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Some of you may have read the article I posted on How To Cook The Perfect Steak. Of course I am very biased that it is the best steak in the world. However, I’ve received a bunch of different questions from people who are cooking at different temperatures and want an easy way to tell how done the steak is. My personal opinion is that steak should be served medium-rare, but different strokes for different folks, I suppose.
This will be a handy (ha!) guide on how to quickly estimate how done your steak is by using your hand. Pretty easy tool, right? So if you read the title of the article and thought that you’d actually be able to cook your steak using your hand, my apologies. Use this guide as a quick way to tell how done your steak is.
Why NOT to use a thermometer when you cook your steak
If precision is your ultimate goal, go ahead and use a thermometer when you cook your steak. The reason I don’t like them with steak is that when puncturing the steak before it cools to an adequate temperature, you’re going to be leaking a lot of that precious juice from the inside out on the pan. This level increases if you have to check multiple times.
Steak is generally thin enough as well that you’re going to be getting some user error and not inserting into the very specific zone of the coldest part of the steak. This is better used for larger cuts of meat or birds or for temperature sensitive foods.
Using your hand as a thermometer
The part of your hand you are going to focus on is the fleshy part in of your palm, right next to your thumb. Go ahead and find it right now and give it a little prod. Meaty, huh? For each method below, you will be only gently placing your fingers together and NOT squeezing them, unless noted.
You should really be able to just look at the meat and realize that you haven’t cooked it yet to know that the meat is rare. But if some reason you are blindfolded and don’t otherwise know what is going on, your open relaxed palm will display what raw steak should generally feel like. Give a poke and see for yourself.
Rare meat is basically just seared meat, so you really don’t need a guide for this one. Toss steak on cast iron or grill for 1-2 mins each side and remove and you’ll have a nice rare steak. However, if you’d like a guide for this one, you’re going to place your index finger and thumb together gently. DO NOT squeeze! Alright, that’s your rare guideline.
Medium rare is the recommended level of doneness your steak should be for a variety of reasons. Rare generally doesn’t get hot enough to start breaking down all of the fat and juices and medium is starting to get too cooked to make the meat dry and less flavorful. Medium rare is the happy medium and if you’re getting good cuts of meat, the absolute ideal way to prepare your steak. People have preferences, however.
For medium rare steak, press your middle finger and your thumb together. This should be the relative density of medium rare steak.
Medium steak has a little pink left in the center and generally what you will get at an Applebee’s or other similar quality “steakhouses” if you ask for medium rare. Some people just plain prefer their steak like this, and that’s just fine. Place your ring finger and your thumb together. Now your palm is medium done meat.
We are starting to realize we are making a mistake here with medium well meat. Things are getting dry and there’s relatively no pink (read: flavor) left. In case this is what you were aiming for, place your pinky and your thumb together. This is generally what medium well steak should feel like when pressed on.
Alright, for well done steak you’re going to want to use all of your fingers to make a fist. Clench it tight and then punch yourself in the throat because no one should be eating well done steak. Just kidding. Kind of. Instead of just placing all of your fingers on your thumb, give them a little squeeze. This should represent the kind of steak you should avoid eating.
This is clearly not a scientific basis, but a general rule of thumb (HA!) that many cooks have used for a long time. The best way to get confident with this method and cooking meat overall is to… you guessed it – cook more! Buy a half or quarter of grass-fed beef from a local farmer and by the time you’re through with it I will bet that you’ve confidently grasped how you like your meat and how much to cook it. Practice makes perfect!
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