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'Make Mine Medium-Rare': Heat Conduction in Steak *

Time Required Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Low ($20 - $50)
Safety Adult supervision is recommended
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


How do you like your steak? The internal temperatures for beefsteaks at various levels of "doneness" are as follows: medium-rare, 145°F; medium, 155°F; medium-well, 165°F; and well-done, 170°F. What factors determine how long you have to cook a steak to reach the desired temperature? The temperature of the steak before you start to cook it will clearly be important. The temperature the steak is cooked at will also be a factor. And of course, the thickness of the steak will certainly affect how long you have to cook it. The thicker the steak, the longer it will take to heat up. But what is the precise relationship? Is it linear, in which case, doubling the thickness will also double the time it takes to reach a given temperature? Or is the time related to the square of the thickness, so that it will take four times as long to cook a steak that is twice as thick? Or is there some other quantitative relationship? You can settle this with a few experiments.

To investigate how thickness affects cooking time, vary only the thickness and keep everything else constant. Get some steaks that are 1 inch, 1.5 inches, and 2 inches thick. You can use chicken or turkey breasts instead of steak, if you like.

Heat water in a large pot, to boiling. Put a meat thermometer into the meat so that the probe is in the center of the steak. Record the starting temperature of the meat. Make sure the steaks are at the same temperature when they go into the hot water. Place one piece of meat into the hot water. Record how long it takes for the internal temperature to reach 155°F. Determine the quantitative relationship between thickness of the steak and the time it takes to heat the middle of the steak to 155°F. Repeat the experiment two more times and average your results. You can extend your investigations into the thermal conductivity of meat by looking at how the initial temperature affects cooking time.

As a variation, use an oven heated to 300°F to heat the steaks, rather than hot water.

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Science Buddies Staff. "'Make Mine Medium-Rare': Heat Conduction in Steak" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/FoodSci_p037.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 10). 'Make Mine Medium-Rare': Heat Conduction in Steak. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/FoodSci_p037.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-10-10


  • McGee, Harold. The Curious Cook. San Francisco: North Pont Press, 1990. pp. 33-34.

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