One of the great joys about steaks like New York strip, ribeye, porterhouse, and fillet mignon is that you can grill them to a relatively low temperature to leave a little bit of pink inside. Even a cut like a tenderloin roast petite can still be safely grilled rare, medium-rare, medium, or medium well with a little pink inside.
These varying degrees of steak doneness are typically defined by both the feel of the meat as well as the internal temperature. The higher the internal temperature of a steak the less pink it is inside and the firmer the meat fibers will be to the touch as well as when you cut it with a knife.
Steak Degree of Doneness Temperature Range
The USDA defines the degrees of steak doneness by the following temperature range.
- A rare steak has an internal temperature of 120 to 125 degrees.
- A medium-rare steak has an internal temperature of 130 to 135 degrees.
- A medium steak has an internal temperature of 140 to 145 degrees.
- A medium-well steak has an internal temperature of 150 to 155 degrees.
- A well-done steak has an internal temperature of 165 degrees or more.
The small range of temperature in between each degree of doneness is often referred to as “Push.”
Though I think you’ll find most steak lovers feel that the 135-degree medium-rare is the ideal temperature for steak. Though there are certainly a few people out there who demand a well-done steak is the only thing to grace their plate.
Tougher Cuts of Beef
When we start to wander away from the tender juicy world of steak, we find other cuts of beef that are certainly underdone and tough, even at 160 degrees! This is because these bigger, tougher cuts of other beef have a lot more intramuscular fat and connective tissue that barely starts to render at 145.
They simply need more time and sometimes a higher internal temperature for the connective tissues like collagen to render and break down into gelatin, and for the fat to render into succulent beef juice.
This includes things like beef knuckles, rump roast, chuck roasts, and sometimes even the beloved prime rib roast.
What Time & Temperature to Cook Large Cuts of Beef
If you’ve got a large piece of beef to contend with, and you’re not sure how or how long to roast, grill, or smoke it, you can use the following entries as a basic guide.
Prime Rib Roast
The beloved prime rib roast is usually reserved for special occasions. It’s part of the same rib primal that ribeye steaks are cut from, and it is loaded with intramuscular fat, with just a small amount of connective tissue. Adding to the cooking conundrum is that some prime rib roasts come bone-in, which includes more connective tissue and can alter the degree of doneness in the meat near the bone!
Technically, when you’re smoking or oven-roasting a prime rib roast, you can use the same degree of doneness metric that you would with a steak. Though most people will tell you to take it another 5 degrees more, as the deepest recesses of the meat can sometimes be underdone by steak temperature standards.
You also need to bear in mind that the end pieces are going to be 10 to 15 degrees hotter and more done than the deepest middle of the meat. If you have diners that prefer a medium or perhaps even well-done slice of prime rib, you can give them these end pieces.
Beef Rump or Pot Roast
Beef roasts like pot roast, rump roast, or even arm roast have a lot more connective tissue and marbling. This means you need to take them up to 190 to 195 degrees internal temperature to get them truly tender and succulent. If you try to cook them to steak temperatures, even a 165-degree “Well-Done” steak, you’ll get meat with a mouth feel like rubber bands.
As an icon of classic Texas barbecue brisket typically needs to be smoked to an internal temperature of 185 to 190 degrees. Beyond 200 degrees, it starts to fall apart in the smoker.
You can also cure a beef brisket and then crust it to make your own pastrami. Though the ideal temperature for pastrami to come out of the smoker is usually closer to 185. It will eventually be sliced thin and often steamed before serving, and if it’s too tender this can be hard.
Beef Knuckle/Roast Beef
Beef knuckle for sliced roast beef sandwiches can be slow-cooked to an internal temperature of around 140 to 150 degrees, and then sliced thin. If you want to cook beef knuckle to serve as larger chunks for a roast beef dinner, like you’d serve with mashed potatoes, then you want to take it all the way to the 185 to 190-degree range.
Beef ribs tend to be much thicker and meatier than pork ribs. They also have more connective tissue and fat, which means they often need to be cooked longer and to a higher internal temperature of at least 185 to 195 degrees. The goal is to get them to the point where the bone will wiggle in the meat, but won’t immediately fall off on its own.
Try Reverse Searing Big Cuts of Beef
One of the increasingly popular ways of grilling, smoking, or roasting large cuts of beef is to reverse sear it. This starts with putting it in a low-temperature smoker or oven and letting it cook most of the way through. Once it gets within 10 to 15% of the intended internal temperature you take it to a direct flame to sear the outside and create a flavorful crust.
Tips for Finding the Best Thermometers to Check the Temperature of Beef
The size and thickness of the cut of beef will influence the best thermometer for checking its internal temperature.
For checking the degree of doneness with a steak, you want an instant-read probe thermometer. You just stick the tip into the thickest part of the meat and it tells you the temperature in less than a second.
If you’re going to cook a thicker piece of beef, then it’s better to use a leave-in meat thermometer. You insert it roughly halfway through the cooking/smoking/roasting process and leave it there. It tells you the internal temperature of the meat without leaving a massive hole that lets the succulent precious juices out.