Regardless of what type of meat you’re cooking or how you’re cooking the meat, the biggest mistake you can make is overcooking it. Unfortunately, the required cooking time for each cut or piece of meat can vary greatly depending on the equipment used to cook it, the size of the meat, the starting temperature of the meat, and the ratio of meat to bone, etc. Therefore, it is very important to rely more heavily on the touch test or meat thermometers than general cooking time guidelines. Determining the doneness of meat is the most difficult part of any recipe, but luckily, it gets easier with practice.
Over time, you will be able to tell whether or not the meat is cooked through simply by smelling and looking at the meat. (Hint: The meat will be opaque in colour and it will have shriveled away from the bones.) Until then, you have the touch test and meat thermometers.
Although using a meat thermometer will give you precision (as long as it has been calibrated properly), you end up losing some of the meat juices when you poke it into the meat. You also end up with unsightly holes or tears in your meat. So I prefer to use the touch test. Below, I’ve shared three different variations of the touch test for checking the doneness of meat. Note that I have also heard this being called the “finger test”. Let me know if you know of any other touch methods.
Touch Test (or Finger Test) for the Doneness of Meat
- The first method is my preferred method and it can be seen here, demonstrated by Chef Gordon Ramsay starting at 1:06. It starts with holding your non-dominant hand with the palm facing up. Relax your hand. Use your pointer and middle fingers from your dominant hand to touch the fleshiest and softest part of your palm. To be more specific, this is at the base of your thumb but close to the middle of your palm. If you touch your steak and it has the same softness as this part of your palm, then the steak has likely been cooked to rare. When you touch the fleshiest part of your palm at the base of the thumb but directly in line with and below the thumb, this part of your palm will feel a bit firmer. This softness resembles meat that has been cooked to medium. Finally, when you touch the spot of your palm that is just above the wrist line and in the middle of the very base of your palm, the firmness will resemble meat that is well done. This will get easier with practice.
- The second, and probably the most common, method is where you hold your non-dominant hand with the palm facing up. Relax your hand. Touch and hold your non-dominant thumb to your non-dominant pointer finger. Use a finger from your dominant hand to touch and gently press into the fleshiest part of your palm at the base of your thumb. This softness is similar to that of rare meat. When you touch and hold your non-dominant thumb to your non-dominant middle finger, then the softness of that fleshy part is similar to that of medium rare meat. When you touch and hold your non-dominant thumb to your non-dominant ring (or fourth) finger, then the firmness of that fleshy part is similar to that of medium well. Finally, when you touch and hold your non-dominant thumb to your non-dominant pinky finger, then the firmness of that fleshy part of your palm is similar to that of well done. So press your fingers into the cooked meat and compare the firmness of the cooked meat to the firmness of the fleshiest part of your palm, and then you will have an idea of how cooked your meat is.
- The third method involves making a very relaxed fist with your non-dominant hand. If you were to make a V shape using your thumb and pointer finger, with the palm of your hand facing away from you, the fleshy part of the back of your hand at the base of the bottom of that V is where you should be touching. The softness of that part when you are making a very relaxed fist resembles the softness of rare meat. If you were to just slightly tighten that fist, and wrap your fingers around each other completely, the softness of that part of your hand would resemble medium cooked meat. If you were to make a tight fist, then the softness of that part of your hand would resemble well done.