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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ordering a Steak in France, Cooked the Way you Like it.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated March 2018.

France’s ever-popular steak frites.
That’s steak and French fries in the USA and steak and chips in the UK.
Ordering a steak, in France, cooked to your specifications.
Outside of restaurants with Michelin stars, and other top-of-the-line restaurants ordering a steak requires little French.  It does not matter whether you order a steak in English or perfect or poorly accented French. Every French waiter understands an order for a steak.  Problems only appear when the waiter asks:  “Quelle cuisson, votre steak”?   How would you like your steak cooked?    North American and UK steakhouse terms such as medium-rare, medium or well-done do not translate, conceptually, into traditional restaurant French.

    Slices of from a  roast.
The terms used for a steak are the same for slices from roasts.
From Steak Frites to a Chateaubriand or slices from a roast use the lexicon below to have your steak or slices from a roast cooked the way you like them.
Print out the lexicon below from Bleu to Très Bien Cuit and take it with you.
For a more in-depth explanation on French cuts read the expanded list below the lexicon.
A lexicon for ordering your steak in France
Bleu –  (Pronounced ble).This is an extraordinarily rare steak, singed outside and bloody inside. 
Saignant – (Pronounced say-nyon, do not pronounce the T).  The French term for a rare steak.     
À Point - (Pronounced ah pwa). Perfectly cooked.  À point is used in the French kitchen for any food perfectly cooked, not just steaks! Forget what the guidebook says.  For a steak,  a point does not mean medium-rare! When an Italian chef wants perfect pasta, he or she will say al dente. In France for the same perfect pasta, a French chef would say à point: perfectly cooked. A steak in France cooked “ à point,”  will be rare-to-medium-rare, with the accent on the rare.  Rare-to-medium-rare is how the majority of Frenchmen and women prefer their steak and that is "à point", perfectly cooked.
Steak à point.
Entre à Point et Bien Cuit –  (Pronounced entray a pwan ay bien kwee). Medium rare; a little closer to medium. This is not traditional restaurant French, but I have used it, and it will work well when you wish to order a USA or UK medium-rare steak in France. The French word moyen, that in certain cases may be used as medium has no place at all in the French kitchen.  Use Entre à Point et Bien Cuit, entray a pwan ay bien kwee, for medium rare, almost medium.
Bien Cuit (Pronounced bien kwee). Well done. In France that is a medium to well-done steak; it will still be pink inside.
Très Bien Cuit –(Pronounced tray bien kwee). An exceptionally well-done steak; however, “très bien cuit” is not in any French chef’s dictionary though it will be clearly understood.  Nevertheless, do not order France's popular steak frites very well-done as that will bring you fried or grilled leather.                            
End of Lexicon.

Photograph courtesy of MonkeyBusiness/
How to order a steak in France, cooked the way you prefer.
If you have two minutes combine reading with clicking on and trying one of the pronunciation programs below. They are better than my written suggestions. I use them. (Best for single words)
The paragraphs below, explain in detail, the French required when ordering a steak cooked as you prefer.  Despite that, the shorter lexicon shown above is all you need when traveling in France and ordering a steak.
Bleu – (Pronounced blew).French for the color blue, and also the name used to order a seriously rare steak.  When you feel the need for a thick and almost raw steak, then a steak bleu will fill that need. A steak bleu indicates that the chef will have allowed the steak to take a quick peek at the grill or frying pan, in passing, on its way to your plate. A steak bleu, is just sealed on the outside; when cut that steak will leak copiously onto your plate; it will have been cooked, maybe, for one to two minutes on each side. 
Steak saignant
Saignant – (Pronounced say-nyon).The French term for a rare steak.  The direct translation into English of the word saignant would be bloody, or bleeding; despite that, a steak saignant will have been cooked a little more than a steak bleu.  A steak saignant will also leak, when you cut into it, though a little less copiously, than a steak bleu.   In North America and the UK, a steak saignant will still be considered a very rare steak. If you do want a properly prepared but uncooked steak, (chopped), then consider a Steak Tartar or a (thinly cut) Beef Carpaccio. 
À point  - (Pronounced ah pwa)Perfectly cooked, just ready or just right.  À point is the term used, in France, for all perfectly cooked foods, and not just for steaks.  Unfortunately, many guidebooks give the term “à point” as the way to order a medium-rare steak. However, a “steak à point” just means a perfectly cooked steak. Most French men and women; prefer their steaks rare-to-medium-rare steak, closer to rare than medium. Consequently the French order their steaks à point.
Steak a point
Photograph courtesy of essgee51
I have learned to prefer my steaks cooked à point, but that was my educated choice over twenty years ago. French servers with experience with English-speaking tourists will agree, generally with a smile, to take your à point steak back into the kitchen for a few more minutes on the grill or in the frying pan; when the diner considers à point too rare for his or her tastes.
A steak à point.
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivack
When English speaking diners, in France, wish to order their steaks medium-rare, I suggest they order steaks cooked “entre à point et bien cuit;” that translates as “between well cooked and à point” the result will be a US or UK medium-rare steak, closer to medium than rare.  So for medium-rare steaks just ask for your steak “entre à point et bien cuit”.(Pronounced entray a pwan ay bien kwee). 
Entre à Point et Bien Cuit  – (Pronounced entray a pwan ay bien kwee). Ordering medium rare steaks, in France, using entre à point et bien cuit has worked well for me, and all French servers will understand it.  A French diner sitting near you, and observing you order a steak cooked entre à point et bien cuit may consider your steak as overcooked; however, you are paying the piper. 
Entre à  point et bien cuit. – close to medium rare.
Moyen – (Pronounced moyen). Do not use the word moyen when ordering a steak. Moyen does mean average or the middle; however, in the French kitchen, the word moyen has nothing to do with steaks.  I have seen the word moyen in some guidebooks given as the French for a medium cooked steak; it is not. It may be French-Canadian, I do not know, but I do know that it is not French French.  In the kitchen, a chef may require a feu moyen, a medium flame, but I have never heard moyen used by any French chef for any steak. Despite that caveat, French waiters, in areas frequented by tourists, will generally understand when an English speaker requests a steak moyen; you will not have been the first.  Moyen is the French for average and middle, and so in certain cases, it can mean medium; moyen is also used in expressions like the Moyen Âge, the middle ages, and Moyen-Orient, the Middle East. In France, a US or UK medium cooked steak is closer to a French steak ordered bien cuit
Bien Cuit   (Pronouced bien kwee). Bien cuit translates into English as well cooked (well done); however, ordering a steak bien cuit, in France, generally produces a medium-to-well-done steak.  A steak bien cuit will not leak; however, its center will still be slightly rosé, pink.
A steak cooked bien cuit in a wine based sauce.
Photograph courtesy of Michael Johnson
Très Bien Cuit – (Pronounced tray bien kwee). Very well cooked. This is an extremely well-done steak.  Unfortunately, très bien cuit is generally not used for a steak in French kitchens; I made it up. Nevertheless, all servers with some experience with overseas visitors will understand the request. For the French très bien cuit means an overcooked steak, and the server may ask you to repeat that instruction. 
A tres bein cuite entrecote, a well-cooked rib steak.

Ordering steak frites
If you have ordered “Steak Frites” (steak and French Fries/chips); note that the steak used for this dish does not lend itself to being cooked well done. An experienced server will advise you reconsider, or order something else.  The cuts used for France’s relatively inexpensive steak frites are usually flank steaks, and a well-done flank steak will be tough and tasteless, practically inedible. For an enjoyable meal but still, with a well-done steak, I suggest that you look through the menu again.  Consider ordering a more expensive entrecôte.  An entrecote may be prepared as a well-cooked steak, or change your request for your steak très bien cuit to just bien cuit.

The French view of a steak cooked très bien cuit

An entrecote
Entrecôte (Entrecote) -  An entrecote is a US rib-eye steak; in the UK this is a rib-eye or sirloin. An entrecote is quite an upgrade from a hanger steak, so check the price. If you do like your steaks very well-done, then an entrecote may lose a little of its taste, and texture, but will still be edible when well-done.  N.B. The US sirloin is a wholly different cut to a UK sirloin.

An entrecote with Sauce Bearnaise on the side.
Photograph courtesy of @10.jpg

  N.B. A US Filet Mignon is a French Filet de Boeuf, a large cut from the tenderloin; in the UK that is a Beef Fillet. However, on French menus a Filet Mignon, unless clearly noted will be a cut from a pork tenderloin, a Pork Fillet. 

When ordering your steak remember the French also make great French fries.
Photo by Courtesy of
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Behind the French Menu
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  1. For sure the French chefs are the best in the world, but ...

    Fewer are the French "Chefs de cuisine" who can fry frites like the Belgian chefs!
    Those are the ones where the so called "French fries" come from!

    In the early 1960s many Belgian started a "Frituur" (Flemish/Dutch) or "Friterie" (French) in the south of France. It's there the French people heard and learned for the first time about frites.

    Before that time French people considered potatoes as a pure vegetable, eating their meat with vegetables (of which potatoes were part) and bread.
    As dessert people often ate a little salad with vinegar and oil to digest their food.

    LOL, "French fries" should be called "Belgian fries", but I guess the latter is not sounding as nice as the first. :D

    In earlier days "frites" were sold on the street in little caravans since the late 1940s, begin '50s.

    Nowadays they are sold in a nice Friterie with a variety of other products.

    Belgian food and cuisine is very similar to the French kitchen and was most probably adopted from the French.

  2. So, the cooking of the meat... the sentence "bien cuit" and "à point" are awfulcause they say exactly the same thing. Bien is well, à point is perfectly well.... and for many people it is... the old shoe :-)

    In Peru they speak about 1/4 cooked (bleu), 1/2 cooked (saignant), 3/4 and 4/4... But if you want real saignant, ask bleu in a restaurant, even you'll have a little "trop cuit". The "bleu" is just gone on the fire some seconds on every side.

  3. Hi.

    The French have many many uses for the expression "bien cuit". Bien cuit means well done and not only for steaks.

    If you want a baguette with a crispy crust you also ask for a baguette "bien cuit". Bien cuit means "well done" in English. :-)

    I cannot comment on the usage in Peru as I have never been there. I would like to visit and as I do speak Spanish I am sure I will find a way to have my steak cooked "a point".



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  5. Traditionnaly, these are the 3 used, sometimes asked by the waiter :
    Saignant, à point, bien cuit.
    (i've never heard someone saying "très bien cuit" or "entre à point et bie cuit"... this is a little silly :)
    But "bleu" is common, but not very popular, if people want it rare, they usually prefer "saigant".

  6. Thank you for your comment. However, I wrote this post, using my own experiences, and I noted that.

    From many excellent meals in France ordering a steak cooked to the popular UK and USA medium rare was always a problem. I solved that years ago with my own French creation entre a point and bien works. I also have never seen or heard a French diner order a steak saignant, though it is an accepted form. The visitors to France who want their steaks cooked all the way through will also have a hard time as I noted in the post; see the picture of the boot. For visitors to France with little conversational French my solutions do work.


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