What Is Rare Meat?

Cynde Gregory

For some, a steak needs to be charred nearly black before it seems edible. Others want meat that is medium well or medium rare, cooked one side or the other of just enough. A very good cut of meat served rare, although some fear it as a possible source of parasites or bacteria, brings rich flavor and an almost barbarically juicy appeal to the table that no other type of meat can offer. Rare beef has been cooked to an internal temperature of 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit (48.88 to 51.66 Celsius).

Cooking a steak to rare can be quite difficult.
Cooking a steak to rare can be quite difficult.

Fans of rare meat point to the buttery, soft texture that has only been gently kissed by heat as one of the selling points. Steak or burgers that have been cooked just until the outer surface has turned brown reveal a bright red heart when cut open, and this is what lovers of rare meat are looking for. Grilling a T-bone for more than a couple of minutes on each side, for the rare meat lover, just won’t do.

Having a thermometer can help ensure that rare meat is pulled from the heat source at the right time.
Having a thermometer can help ensure that rare meat is pulled from the heat source at the right time.

Ordering rare meat at a restaurant or a cookout might not be as simple as it sounds. While most cooks know the definition of rare, the guy manning the grill might not have a thermometer to announce the exact moment the meat should be pulled from the source of heat. The grill master might pull the meat before much heat has spread internally or might let it sit just a minute too long.

To some, there is little difference between rare and raw meat. These folks treat heat as though its purpose is simply to warm the outer surface of the meat. Technically, this is called blue rare, and when that first bite is cut from the steak, the inside will be as red as blood.

True rare meat does have a cooked surface. Some home cooks and backyard grillers sear the meat briefly to seal in the juices. A cross-section of meat cooked rare shows a cooked surface, an inner ring of dark-pink meat, and a core that is blood red.

These days, most diners order meat cooked medium rare, medium well, or just plain medium. In many cases, this is because of the fear of meat-borne illness caused by parasites or bacteria. The closer to well done a cut of beef is cooked, the more evenly gray the interior will be. It’s important to note that, the longer heat cooks the meat, the drier it will become, the stringier the meat will be and the harder to chew.

Meat should be cooked all the way through to kill harmful bacteria.
Meat should be cooked all the way through to kill harmful bacteria.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - I don't like rare meat myself, so I always get them to cook it that little bit extra. But my father used to eat what was essentially rare mince meat mixed with onions as part of a traditional middle eastern dish his friend would make for him.

I don't know how they made sure the meat was safe, but he always assured me that it was. Not that I would ever touch the stuff.


@croydon - Just a tip for people who cook their own rare steaks. Let the meat rest for a few minutes (up to ten) after cooking it, or all the juices will come pouring out as soon as you cut into it. That's the reason you don't want to do too much poking and prodding when you're cooking the steak either.

Also, a lot of people claim you shouldn't flip the steak more than once to brown each side, but that's just an urban myth. They did a few trials on it and found it's actually optimal to flip it several times.


I'm a big fan of rare meat, but you have to be careful where you get it from and what kind of meat it is. I would never have any kind of poultry or pork rare, for example (although I've heard recently that pork isn't really a risk anymore). They can both harbor parasites or bacteria that need to be killed with thorough cooking. Beef, on the other hand, is usually fine but the cut has to be right. I had a rare steak at a restaurant the other day which they claimed was a scotch filet but didn't seem like that kind of cut to me and was fairly tough for a rare steak.

I guess I tend to find a good restaurant through trial and error and then stick to them, or make the steak myself. It just tastes so much better when it's rare and it's a better source of iron as well.

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