Why Is My Steak Raw in the Middle?

Why Is My Steak Raw in the Middle?yatomo /123RF

If your steak is raw in the middle, it’s not cooked evenly. Here’s why, how to fix it, and how to never have it happen to you again.

You’re here because your steak is raw in the middle. Now, you’re trying to find out exactly what you did wrong.

You were so looking forward to tonight’s dinner that you couldn’t wait to taste the thick, well-marbled piece of meat you brought back home from the butcher.

You followed the recipe exactly, and the steak looked perfectly cooked when you took it off the stove. But when you finally put it on the table and cut into it with a fork and steak knife, it was raw and bloody in the middle.

What went wrong?

If your steak is raw and bloody in the middle, it’s undercooked. This can happen if you cook a steak directly from the freezer or at too high a temperature. It then looks cooked, or even burnt, on the outside but is still raw on the inside.

There’s a lot to consider when cooking a steak.

For one thing, there’s the cut of meat. It should be neither too thin (thin pieces of meat won’t be juicy) nor too thick (thick pieces of meat take a long time to cook and are difficult to cook evenly in the oven).

You’re looking for a cut with good marbling, meaning plenty of white intramuscular fat. A well-marbled steak is tender and juicy; a lean steak is tough and dry. My favorites are the porterhouseT-bone, and strip steak.

Bone-in steaks are more flavorful but also more difficult to prepare. Unless you consider yourself an experienced cook already, start with boneless steaks and progressively improve as you gain experience.

Then there’s the cooking temperature, which is directly proportional to the thickness of the steak.

How thick should a steak be?

The perfect thickness for a steak, at least in my experience, is plus/minus 1½ inches. Grill it over indirect heat, fry it in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, or roast it in a sheet pan equipped with a wire rack in a 375°F oven—it’ll be perfectly browned on the outside and cooked fully through on the inside.

Steaks thinner than 1½ inches should be seared over medium-high heat. Conversely, thicker steaks should be slow-cooked over medium-low heat to give the protein in the center enough time to cook.

Note that we never, ever try to cook a steak over high heat.

Using too much heat is the biggest mistake most home cooks make when they cook steaks.

We may turn the heat up to high 20-30 seconds before the steak is done to char it slightly or give it grill marks (especially if you’re cooking it on the stove in a grill pan), but we never try to cook it at high heat because it just doesn’t work.

And then, there is the temperature of the protein.

Never cook a steak from the freezer because it will burn on the outside and be undercooked on the inside. Instead, thaw the steak by placing it in the refrigerator from the freezer the night before cooking.

Bring the steak to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator and letting it rest on the countertop for 15 minutes before preparing it. This is especially important if you’re cooking it in a stainless steel pan, as the steak won’t stick to the surface as much at room temperature.

Last but not least, there’s the cooking vessel.

A premium cut of meat requires a premium cooking vessel. You want to use a heavy and well-seasoned cast iron skillet, a stainless steel frying pan with a thick bottom, or a lined copper pan.

Heat the pan over medium to medium-high heat for at least 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak. Drizzle 1 or 2 tablespoons of unflavored avocado or canola oil, then place the steak in the hot pan.

How to Fix Undercooked Steak

If you’ve just discovered that your steak is undercooked and you’re not a fan of rare meat, don’t panic. Fixing an undercooked steak is easier than you probably think.

Preheat the oven to 400°F for 15-20 minutes, place the steak inside and cook for at least 3-4 minutes. If you cut the steak all the way through, which is likely the case, chop it up into evenly sized pieces so that it cooks evenly.

Just don’t leave the steak in the oven for long, or the hot circulating air will eventually dry it out.

How Long to Cook a Steak

“Cook your steak, they say, “until it’s done.” The answer to this question is obvious, is not it?

Cookbook authors and television chefs like to point it out. But it’s easier said than done, especially for those of us who have not had years of professional culinary training.

The good news is that, when it comes to the time and temperature it takes to cook a steak, there is a rule of thumb or two that you can use as a guideline.

Just remember that the numbers I’m about to share with you are only approximations. Never rely on them alone to check whether a steak is cooked (I’ll get to the best ways to do this in a jiff).

On the stove:

If you’re cooking a steak in a skillet, the following are rules of thumb for cooking time:

  • A 1-inch thick steak will cook to medium-done for 5-7 minutes per side over medium to medium-high heat;
  • A 1½-inches thick steak will cook to medium-done for 8-10 minutes per side over medium to medium heat;
  • A 2-inches thick steak will cook to medium-done for 11-13 minutes per side over medium to medium-low heat.

On the grill:

Similar cooking times apply when grilling steaks over indirect heat on a gas or charcoal grill.

In the oven:

When roasting steaks in the oven, the following cooking times apply:

  • A 1-inch thick steak will cook to medium-done for 8-10 minutes in a 375°F oven;
  • A 1½-inches thick steak will cook to medium-done for 10-15 minutes in a 375°F oven;
  • A 2-inches thick steak will cook to medium-done for 16-19 minutes in a 375°F oven.

How to Tell If Your Steak Is Done

The most accurate way to tell if a steak is cooked is to use a meat thermometer.

The USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service recommends cooking steaks of beef, pork, veal, and lamb to an internal temperature of at least 145°F, corresponding to a medium-done or medium-well level of doneness.

If you don’t have a thermometer handy, use “the poke test.” Poke the steak briefly with your index finger. If it feels soft, it’s rare. If it yields slightly to the touch, it’s medium-rare to medium. If it feels firm, it’s medium-well to well-done.

The color of the inside of the meat is another indicator of a steak’s doneness:

Steak levels of doneness
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The problem that I have with this method is that, to see the color of the inside of the meat, you have to cut through it with a knife. When you cut through a steak mid-cooking you are letting all of the juices flow out, and it will no longer be juicy.

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