

Additionally, if you're cooking for a crowd or large group, medium is often the best way to go. The steaks are still juicy with some pink in the middle without appearing undercooked.

Final Thoughts

Medium vs. medium-rare steaks are great options whether dining out or cooking at home. Medium is slightly firmer but still offers plenty of flavor. Medium-rare has plenty of juice but is cooked more thoroughly than a rare steak. When preparing your steak, remember which cut of beef you're using and that the thickness can alter the cooking times for each. Just remember to use the internal temperature guidelines we've discussed here so you can enjoy a delicious steak anytime!

Recipe Card

Now that you've learned the differences between medium and medium-rare steaks try a delicious recipe you can make from home. Enjoy!

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Grilled and sliced flat iron rare steak. Marble beef meat. Black background. Top view

Rosemary and Garlic Medium-Rare Steak

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  • Author: MomsWhoThink.com
  • Total Time: 23 mins


  • 1 of t-bone steak
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil


  1. Season the steak with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the grill and brush it with olive oil.
  3. Add the rosemary and garlic to the grill.
  4. Cook the steak for 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare.
  5. Let it rest for 3 minutes before serving.
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 8 mins
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: American
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