A meat thermometer is your secret weapon to achieving perfectly-cooked steak, every time. Don't have one yet? Don't worry: We have a special little hack for you.

By Zoe Denenberg
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Grilling a steak can be tricky business. If your grill is too hot, the crust might be a perfectly charred deep brown, but the center could still be raw; if your grill isn't hot enough, the steak could overcook by the time it gets those coveted grill marks. All in all, it can be difficult to recognize when a steak is fully cooked, inside and out. Whether you like your steak rare, well done, or somewhere in between, we're here to help you gain confidence behind the grill and flip up a perfect steak every time. All you'll need is one special gadget: A meat thermometer.

If you don't already own a meat thermometer, get ready to meet your new favorite kitchen tool. Beginners and expert grill masters alike rely on this handy gadget to gauge precisely when a cut of meat is done. A meat thermometer will come in handy when cooking steak, lamb, chicken, or that Thanksgiving turkey; the exact temperature reading will ensure that you don't undercook your meat, which is a food safety hazard, or overcook it, which will dry it out.

Whether you're cooking your steak on the grill, in the cast-iron on the stovetop, or in the oven, taking the temperature of your meat is a fool-proof method for achieving an impressive-looking, great-tasting dinner. These general guidelines apply to any cut of steak, from a thick filet mignon to a New York strip. Ready to get grilling? Follow these tips to make a fantastic steakhouse dinner in your own home. We've got all the recipes you need, and don't forget the sides!

Tips for Cooking Steak

  • Let your steak rest on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. This allows it to come to room temperature and ensures that the internal temperature reading will be accurate. While you're at it, season the steak all over with salt and pepper (learn a few seasoning tips from the experts here).
  • Know your salt. Our Editors advise, "Avoid standard table and iodized salts. Anything with a fine grain has a tendency to over season your steak. Instead, sprinkle on medium grain sea salt to compliment your grilled beef."
  • Rotate and flip your steak often while grilling to develop a nice crust. If your steak isn't sizzling, the grill's not hot enough.
  • Thanks to residual heat, your steak will continue to cook even after you pull it off the grill. For this reason, we advise removing your steak from the heat when it's five degrees shy of your desired temperature. It will fully cook to your desired doneness while it rests.
  • After removing your steak from the heat, let it rest on a platter for 5 minutes to seal in all those juices, then slice it against the grain.

How to Use a Meat Thermometer

Never used a meat thermometer before? Our Food Editor's got you covered. "To get the most accurate temperature reading, place the thermometer in the meat while it's still cooking in the pan, oven, or on the grill. Do not take it off the heat before gauging the temperature."

The most important thing to remember is to insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding any bones or fat. "With most thermometers, you need to insert the probe at least 1/2-inch into the meat. If your cut is thicker than an inch, you will want to go even deeper to reach the very center," our Food Editor writes.

Steak Doneness: Internal Temperatures

To gauge exactly when your steak is cooked to your liking, take its internal temperature. These are the temperature benchmarks you're looking for:

Rare (very red-pink): 125-130 degrees F; Estimated Cook Time: 8 minutes

Medium Rare (pink): 130-135 degrees F; Estimated Cook Time: 9 minutes

Medium (light pink): 135-140 degrees F; Estimated Cook Time: 10 minutes

Medium-Well: 140-150 degrees F; Estimated Cook Time: 11 minutes

Well-Done: 155 degrees F or above; Estimated Cook Time: 12 minutes or more

Rare Steak Temperature and Cooking Tips

For those who like their steak just barely cooked, rare is a go-to order. The steak will be charred on the outside and just warmed through on the inside with a ruby-red color. Cooking your steak rare really allows the flavor of the meat to shine, but it's not for the faint of heart.

To cook a rare steak, place it on a hot grill for approximately 5 minutes. Flip, rotate, and move to another spot on the grill. Cook an additional 3 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees F (it will continue to cook while resting). Let rest for 3 minutes, slice and serve.

Medium-Rare Steak Temperature and Cooking Tips

Medium-rare is a common steak order—a charred exterior and a pink, but not bloody interior makes this one of the most coveted preparations for various cuts of meat.

To cook a medium-rare steak, place it on a hot grill for approximately 5 minutes. Flip, rotate, and move to another spot on the grill. Cook an additional 4 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees F (it will continue to cook while resting). Let rest for 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Medium Steak Temperature and Cooking Tips

A medium steak is always a crowd-pleaser. This is our go-to for hosting, as it's an unpolarizing, easy middle ground for all meat eaters. Not too pink, but not overcooked, a medium steak is a great home base for any griller.

To cook a medium steak, place it on a hot grill for approximately 4 minutes. Flip, rotate, and move to another spot on the grill. Cook an additional 4 minutes, then move to another spot on the grill. Cook an additional 2 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees F (it will continue to cook while resting). Let rest for 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Medium-Well Steak Temperature and Cooking Tips

The FDA recommends cooking steak to the temperature of 145 degrees F, which will result in a medium-well steak. While many experts say it's safe to consume meat that hasn't come all the way up to 145 degrees, for those who are elderly or immunocompromised, it's better to err on the safe side.

To cook a medium-well steak, place it on a hot grill for approximately 4 minutes. Flip, rotate, and move to another spot on the grill. Cook an additional 4 minutes, then move to another spot on the grill. Cook for an additional 3 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F (it will continue to cook while resting). Let rest for 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Well-Done Steak Temperature and Cooking Tips

Some like their steak completely cooked through or, in essence, well-done. It will have only the faintest hint of pink and be nicely charred all around. Cooking your steak only to 155 degrees will ensure that it does not dry out.

To cook a well-done steak, place it on a hot grill for approximately 4 minutes. Flip, rotate, and move to another spot on the grill. Cook an additional 4 minutes, then move to another spot on the grill. Cook for an additional 4 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F (it will continue to cook while resting). Let rest for 5 minutes, slice and serve.

How to Tell When Steak is Done Without a Thermometer

Still waiting for your new meat thermometer to arrive in the mail? Don't worry: You can still achieve perfectly-cooked steak without any fancy gadgets. A metal cake tester or skewer is all you need for this expert hack.

To tell if your steak is done, insert a metal cake tester or skewer into the center of your steak for five seconds, then remove and touch it to your lips. If the skewer is cold on your lips, it means the steak is rare. Lukewarm and it's medium-rare, warm and it's medium, and hot is well-done. While this trick isn't quite as precise as using a thermometer, it does the job, especially after you've had a little practice.