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Monday, September 20, 2010

Testing For Steak Doneness

Like almost everything we can think of, steak is infinitely more delicious when cooked over coals.  Sometimes, though, when you're unable to control the temperature easily, it may be difficult to know when your steak is done. And sometimes a meat thermometer isn't handy.  So how do you know when steak is done?

Once again, we hand it to our barbecue mentor Steve Raichlen for bringing the finger poke test into the light.  While he may not have invented this method, he has mentioned it plenty on both of his popular shows.  This test involves comparing the feeling of your hand to the feeling of a steak.

First, put the tip of your thumb and the tip of your index finger together.  You know that little fleshy mound at the base of your thumb?  Feel the side of that.  This level of softness and springiness is analogous to the feeling of a rare cooked steak.

Next, put the tip of your thumb against the tip of your middle finger.  Again, feel the side of the mound at the base of your thumb.  Do you notice it's slightly firmer?  This corresponds to a medium to medium-rare steak - possibly the most popular level of doneness in the beef world.

You can probably guess where this is going... put the tip of your thumb against your ring finger, and the feeling then corresponds to a medium to medium-well steak.  Finally, put the tip of your thumb against your pinky finger, and you can be familiar with the tactile qualities of an overdone steak... I mean, a well-done steak.

Of course, performing this test means touching hot steak cooking on a grill, so be careful.  If you're too sensitive to heat, ask one of your friends to do it, or try to judge by poking with the side of a utensil.  Just see if it's reasonably springy, but not too soft.

Also remember, steak may be delicious when it's reddish pink in the middle, and it's safe to eat because bacteria lingering on the surface will still be killed during cooking.  However, this is not true of burgers; since they are ground, bacteria may be in the middle, so burgers should be cooked through even if you do prefer them on the rare side.

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