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How to tell when a steak is done?

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Many people have asked me to be more quantitative in the posts I put on this site. I’ve been asked to give more exact times, temps and amounts. My Dad and Cousin are much better at this than I am. This is a hard thing for me. I don’t cook with recipes generally. I use a recipe once and then it’s sort of committed to memory. I don’t use meat thermometers. I decide when a piece of meat is done based on feel and practice. I don’t measure things out when I am making a rub or a marinade. And therein lies a problem – How do I teach feel to someone else?

For the most part I can’t. So I need to be more diligent in my prep work. I need to actually find the measuring cups and spoons that I’m pretty sure are in my kitchen somewhere and measure out my ingredients to be relayed to you through this site in a more quantitative manner.

While for the most part I cannot teach feel there is something I can teach in terms of feel and that is how to tell a steak is done without a meat thermometer or slicing into it. It is said that there are only two ways to tell if a snake is poisonous in the United States – if it’s got a rattle or if it’s got fangs. Finding out if a snake is poisonous using the latter method is akin to slicing into a steak on the grill to see if it’s cooked properly. By the time you know it’s too late!!!

So if you are cooking steaks for 6 people and only have one meat thermometer how can you tell how all six steaks are cooked to the proper doneness? Simple. Just use the thumb method:

What is the thumb method? The thumb method is so simple you will wonder how you had never heard of it before. Simply touch the tip of your forefinger to the tip of your thumb to make the OK sign.

Now pinch the meaty part of the thumb close to the palm and wrist:

See how spongy that is? Take your tongs and push on the top of the steak in the middle (do not squeeze the steak as it will not give the same results). When a steak is as spongy as this it is rare (125–130°F/52–55°C)

Now touch the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb:

Again, squeeze the meaty part of the thumb by the palm and wrist:

The meaty part of the thumb is a little more firm that it was when you were touching your forefinger to your thumb right? A steak that is about as firm as the meaty part of your thumb here is medium rare (130–140°F/55–60°C)

Now touch the tip of your ring finger to the tip of your thumb and squeeze the meaty part of the thumb:

The meaty part of the thumb is a bit firmer yet again, right? That is the equivalent of a steak that is medium (140–150°F/60–65°C).

Now touch the pinky to the thumb and squeeze the meaty part of the thumb:

That is the equivalent to a medium well steak (150–155°F/65–69°C).

Since the vast majority of us are out of fingers at this point how do you tell if a steak is well done? For that just squeeze the sole of your shoe. When it is that consistency it is well done!?!?  I’m just kidding for those that like theirs well done.  If the steak is grilled and rested properly it will still be juicy and delicious if well done.

The moral of the story: take your tongs and give the steak a little push to see how spongy or firm it is. The firmer it is the more done it is. It’s that easy.

Also, you can follow the Grillin Fools on their Facebook page where you can post your grillin own pictures or join the general grillin conversation.  Or, you can follow them on Twitter @GrillinFool

  1. Chin-Chen Lee says:

    This might just be the most brilliant idea (if it works…), will give a try and report next time around.

  2. Amazing, I’m cooking up some new York strips tonight and will def try this!! I love your site, I had always cut into steaks to see how cooked they are and never knew this was a big mistake. Thanks for the tips and pictures, your site is now saved to my favorites!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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