Cooking a steak can be stressful when you aren't sure how to tell if it's done. Steak can be touchy – just a minute too much and the steak is overcooked. But pulling a steak a minute too soon can also be disappointing when you finally carve it only to find it bloody. With time comes experience, and you'll learn to tell when a steak is done using several techniques.
When you are cooking just for yourself, you learn how to get steak the way you want it. But when you are cooking for other people who like their steak anywhere from a perfect medium rare to a medium well, it's easy to feel stress about determining when the meat is cooked thoroughly.
We're going to go over some of the ways you can tell your steaks is done. Cooking time and temperature are the obvious options, but one of the most popular ways to tell when a steak is done (without using a thermometer) is the touch test. The touch test is a method of feeling the doneness of a steak by feel. This isn't a fool-proof method of judging your steak, but learning how to do it is alway a handy skill to have. Either way, getting familiar with all three of these methods will help take the stress out of cooking a steak.
The best way to learn how to time a steak is when cooking in a cast iron skillet on the stove top. Cast iron gives you a consistent temperature that makes it easy to learn to time the steaks. If you are cooking a boneless steak that is about one inch thick, plan on flipping your steaks at 4 minutes for rare to medium rare. At about 7 minutes per side, you'll end up with a medium well to well done steak.
Timing steaks on the grill is a little more difficult. The timing method can be effective as long as you know what temperature your grill runs at. Since this is more difficult to gauge without a thermometer, the touch test is more appropriate.
Touch Tests for Steak Doneness
There are two type of touch test that basically describe the same thing. One test uses the "palm test" and the other is the "face test." Both tests help you to define the amount of doneness based on the way your beef feels.
Turn your hand palm-up and lightly spread your fingers so that your hand is relaxed. With your other hand, touch the fleshy part of your palm near the thumb. The softest part near your thumb will approximate the way a raw steak feels. You'll see this test also called the finger test.
Now press your thumb and pinky finger together and feel the same spot. This is what a well done steak feels like. Touch your thumb to your ring finger for the way medium feels. The middle finger approximates medium rare. The feeling of your palm when pressing the index finger and thumb is a rare steak.
This isn't our favorite method, but it works better for some people than the palm test. The basic idea is the same: you can tell the doneness of your steak by touching your face. The forehead represents the way a medium-well steak will feel. The cheek represents the way a medium-rare steak feels. The chin feels the way a medium steak feels.
There are a couple reasons we don't like this method. For one, Beards make it difficult to tell what the chin feels. We've also found that there are too many differences in the way faces feel to get reliable results. If it works for you, awesome. People we know who like this method touch the steak and their face at the same time.
Easiest Way to Tell When Your Steak is Done – An Instant Read Thermometer
There is only one accurate way to determine the internal temperature of your steak and that's to use an instant read thermometer like our Bearded Butcher brand one. Our thermometer is simple to use and provides accurate temperature readings (it also has a lifetime warranty!).
The trick to using an instant thermometer is to know where to stick the probe. You will want to insert the probe at least one inch into the thickest part of the meat. Avoid getting the probe near the bone because you'll get an inaccurate reading.
You should always test your instant read thermometer to make sure it's accurate. The best way to test it is against a thermometer that you know is correct. If you don't have another thermometer, boil a pot of water. Water boils at 212 degrees at sea level. You'll have a good idea of the accuracy of your thermometer this way.
Figure Out What Works For You
Over time, you'll learn to use a variety of methods to tell when a steak is properly cooked. You'll use your clock and your senses of touch and smell to check on the progress. An instant read thermometer will ensure you hit the perfect temperature for the desired doneness of your steak. It's a great way to remove stress from the steak grilling process and get excellent results you can be proud of.
However, the thing that we like the most about the finger test is that it gets you to pay attention to the cooking process and opens you up to the sensory experience. We've found that people can pick up the palm test method pretty easily and get consistent results even without a meat thermometer. The next time your mother-in-law asks for medium well and your uncle wants medium rare, you'll know just which fingers to touch and know how a properly cooked steak feels.
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