How to Tell If Your Meat Is Cooked Without Using a Thermometer

If you don't have a meat thermometer, use this surprising tool that you probably already have in your kitchen to tell if your meat is done. (But also, buy a meat thermometer.)

Porterhouse Steak
Photo: © John Kernick

Whether you're grilling steak outside or searing chops in your favorite cast-iron skillet in the comfort of your kitchen, you'll inevitably need to decipher when your meat is properly cooked at some point.

Here, a meat thermometer is a crucial tool, and we suggest that everyone have one on hand. If you don't have one, however, or if it's not within reach when you need it, the touch test also works: Touch the cut of meat with your finger and then feel the fleshy part of your hand underneath your thumb. The meat is raw if it feels like the fleshy part. Now hold your thumb and index finger together: The meat is rare if it feels like that. Now touch your thumb to your middle finger: The meat is medium rare if it feels like that. Next, connect your ring finger and your thumb: If the meat feels like the fleshy part of your palm now, it's medium. Finally, join your pinky and thumb: The meat is well done if it feels like that. It's a method a lot of chefs and home cooks use.

But 2017 F&W Best New Chef Angie Mar, owner and executive chef of New York City's Les Trois Chevaux, who is known for her steaks and prime rib, uses a different method to determine if her meat is cooked.

When Mar stopped by our test kitchen recently, she showed culinary director at large Justin Chapple how to use a cake tester.

Go in at an angle in the middle of the cut, wait for a second, and then touch the tester to your wrist. If it's cold, the meat is raw. If it's warm — close to your body temperature — then the meat is medium rare. If it’s hot, it's well done.

Chapple typically uses a cake tester to determine if fish is fully cooked (another pro tip if you're grilling seafood), but using it for meat is also a great idea.

Mar uses this technique for her signature rib eyes and when she's cooking other cuts, like hanger steak, which she says is her favorite alternative to a rib eye because it's more affordable and has that same beefy flavor.

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