Knowing the different levels of steak and beef temperature or doneness is important. How else will you get it cooked the way you like it?
However, it can be challenging to communicate how you want your meat cooked in French-speaking countries since some standard terms in English like “medium rare,” “medium well,” and “well done” may not translate directly or don’t exist. This can lead to confusion over nuances such as “medium rare in French,” which is called “à point,” literally “on point.”
To help you navigate the French culinary terrain, I’ve put together a guide to the various levels of doneness in French for beef (steak and hamburgers). I also created a helpful chart that compares the temperature differences (doneness levels) between the English-speaking and French worlds.
Towards the end of this article, I also explain some terms for other types of meat, and fish, such as Ahi Tuna steak,
foie gras, larger cuts of meat, et.
How to order a steak in France cooked the way you like it (and hamburgers, too)
When you ask for a steak, hamburger, and sometimes other meats to be cooked to a specific level of doneness, it’s called “doneness preference” or simply “cooking preference.”
In English, there’s a standard scale of 5 different “cooking preferences” that chefs and steak eaters commonly use. They are medium rare, medium, medium well, and well done.
And then there is a lesser-known level called “blue rare” steak, sometimes called “blue,” which is even more rare than rare. Although blue rare exists in many English-speaking countries, it’s not a popular choice.
|6 levels for cooking steak in English
Understanding Cooking Levels: Definitions and Variations
The cooking terms for levels of doneness indicate how much or little a meat is cooked, directly corresponding to its internal core temperature, colour, taste, and texture. As you cook the meat longer, its core temperature increases.
As I mentioned above, standard levels of doneness that people prefer to use in English include “rare,” “medium rare,” “medium,” “medium well,” and “well done,” each representing a different degree of cooking and pinkness in the center of the meat.
For example, a well-done steak is cooked thoroughly with no pink or red and has an interior temperature of at least 158F or 70C. It is tougher and firmer because all the fat and liquids have been cooked away.
- Level of doneness: Well done
- Temperature: Minimum 158F or 70C
- Colour: Grayish-brown with no pink or red.
- Texture: Tougher, firmer, and chewier than lesser-cooked meat.
- Taste: The exterior has charred and caramelized notes. The interior loses that rare meaty or beefy flavour, usually dry.
Doneness Level is not an exact science:
No matter how streamlined this scale has become, cooking meat to your desired level of doneness isn’t an exact science.
In a busy kitchen, chefs aren’t standing over their stoves with a meat thermometer or colour chart to ensure your steak is cooked at the exact temperature that falls somewhere on the doneness scale. It’s mainly done by time, colour and sometimes by touch.
There is also a bit of subjectivity regarding steak cooking levels and how to define them, which vary by person, region, and country.
- Rare in one country might be considered medium rare in another country.
- One home cook might call a pink steak medium rare, while their neighbour might look at that same piece of pink steak and call it medium.
But don’t worry; there is enough overlap, and the differences are usually minimal. I just wanted to bring that to your attention as we go through the cooking levels of doneness and their temperatures.
There are 4 main cooking levels for beef and steak temperatures in French (levels of doneness)
– In France, eating steaks or any meat where you can order how much or little it’s been cooked is similar to English, but there are differences.
– First, English terms like medium, medium rare, medium, and medium well don’t fit nicely into a traditional French restaurant’s vocabulary because the French use a completely different vocabulary to describe the different steak cooking levels.
– Instead of 6 cooking levels for steak, there are 4 steak cooking levels in French that French chefs and steak eaters prefer.
– While blue rare steak is not common or popular in most English-speaking countries, in France, it is.
– And lastly, while well-done steak is generally acceptable in English-speaking countries, it’s rare in France, and some think it’s an abomination to cook a good steak so thoroughly.
Comparing the 4 steak temperatures in France and their English equivalents:
Below is a chart comparing the core temperature level of doneness in France and most English-speaking countries.
I’ve given a range of temperatures rather than an exact temperature. Remember that the recommended temperature for doneness levels can vary slightly depending on different sources and preferences.
For the French core temperatures, I used the official French government site responsible for overseeing education and youth-related policies, programs, and initiatives in France (Ministry of National Education and Youth) “Ministère de l’Éducation nationale et de la Jeunesse.”
You’ll notice a couple of differences.
- There is no equivalent for “medium” or “medium well ” in French.
- Core temperatures don’t always align. i.e. The core temp for medium rare in French overlaps with “à point” but not exactly.
- There is no common term for Medium or Medium well in French.
of Steak Doneness
à peine saisi
|On Point /
**Terms in French-speaking Quebec
FYI, beef cooking terms are similar in French-speaking Quebec but not exactly the same as in France.
You may hear these cooking-level terms in restaurants in Quebec.
Bleu – very rare, aka blue rare
Saignant – rare
à point / medium saignant / mi- saignat – medium rare
Medium – medium
Bien cuit – well done
Deep dive into each of the French cooking level terms in France
Below is an in-depth explanation of each French cooking level term for France.
Read to the very end to learn other cooking-level terms in French where you might be asked for your “doneness preference” or “cooking preference” in France (Duck, ahi tuna, etc.)
1) BLUE RARE IN FRENCH:
“Bleu” (literally “blue”)
Core Temerature : 45-49°C (113-120°F)
Ask for your steak to be cooked “bleu” ( French for blue) in France, and you’ll get an extra blood rare steak, one step above steak sashimi.
Although there is a term for this level of doneness in English, it’s called “rare blue steak,” it’s not as common in the US or the UK as it is in France.
Another way to describe rare blue steak is “à peine saisi” /Ah-pen-sayzi/, which roughly translates to “barely cooked.” You can also use this term if you want your ahi tuna seared rare, but you would never ask for your ahi tuna cooked “bleu.”
Bleu rare steak cooking time & core temperature:
Times can vary by cook and by the thickness of the steak, but in general, a rare blue steak is seared for as little as 10 to 30 seconds on each side in a scorching skillet over high heat as long as the inside remains cool and essentially raw with a core temperature that does NOT get above 50°C, about 113F.
Why do people like rare blue steak?”
Because ordering a blue rare steak doesn’t get a chance to cook long enough to melt the fatty marble of a steak, the meats used for this temperature are usually lean cuts of beef, not fatty ones.
Lean meat cuts lack fat and become tough and dry the longer it’s cooked. The more you cook meat, the more moisture is purged. Muscle fibres also contract, making the beef firmer as it cooks.
In other words, people like to order rare blue steak, which must be low in fat because it stays tender and retains more moisture and flavour.
You might be interested in reading: 29 bloody good raw beef dishes from around the world
Is it safe to eat extra rare blue steak?
Some countries don’t recommend eating rare or raw meat because it may contain pathogens. But most of the pathogens or parasites don’t penetrate dense beef. So once the outside is cooked, a very rare steak should be perfectly safe to eat.
Use your best judgment.
Another aspect of eating pathogen-free meat, rare or raw, is to eat meat from beef that’s been mainly grass-fed. Cows have evolved to digest the nutrients in the grass, but that’s not true for grain-fed cows. A mostly grass-fed cow that’s spent its life in pastures will have a healthier immune system and pose little threat to people who like eating rare or raw meat.
French consumers consider meat with hormones unhealthy and possibly dangerous, which is one of the reasons giving hormones to animals for meat production is outlawed in France and the European Union. France does not import US meat that’s been fed hormones or growth antibiotics.
Why is an extra rare steak called bleu (blue)?
Some French online sources said a very rare steak is called blue because the meat has a slightly blue tint.
However, according to the Larousse Gastonomique, an encyclopedia mainly about French gastronomy, “cooking au bleu” was originally a method of cooking Freshwater fish, especially trout.
This nearly forgotten method of cooking trout au bleu got its name from the scales, which turn a bluish colour when they come in contact with vinegar, one of the ingredients for the recipe. Somehow, this cooking term may have become tied to a rare blue steak.
Are the two terms related? I have no idea.
You might be interested in reading: Steak Tartare 101: The Raw Facts about Your Burning Questions
2) RARE STEAK IN FRENCH:
Saignant (literally means bloody)
Core temperature: 50° to 55°C (122° to 131°F)
A rare steak in French is steak “saignant,” which means bloody steak.
A steak saignant is cooked slightly longer than a rare blue steak but is still relatively rare. 75% of the interior is red with a thin charred crust, and the flesh is still tender and juicy.
It’s pretty common to order steaks and hamburgers with low-fat content rare (saignant).
Magret de canard, the duck breast from a Moulard duck, is usually ordered medium rare in French (saignant) because it has a low rfat content. Fyi, the Moulard duck is also raise for it’s liver (foie gras.)
Saignant cooking time:
Depending on the thickness of the meat, each side should be seared for about 60 seconds to 1 minute and 30 seconds in a scorching skillet over high heat. The core temperature should reach about 50 to 55 °C (122° to 131°F)
3) MEDIUM RARE IN FRENCH
Á point (literally on point or just right)
Core Temperature: 55° to 60°C (131° to 140°C)
If you want to order a medium rare steak in French, you’ll need to ask for a steak “à apoint.”
“Cuit à point” means “cooked just right,” as in perfect and figures somewhere between medium-rare to slightly less than medium. The interior is not fully cooked and has a slightly pink interior or rosé colour.
“Á point” cooking time & core temperature:
A steak cooked “à point” is usually seared over high heat; then the temperature is lowered and cooked for about 1 minute 30 seconds per side. The core temperature shouldn’t exceed 60°C, about 140F, which is at the highest end of medium rare.
There is no medium or medium well steak in French.
In some English-speaking countries, the next level of doneness would be medium, followed by medium well, but that’s not the case in France; the terms medium and medium rare in French don’t exist. The next cooking level jumps from medium rare to well done.
- medium rare = 130°-140°F
- medium= 140°-150°F
4) WELL DONE STEAK IN FRENCH:
Bien Cuit (literally well-cooked)
Core Temperature: 64-70°C (147-158°F)
If you want to order a well-done steak in French, you’ll need to say “bien cuit,” literally well cooked.
Bien cuit or well done is probably the least popular way for steak eaters to order their meat in France. The interior is fully cooked with no pink visible.
French people often complain that well-done meat is too tough and dry and has lost all its favour.
Sometimes, French cooks and steak lovers compare this level of doneness to the sole of a shoe.
- Cuisson de la semelle (cooked like a shoe sole)
- Façon semelle (Shoe sole way)
These terms idiomatically mean to cook your meat until it becomes like shoe leather.
Bien cuit cooking time & core temperature:
Depending on the thickness of the meat, each side is cooked for several minutes until cooked through. The core temperature is 70c (160 F) or more.
Don’t ever ask for your steak “bien fait.”
“Bien fait” translates to “well done” in English, NOT a term used to describe a cooking level. It’s used more to acknowledge someone’s accomplishments or a job well done. “Well, Done Johnny” (Bien fait Johnny.)
- You can also use “bien fait” sarcastically, like “well-done genius.”
- You can also use “bien fait” to describe someone who is well built, “il est bien fait” (He is well built) or (He is well made.)
“Bien cuit” translates to “well cooked” in English, specifically referring to the doneness of cooked meat.
Example dialogue for ordering a steak in France.
- Hello, I would like the steak and fries/crisps please. (bonjour, Je vais prendre le steak frites s’il vous plaît.)
Possible ways the server will ask how you would like your steak or hamburger cooked.
- How would you like your steak cooked? (Comment voulez vous votre steak? )
- Which cooking level? (à quelle cuisson?)
- And the cooking level? (comme cuisson?)
“Cuisson,” which means “cooking” or “baking” in English, also refers to the degree to which food has been cooked, like medium rare.
- Medium rare please (à point s’il vous plaît)
- Rare please (Saignant s’il vous plaît)
- Extra rare please (Bleu s’il vous plaît)
- Well done please (Bien cuit s’il vous plaît)
Other cooking terms
In addition to bleu, saignant, à point and bien cuit, there are other French cooking levels for different types of meat and fish. Here are a few you may come across on a French menu in France.
Pink: “Rosé” (for larger cuts of meat)
Rosé is a term used for larger cuts of meat such as roasts, lamb and white meats such as pork, veal and poultry.
In some parts of France, people do use the term rosé for steaks, which figures somewhere around medium, depending on who you talk to.
Seared: “Mi-cuit” (usually for fish)
If you see the term “mi-cuit,” which means “half-cooked” or “semi-cooked, it’s a term generally used to describe the level of doneness for certain types of fish such as seared ahi tuna, aka tataki tuna (and sometimes meat.)
It’s a term used to describe a cooking technique where fish, such as Ahi Tuna or meat, is cooked to a point where the exterior is seared, but the interior remains partially raw or undercooked.
Seared ahi tuna figures somewhere on the doneness scale between rare and medium-rare in French, depending on the cook.
Mi-cuit can also be used to describe the cooking level for
But we’re not done yet.
Mi-cuit is also a baking term for cakes cooked with a soft, gooey center. For example, a molten chocolate cake can be called “mi-cuit au chocolat.”
Pan fried: “Poêlé.”
The French word for pan, as in frying pan, is poêle /pwell/.
If you see poêlé(e) on a French menu, it means that something has been pan-fried. Technically, anything cooked in a pan is poêlé, and you’ll usually see this word as part of the directions in a recipe that requires pan frying.
Sometimes, dish names include the word pan-fried poêlé(e) to describe the dish. For example, a popular dish in France, especially during the holiday season, is
Final Thoughts about ordering steaks in France
Ordering a steak à point or a hamburger saignant in France doesn’t have to be complicated.
Remember, there are four basic ways to order how well done or rare you would like your steak or hamburger in France.
Bleu, saignant, à point and bien cuit.
For ahi tuna, mi-cuit pretty much means seared.