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Steak Temperature Guide: Achieving Perfect Medium Rare Steak & More


Want to learn how to cook a steak to your desired doneness? You’re in the right place.

Feed your meat-tooth with a juicy thick-cut Traeger grilled steak. Whether you like it fresh from the field or medium rare with some pink, we’ve got you covered. We’ll teach you how to get the perfect steak temperature that fits your preferences.

Here are the basic steak doneness ranges.

How do you know when the center of your steak has reached the proper temperature? Chefs who have cooked millions of steaks can do it by feel, but for home cooks, a wireless meat thermometer is the surest way.

Steak Doneness - Note that these temperatures are what you want the final temperature to be. Because a steak's temperature will rise some after it comes off the grill, it's best to pull the steak from the heat about 5 degrees earlier than what you want the final reading to be.So for a medium rare steak, take if off the grill at about 125°F.


  • Internal temperature: 120-125°F
  • Center color: red

Medium Rare Steak Temp:

  • Internal temperature: 130-135°F
  • Center color: pink


  • Internal temperature: 140-145°F
  • Center color: some pink


  • Internal temperature: 150-155°F
  • Center color: sliver of some pink

Well Done Temp:

  • Internal temperature: 160-165°F
  • Center color: mostly brown

Extra Well:

  • Internal temperature: 165°F+
  • Center color: brown throughout

Determining Doneness by Steak Temperature

The USDA says 145°F is a safe internal temperature for cooked steak, but most steak lovers prefer lower, such as 130-135°F, a perfect medium-rare. The time it takes to grill a steak will depend on the thickness of the steak, the weather, and your grill, but below are some guidelines for steaks about 1 inch thick. If your steak is thicker than that, be sure to take it off the grill a few degrees before your desired final temperature as the internal temperature will rise during its resting time thanks to carryover cooking.

Rare Steak

120-125°F internal temperature. Just a minimal sear on the exterior of the meat. The center is still red and cool to the touch. Grill at 450°F and pull from the heat between 115°F and 120°F, for 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Medium-Rare Steak

130-135 °F internal temperature. Seared on the outside. The center is pink with thin brown stripes on top and bottom. It’s room temperature to the touch. At 450°, cook for 5 to 7 minutes per side.

A medium-rare steak is the recommended doneness to taste the meat's natural flavor. It's not enough that the fat has melted and distributed flavor throughout but it is still juicy and tender. It’s usually how meat connoisseurs and chefs like to eat it.

Medium Steak

140-145 °F internal temperature. Seared on the outside with a lukewarm pink center. At 450°F, cook for 7 to 8 minutes per side.

Most everyone is happy with this doneness. It’s not bloody or as dry as the Sahara desert.

Medium-Well Steak

150-155 °F internal temperature. Cooked on the outside with a warm, light pink center. At 450°F, cook for 8 to 9 minutes per side.

It’s definitely cooked and still showcases the flavor of the meat.

Well-Done Steak

160-165 °F internal temperature. Brown on the outside with a mostly brown center that is warm throughout. At 400°°F, cook for 10 minutes per side.

How do you know when the center of your steak has reached the proper temperature? The best way is to measure the internal temperature.

For the best steak every time, invest in a digital thermometer with a thin probe (aka The MEATER wireless meat thermometer) to know for sure when that pricey cut is at the peak of perfection.

How to Buy the Perfect Steak

First, always purchase high-quality meat. The quality determines the texture, tenderness, and how flavorful the steak will taste.

The thicker the steak, the easier it is to cook and the better it will taste. Stop by your local butcher shop and ask for exactly what you want, i.e., a 2” thick-cut steak. Most grocery stores stock steak that is ½” to 1” thick. Thin steak cooks faster and has less flavor.

For the very best quality, seek out meat labeled Prime by the USDA. It's not always easy to find, however. Select is the next best option.


How to Prepare Your Steak

When you're cooking a steak, you're doing two things:

Searing (browning) the surface of the steak and heating the inside of the steak which you want to keep much cooler.

To get the perfect sear, you need to get the surface of your steak up to (and a little bit past) 285°F. This will initiate the Maillard reaction, giving your meat a pleasing color.

The Maillard reaction is a cascade of chemical changes that happens when meat (and other foods) reaches approximately 285°F to 325°F. At this temperature, certain amino acids and sugars react to create hundreds of delicious flavor compounds and pleasing aromas. The meat also begins to turn brown as a result of this reaction.

To get the Maillard reaction, you need a dry steak. Here are a few ways to banish moisture from your steak:


Take your steak out of any wrapping it came in, set it on a plate, and let it sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

The low humidity of the fridge will start evaporating the moisture, and the coolness will keep it safe. You'll want to make sure your fridge doesn't have any funky smells like last month's leftover sushi — that aroma could transfer to the meat.


Salt the steak at least one hour before cooking or immediately before putting it on the grill.

Never salt the meat and let it sit for less than an hour because during this time the salt is drawing out moisture. It needs extra time to absorb the moisture.


Best Temperature to Grill Steak

There are two main ways to cook the perfect steak, the direct-heat method and the reverse-seared method.


This direct method is the quickest and well, most direct method of cooking steak. It means the steak is cooked the entire time over high heat.

To grill over direct heat, set the grill to 450°F, close the lid, and allow it to preheat for 15 minutes.

Place the steak on the grill grate and cook, flipping the meat occasionally, until the internal temperature is a few degrees below your desired final temperature. (The internal temperature will rise a few degrees when the steak is removed from the heat.) Let the steak rest for a few minutes before slicing or serving.



The reverse sear method cooks the steak initially lover low heat until close to the desired final temperature. Only after it's almost entirely cooked through does it get a quick sear over high heat. Reverse sear cooking helps guarantee the steak does not overcook. And, when cooking on a Traeger, infused the steak with wood-fired flavor.

For the reverse-sear method, set your grill to 225°F, close the lid, and preheat for 15 minutes.

Put the steaks on and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 110°F to 115°F; this can take up to an hour depending on the thickness of your steak.

Take the steaks off the grill, then raise the grill's temperature to 450°F. (Alternatively, heat your Flatrock Flat Top Grill to high. Allow it to preheat with the lid closed for about 10 minutes, and put the steaks back on the grill.

They'll sizzle and brown, getting that terrific Maillard reaction aroma and color. Cook until nicely browned on the exterior and the temperature is a few degrees below your desired final temperature, about 125°F to 130°F for medium rare.

See all of Traeger's steak recipes for more ideas on how to cook a steak on a pellet grill.

How to Rest Your Steak

Once your steak is done, you need to let it rest on a plate or cutting board at room temperature. Let it rest for half of its cooking time, up to 10 minutes. The rest will help the steak retain its juices and give it an amazing flavor.

Pro Tip: For very thick steaks, consider taking them off the grill a few degrees before they hit your desired steak temperature to allow for carry-over cooking while the steaks rest.

How to Measure Steak Temperature & Doneness by Touch

You may have read about the "poke test" for determining whether a steak is done. The idea is that you find a place on your body that corresponds to a steak doneness level. You press that place — sometimes a part of the face, sometimes a fingertip, sometimes the meaty part of your hand below your thumb — note the "springiness," then touch the steak to see if it has the corresponding "springiness."

Chefs who cook many steaks a day, usually of similar cuts on the same equipment indoors, can get pretty good at using simple touch tests to see if steaks are done.

But as an outdoor griller, you've got other factors to consider, including the outside temperature, the cut of the steak, whether you marinated it or not, and how soft your hands are — so unless you cook the exact cuts of meat, prepared the same way, at the exact temperature, many, many times, the poke test will let you down.

That’s why recommend using a digital thermometer so you can nail the perfect doneness every time.

Pro tip: As you take your steak's temperature, give it a poke so you learn to recognize how a steak cooked to your desired doneness feels.

How to Cook Steak on a Pellet Grill

When you cook steak on a pellet grill, you have the best of both worlds.

You can grill a steak in a hurry using the direct heat method. Or, you can use the oven capabilities of the pellet grill to do the increasingly popular reverse sear method. With this method, your steak will get a nice dose of wood smoke while it cooks.

Simply follow the directions outlined above for both methods. When cooking low and slow for the indirect method, use Super Smoke for even more wood-fired flavor.

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