Never overcook or undercook your meat again.

By Briana Riddock
September 12, 2017
Photography: Thomas J. Story.

If you squirm at the sight of pink in the middle of your steak, chances are you err towards overcooking the life out of it, to the point of being chewy, dry, and tough. Determining the doneness of meat can be a little nerve-wrecking if you are a cautious cook (particularly if you don’t have a meat thermometer handy). You cut a slit into the flesh of the meat during cooking to double check that it’s fully cooked on the inside as you watch all the precious moistening juices flow out. Next time, try the “touch test,” a trick used by skilled cooks to determine the doneness of a piece of meat. This simple technique allows your to sharpen your culinary senses by learning to feel for a cut of meat’s firmness. It does take a few tries to get the hang of it, but as with any new skill, practice makes perfect. The touch test uses the flesh between your thumb and bottom of your palm to estimate the “squishiness” that mimics meat at its various cooking stages. This test is generally best used with steak and other beef cuts, so whether you prefer your burger medium-rare or well-done, it’s an easy way to determine its doneness without having to slice into the patty. When checking the doneness of meat on the heat, use a utensil like tongs or a wooden spoon to lightly press the surface of the meat to check level of resistance, rather than pressing your hand directly to hot food. Follow the guide below to learn how to best utilize this tried and true technique.  


Briana Riddock

Open and relax your hand with all fingers extended. Use the index finger of your next hand to feel and add pressure to the your palm directly under your thumb. You notice there is lots of give and very little resistance. This is how the surface of meat feels when it is raw on the inside.   


Briana Riddock

Next, connect your thumb with the pinky of your open hand. Touching the same fleshy part under your thumb, you feel that this area becomes very resistant. This is how your meat feels when it is fully cooked on the inside, with no pink parts.     


Briana Riddock

Connect your thumb with the tip of your ring finger to determine a medium doneness. At this point your meat has a warm pink inside.  


Briana Riddock

At medium rare your meat has a warm red inside and can still be a little bloody. Connect your thumb with your middle finger; the area of your palm directly under your thumb now reflects how medium-rare should feel. 


Briana Riddock

Lastly, touch your thumb to your index finger for a rare doneness. As you can feel, this firmness is very close to the original open palm position with a very slight resistance.   


Please note that according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the only completely accurate way to measure doneness of meat is with a thermometer. The USDA recommends that you use a digital or dial thermometer to accurately determine if your meat is properly cooked. Ground beef, pork, and egg dishes should have an internal temperature of 160°F; beef, veal, and lamb at 145°F; and poultry at 165°F. Keeping a food thermometer around the kitchen is not only helpful when cooking meat, but also good to have when frying food and boiling sugar for caramel or candy.