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Wednesday, 23 July 2014 11:19

Testing Doneness of Meats

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Just mid way through summer and we are still going strong on the grill. But, questions I frequently get asked concerning grilling, doneness of meat and seafood, how can one tell when it's done?

First of all, how do I test the doneness of my meat, poultry and seafood? Well, having more than three decades in commercial kitchens has provided me with some very practical and reliable methods to check and guarantee the doneness of foods. The first recommendation I would make is to make sure that you have an instant reading thermometer. These are available in most grocery stores now and certainly available in cooking supply stores. The instant reading thermometer looks a lot like an ink pen with a dial on top. When inserted into any food or liquid, watch the dial move almost instantly to see the internal temperature with what you are testing. Note that there is a small indentation about an inch and a half from the pointed tip. To get an accurate reading, insert to that point on the thermometer and insert the thermometer into the thickest part of what you want to see the internal temperature of. That being said, it is only that portion of the thermometer that you are reading from.

So if you are testing a large cut of meat, stick the thermometer into the thickest, deepest part for your reading. If you are checking a smaller cut, like a chicken breast or fillet of fish, still insert the probe into the thickest part but insert it at an angle so that the first inch and a half is still thoroughly imbedded. Your internal temperature will display within a couple of moments.

Now to test the accuracy of the thermometer itself there are two simple tests you can do. One is to insert the probe of the thermometer all the way to the bottom of a glass of ice water. Within moments you should get a reading of 32 degrees. Another simple test is to insert the probe tip into boiling water and you should get a reading of 212 degrees. If your thermometer is giving a different reading than that, notice the little hexagon nut just under the dial...just give that a little turn in one direction or the other until you get your correct reading in both the hot or cold test. That's how you calibrate your instant reading thermometer. Easy!

The second method that I employ is actually poking the meats (poultry or fish) with my finger to see how soft or tough it is. The softer, the more raw. The tougher, the more cooked. See the diagram to see what I mean. Try it. It's easy! After just a few attempts you'll get this technique down like a pro!


However, if you're not interested in investing in a meat thermometer, the pad of skin underneath your thumb will work in a pinch. Touch your fingers to your thumb as shown in the following graphic to determine how cooked your steak is. Your skin will feel firmer or softer depending on which finger you use for the touch.

  • Rare: 125-130 degrees
  • Medium-rare: 130-140 degrees
  • Medium: 140-150 degrees
  • Medium-well: 150-155 degrees
  • Well: 160 degrees and up

Note: For large cuts of meats (rib eye, top sirloin, tri tip, etc.) I generally remove the meat from the grill or oven when the meat is about 10 degrees or more from the desired final doneness. Let your steak rest after you take it off the heat. The meat will continue to cook for a few moments after you remove it from the grill or stove. Letting it rest will allow the fibers to relax and the juices to be absorbed into the steak. If you cut a steak fresh out of the fire it loses the majority of its juices and you'll miss the mark on the doneness you prefer.

For poultry, the additional test is after inserting either the thermometer probe or a small sharp tool into the cooked meat, juices will run out clear, no sign of pinkness in the meat or liquid. Don't do this until you are fairly certain that you are close time-wise as those juices provide the succulence of your dinner.

For seafood it is just as easy. The instant reading thermometer is good but the gently poke of a finger can indicate when your fish is ready. When you poke the surface of the fish, if your imprint can be seen, it's not ready. If when poked, the meat feels tough and feels like your clenched fist, you are good to go.

Additionally, fully cooked fish will look solid white (or solid pink for salmon) all the way through and will begin to flake easily when touched. Prawns and lobster will also be solid white throughout, no sign of translucentness.

And that is all there is to testing doneness like a pro. It just takes a little practice to do the touch method and no real challenge at all with an instant reading thermometer. Have fun trying this out. Until next time

Bon Appetite!

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