Four years ago, when my family began ordering steaks instead of our usual fajitas at Chilis, my father and I always went for “well-done.” Since my parents are immigrants from China and unaccustomed to eating undercooked red meat, they wanted the steaks fully cooked to prevent ingesting bacteria. I, not knowing much either, followed suit, ordering all my steaks “well-done.” Today, I wouldn’t even call that a steak.
It was by the eleventh well-done steak that I finally began to question myself: was “well-done” the ONLY safe way to go? Over the next year, I continued to knock down the doneness of a steak from medium-well to medium, to medium-rare, much to the chagrin of my parents. However, by the time I hit medium-rare, I was no longer worried about getting sick. Nor had I ever gotten sick from eating steak. Here’s why.
When we cut into a bloody steak and all the juices roll out, some will no doubt jump back in disgust upon seeing the raw meat inside. But what we may not notice is the fact that the outer edge of the steak has been cooked. That is what’s important. What is a steak? A slab of meat. The bacteria are only introduced to this slab of meat on the outside, meaning as long as the surface of the steak is cooked, it will be safe to eat no matter how raw the inside is.
This is the reason why hamburger meats – ground beef, pork, veal, or lamb – must be fully cooked. The process of grounding has a high possibility of introducing bacteria into the center of the hamburger meat. Ground meat is recommended to reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit internally, or the doneness of medium, to be considered safe. A steak, on the other hand, only needs to reach a temperature that allows the exterior to be cooked, about 145 degrees Fahrenheit or at the doneness of medium-rare, before being considered safe.
Recently, I had a rare steak, defined as having a “cool, red inside.” Had I ordered that a few years ago, I would have scared the life out of my parents. I was greeted with a thick Filet Mignon that looked brown and charred on the outside. After cutting into its plum-colored inside, I licked my lips and dove in. I ended the night with nothing more than a full stomach and delight from having conquered the feat.
In 2004, scientists at the University of Nottingham conducted a research to test if rare steak really was safe to eat. To perform the test, scientists took steak samples and spiked them with E.coli bacteria, which were known to die at high temperatures. Then they cooked the steaks to a doneness of rare. The first time, they found out that there was still bacteria present in the samples, but that they had been reintroduced through the tongs used to turn the steaks.
The experiment was performed again with sterilized tongs. On this attempt, no bacteria was detected on the steak, confirming that rare steak can indeed be considered safe as long as bacteria are not reintroduced through contaminated utensils. The experiment also supported the fact that whole cuts of meat, such as a steak, only have bacteria on the exterior. These bacteria are killed during cooking, even if the inside of the steak is still rare.
Thus, the safety of a rare steak arguably has more to do with the utensils than it does with the meat.
Although I have no fears about eating a rare steak today, I’m not sure if I would do it again. Personally, I found a nice, tender, medium-rare cut to have more flavor and juice than a full on rare. My parents still won’t order either of those levels of doneness no matter how much I try to persuade them; I’ve learned to give up trying to. The choice is up to them after all.
But the bottom line is, from rare to well-done, you should find which one offers the most flavor and juiciness to satisfy your desires and not worry about the consequences of having a little red in your meat.
“Rare Steak ‘is Safe to Eat'” BBC News. BBC, 2004. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.
Newgent, Jackie. “Can Rare Meat Be Safe?” Www.eatright.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.
Me eating a rare steak.