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You’ve brought home a lovely cut of steak, seasoned it properly, and heated up your pan. But before you put it over a searing fire, you need to be aware that every second matters when cooking a steak. That’s because your steak’s level of doneness will inevitably vary with steak cooking time.

But how long do you cook a steak for? What’s the right way to tell when a steak has finished cooking? 

Find out in this handy guide to steak cooking time! 

How Long to Cook a Steak

Cooking times are a part of every recipe. Boil a cup of pasta for ten minutes, or chill a bowl of cookie dough for an hour. It’s all very straightforward until you get to an ingredient like steaks, at which point you’ll have to throw out all conventional wisdom.

Differences in Steak

Like snowflakes, no two steaks are alike. When lovingly cut by hand at your local butcher, steaks can vary in thickness. What’s more, there are many different cuts of steak that come from different parts of the cow, each with different compositions of bone, muscle, and fat.  

Levels of Doneness

But that’s not all. Steak deserves its place as royalty among food for the customization it offers. With different levels of doneness to choose from, diners can personalize their cooked steaks to match their preferences for texture, char, and flavor.

Differences in Cooking Temperatures

And there’s more. Just as steaks are different, so too are the ways steaks are cooked. Some people choose to grill steak on their BBQs, while others choose to fry or broil them on and in their ranges and stoves. And with fuel sources as diverse as gas, electric, charcoal, and more, it’s safe to say that cooking temperatures can vary greatly between users.

For this reason, “How long should I cook a steak?” becomes a tough question to answer. It becomes complicated when considering personal taste and the steak itself. 

undercooked steak

How to Tell When Steak is Cooked

Knowing that steak has so many different variables, it’s clear that time is not the best way to tell when a steak is done. The time it takes Jim to cook a medium-well-done porterhouse on his gas barbecue is not the same as the time it takes John to cook a medium-rare sirloin tip in his cast iron frying pan.

Instead, we need to measure the variable that doesn’t change under different contexts: internal temperatures. Proper cooking involves heating up the entire food ingredient, not just its outside; by measuring internal temperatures, we are able to tell when something is cooked.

READ: How to Tell Meat Doneness

Cooking Thermometers

The best way to measure the internal temperature of food is with a cooking thermometer. Instant-read thermometers like the ThermoPro Lightning are designed to be quickly inserted for on-the-spot testing, while probe thermometers like the ThermoPro TempSpike are meant to be left in during the entire cooking process. 

Other ways simply aren’t as accurate. Looking at the outside of a steak can tell you when the outside is done, but gives no indication of its interior condition. Touching a steak can reveal how firm it is, but not if it is actually cooked. 

For best results, use a cooking thermometer for accurate measurements.

Avoid flipping your steak more than once

The Overlap of Levels of Doneness

Although we don’t recommend you use this as a guide, let’s consider the approximate cooking times for cooking a 1″ steak as found on the internet:

  • Rare: 2 minutes on each side (4 mins total)
  • Medium-Rare: 3-4 mins on each side (6-8 mins total)
  • Medium: 4-6 mins on each side (8-12 mins total)
  • Well done: 6-10 minutes on each side (12-20 mins total)

Again, these times found online are approximate; they will likely be different than the results you have at home. And yet, the reason we are highlighting this outdated guide is to remind you that levels of doneness are an arbitrary concept. Cooking steak is a complicated process that doesn’t always neatly fit into distinguishable categories.

READ: Ultimate Steak Temperature Chart

All things considered, it’s entirely possible that the same piece of cooked steak can quickly become medium-rare in six minutes, and then achieve a medium level of doneness in another two minutes.

The overlap between different levels of doneness is simply too close for comfort. And that’s why we say that every second matters when cooking a steak.

Why Seconds Matter When Cooking Steak

Every moment that a steak spends on a hot stove or grill is changing it. From raw ingredient to finished product, the steak is being fundamentally changed at its core. Significantly, this change is permanent; once steak achieves a medium level of doneness, it stays there. So if you prefer your steak medium-rare, you need to make sure it never reaches medium status.

But here’s the thing: because a steak’s status continues to change throughout the cooking process, you’ll need to know your steak’s cooking status at all times. That’s because even a few seconds can mean overcooking your steak in this situation. Think you’ve removed your steak in time? The fact is steak continues to cook after being removed from the stove, cooking in its own juices as it rests on a plate.

To overcome this, you need a specialized tool designed to provide instant results on command.

ThermoPro Lightning One-Second Instant Read Meat Thermometer
ThermoPro Lightning

ThermoPro Lightning One-Second Instant-Read Thermometer

Knowing that the key to measuring cooked steak is by temperature, you’ll need a meat thermometer that can provide updates quickly and accurately. And in this situation where seconds matter, the best tool for this situation is the ThermoPro Lightning.

Featuring a one-second response time and an accuracy of ±0.5°F (±0.3°C), the Lightning is the best choice for measuring on-the-spot temperatures without delay. At speeds 200% faster than the competition, the Lightning features a 180° Auto-Rotating Display, an easy-to-clean IP65-rated Waterproof Casing, and a 10-Year Warranty that ensures years of faithful service.

If you’re looking to cook great steaks, enlist the help of great tools that can help. Trust the ThermoPro Lightning to provide you with instant temperature measurements that will guarantee perfect results every time!

See below for a temperature guide for creating perfect steaks at home!

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