Traditionally there are six degrees of doneness that can be applied to steak. Blue rare is the name given to the first degree of doneness. It is defined as a steak that simply has a light sear on the outside and is red and raw throughout.
Why Do They Call it Blue?
The name blue steak comes from the color of the meat at first cut. All meat contains something called myoglobin, the protein that is full of iron inside meat. When you see a red, juicy steak in the supermarket, what you’re seeing is myoglobin. Pork appears pink because it has less and chicken has even less so it appears very pale.
You may have had a steak that sat around for a while and noticed that it slowly begins to turn sort of gray/brown and unappetizing. This is a result of myoglobin oxidizing. It could indicate spoilage but not necessarily. The longer it sits out, the more color it loses.
When meat is freshly butchered or sealed air tight like in a grocery display, it will retain that bright red color for a while. Most of us consider this the most appetizing look for steak and other beef and supermarkets do a lot of tricks to try to retain this color for as long as they can.
When a piece of beef is very freshly cut, and for a very brief time, the color is rich and deep and can appear very dark red to purple. This deep, rich, purple shade is where the name “blue” comes from. The meat is fresh, rich and barely cooked so it can retain that deep color for a short time.
For what it’s worth, not everyone agrees with this reason for the name. Because that deep purple red is not actually blue, some sources suggest the name comes the fact that the meat is still raw and relatively cool inside with blue being the color we associate with cold.
Blue Rare Steak Temperatures
A proper blue rare steak has just a kiss of a sear on the outside and has only been on the heat long enough to barely warm the center. Internally the steak should be around 115 F. For comparison, if you were looking to cook a more popular rare steak, which would still be around 75% red in the middle and running red when you cut it, the internal temperature would be off by another 10 degrees and around 125 F. A mid-rare steak would take this up another 10 degrees. At 135 F you’re getting what is arguably the most popular and the most recommended cook for a steak, at least in restaurants.
At 115 degrees, a steak is just warm in the center. This is arguably the lowest temperature any meat or fish should ever be cooked to unless it’s a fully rare preparation. Even tuna and salmon should be cooked to about 125 degrees.
It’s possible to cook a steak to less than 115 degrees however the center of such a steak would likely be cold still and would therefore technically just be raw meat. At that point you have less a steak and more an ill-prepared tartare.
Is Blue Steak Safe to Eat?
People often worry about food borne illness and bacteria and to see something like a blue rare steak, a barely more than raw preparation, makes some people nervous. The good news is that, if properly prepared, there should be little cause for concern. Cooked meat, even cooked blue, can be done very safely.
If the meat is still fresh then bacteria is only a risk on the surface, not actually inside the meat. Remember, bacteria comes from outside so it gets on the meat and breeds on the meat’s surface. Raw meat can become contaminated during the slaughter and processing because animals might have e.coli or other bacteria in their stomachs. As the meat is butchered, this can spread and get on the meat and potentially be dangerous. If the meat is ground up as hamburger, then the potential for bacteria to be spread all through the meat is present. However, a steak would likely only have bacteria on the outer surface.
If blue rare steak is seared properly, any surface bacteria will be killed so there is little risk of contamination. Again, this all implies properly handling and preparation techniques. Obviously if meat is prepared in unsanitary conditions then any cook could potentially be dangerous.
One thing to remember when cooking blue rare steak is that the sear needs to be complete. The top and bottom of the steak are what most people think of when they sear but for such a lightly cooked preparation it’s important to sear the sides as well, just to be safe and to remove any potential worry over bacteria.
A steak cooked to a higher degree of doneness will likely be exposed to enough heat to kill all bacteria even without the side sear. But a blue steak runs the risk of that bacteria not being killed off, so the side sear is an important element.
A good tip to remember is that, after you have flipped your steak, clean off the tongs or whatever you are using to handle the meat. This will reduce the change of cross contamination from the steak to the utensil and back again. Sanitize the tool after every handling of the meat to reduce any risk.
What Does a Blue Steak Taste Like?
Aside from seasoning you may use when cooking your steak, the meat should have what many people consider a more gamey flavor than meat that has cooked longer. This is due, in part, to the presence of the proteins and other compounds that have not yet been destroyed or altered by high heat. The mean should be juicy but the taste should have an umami punch, potentially with a touch of saltiness. Depending on the cut you may get a notes from fat as well, and a textural element that is unexpected for steak if you’ve never tried blue. In general, expect an almost earthy flavor from the iron and juices you’ll be tasting as you chew.
The outer sear should have the texture and flavor you expect of a steak and if it was a hard enough sear the Maillard reaction will have allowed amino acids and sugars to form that crust or bark we all know and love in a well-seared piece of meat. It should be delicate here, clearly not the crust you get on a long smoked brisket or pork roast, but definitely a contrast to the softer, spongier meat within. This is why it’s especially important to well season your steak also, as the salt from the outside can help boost that raw, rare meat within.
How to Cook Blue Steak
Cooking a blue steak isn’t terribly difficult but you definitely don’t want to leave it during the process. The difference between blue and rare is seconds, depending on the temperature you’re using and, ideally, you’re using a very hot grill or cook top.
- Cook your blue steak from room temperature, not cold. So take the steaks out of the fridge or cooler and let them sit out for 15 to 30 minutes or so to warm up. Season with salt, pepper or a dry rub if you like.
- Get your grill or skillet up to temperature. A cast iron skillet or a super hot grill can offer the best results but go with what you’re most comfortable using. If using cast iron, add some oil and way until it just hits the smoke point before dropping your steaks. If using a grill, get it as hot as possible and keep the lid up as you drop it on the grate
- The size of your steaks will of course determine cook time here. A thinner sirloin may literally take one minute per side. A thicker cut may need 90 seconds to even two minutes, but you’re cutting it close. If you’re flipping on a grill, drop the steak to a different part when you flip it to ensure as hot a surface as possible.
- If you’re cooking in a pan you can baste the steak if you like, adding butter and some seasonings, tilting the pan and basting the steak while it cooks but it’s still going to be a quick sear and the effort may not prove as flavorful as it would with a steak cooked a couple of minutes longer to a medium rare. Again, it’s just your preference.
- Remember to clean your tongs between flips to minimize the chance of bacteria. After the other side is seared, grab the tongs again and now you’re going to sear the sides. You’ll need to have a firm but not crushing grip on the steak and you’ll have to move it around to get a nice, even sear. Depending on the size and shape of the steak you may be able to get some decent rolling action going that can help get even searing all around.
- Once seared all around, remove from heat and use an instant read thermometer to check the inside. You’re looking for that 115 degrees. If you’re a little above, no worries. Above 120 you’re into rare territory, however.
- If the steak is at the right temp then you are ready to go. Most steaks require a resting period but remember, that’s to allow the juices to redistribute inside the steak after being exposed to heat. A blue steak doesn’t need to do that because it should not have gotten to a high enough temperature to allow the tissue to squeeze and contract inside.
What Cut is Best for a Blue Rare Steak?
Because you’re essentially eating a raw steak, you need the right cut if you want to go blue. The act of cooking is what breaks down proteins in meat to make it more tender and easier to eat. To some degree a marinade or other tenderizer will do this, too, but the cooking is usually the magic ingredient that makes a steak what most of us would consider edible.
Since a blue rare steak has very little cooking, particularly inside, the texture of the mean can be very hard to chew through. It can feel spongy, tough, chewy and slippery as well. That’s part of the reason it’s not a more popular cook style. Tougher and fattier cuts are going to let you down as a blue steak, as will really thin steaks even though they may be extremely delicious when cooked to medium rare. You’ll want to avoid hanger steaks, skirt steaks (save those for something like skirt steak skewers) and flank steaks which are much better for flank steak tacos. And, even though they are steakhouse favorites, keep the ribeye tomahawks and porterhouse out of this conversation as well. The fat marbling and/or toughness of any of these cuts will make them unpleasant. The thinner steaks would probably still taste great, but will be much harder to cook to the temperature you want.
The best cuts of beef for a blue steak are going to be lean and tender. You want lean because unrendered, raw fat is unappealing to almost everyone. Chewing raw fat can put you off undercooked meat entirely. That means you want a filet mignon, a sirloin or a flat iron. Keep the cuts a good thickness, at least one inch but two inches is great, too.
Difference Between Medium Rare Steak and Blue Rare Steak
As we saw above, the temperature difference between a medium rare, which is the most recommended steak temp, and blue rare is just 20 degrees F. The texture of a blue steak is going to be much chewier than medium, and it will feel less juicy in your mouth as the fat has not begun to render out at all.
A medium steak will have had more time to take on flavors from seasonings and it will also have had more time to develop more of a crust on the outside depending on the cooking style. Many people consider a medium rare steak more flavorful in that it offers up more of a traditional steak flavor as we understand it and the heat that has penetrated the interior of the steak allows for more development of complex flavors on a chemical level.
The Bottom Line
A perfect blue steak should be cooked to an internal temperature of around 115 degrees F. The goal of cooking a blue rare steak is to achieve a solid sear on the outside of the meat only while leaving the interior nearly completely raw and only just warmed up past being cold.
Properly prepared blue rare steaks should pose no risk to the health of diners as bacteria should not be an issue after proper searing. Again, this depends on proper food handling and is subject to the same dangers any food is if not properly handled.
The best cuts for blue steaks are lean tender. Cooking only takes a minute or two and the flavor, though perhaps an acquired taste, is one many do enjoy, as is the contrasting texture of the seared exterior with the near raw interior.