Grillaholics, it’s no secret that we love steak. In fact, I’d argue that it might be my favorite food of all time. After a stressful day at work, there’s almost nothing better than the sight, smell, and sound of throwing a Porterhouse steak on the grill, and searing it to a perfect medium-rare.
But that perfect medium-rare wasn’t always easy to attain. When I think back to when I first started grilling, and all of my failed attempts to grill a steak with a perfect crust and pink center, I can’t help but shed a few manly tears. The number of steaks that I naively overcooked to a jerky-like well done is too tragic to say out loud.
With all of the steak grilling experience under my belt now, I can essentially tell how done the inside of a steak is just by looking at it. It took a while to get here, though. In the beginning, I would cut my steak open towards the end of cooking and physically check how done it was (which is a terrible idea that will cause your steak to cook improperly).
Luckily, as I gained more and more experience, I learned a few tricks along the way to GUARANTEE that my steak was always cooked to a perfect medium rare.
Method 1: Internal Temperature Test
The first method for checking the doneness of your steak is to monitor the internal temperature of the steak. This method is without a doubt the most precise and straightforward of the two. All you will need is a meat thermometer, which most of you likely already own. You can use a cheaper, traditional analog meat thermometer if that’s all you have, but we personally prefer to use a digital meat thermometer that monitors your meat’s internal temperature more accurately during the entire cooking process.
Whichever type of thermometer you choose, the most important thing with this method is to know the goal internal temperatures that correspond with each level of doneness:
- 120° F = Rare
- 130° F = Medium rare
- 140° F = Medium
- 150° F = Medium well
- 160° F = Well done
No matter what level of doneness you’re shooting for, there’s a few things to keep in mind when monitoring the temperature. The first is that you really only want to check on the internal temperature towards the end of cooking, because the more times you stab your steak with the thermometer probe, the more unevenly it will cook. Secondly, you should actually take your steak off of the grill when its internal temperature reaches about 5° F below your target temperature. Even when your steak is off of the grill, it will continue cooking internally for the next few minutes, so by taking your steak off a few minutes early, your steak should end up exactly where you want it.
Method 2: The Finger Test
Though using a thermometer will give you the most accurate measurements regarding steak doneness, many out there cannot stomach the thought of cutting into their steak before it’s finished cooking, even to check its doneness. For those grilling purists out there, there is a second method that can give you a general idea about the doneness of your steak.
This method involves directly touching the surface of your steak, and feeling how firm it is. The longer a steak (or any piece of meat) cooks, the firmer it becomes, and you can use these differences in firmness to test for exactly what level of doneness your steak is at.
Now obviously just touching the surface of your steak isn’t enough to already know how done it is. You need something to reference, and luckily, your hand makes that extremely easy to do.
While looking at the open palm of your hand, locate the fleshy area where your thumb connects to your palm (or just reference the picture below). With your hand completely relaxed, push down on the fleshy part of your skin. It should be about the same firmness as your raw steak.
Now make an OK sign by touching your index finger and your thumb together. If you feel the same part of your hand, you should notice it is slightly firmer than before. This is the same feeling that a rare steak will give you.
As you progressively move down the hand, you’ll notice the same part of your hand getting firmer.
Touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb to see what medium rare steak feels like.
Touch your ring finger to the tip of your thumb to see what medium well steak feels like.
Touch your pinkie finger to the tip of your thumb to see what well done steak feels like (we hope you’ll never need to use this one).
Once you’ve identified what level of firmness you’re looking for, just check on your steak occasionally until its firmness matches that of your hand. It may take some getting used to, but this is a great method for checking steak doneness without compromising the integrity of your steak before it’s time to eat it.
Whichever method you choose, we hope that we have been able to help ensure that you never make the same mistakes that I did when I first started grilling. If you’re looking for a way to make the best steak you’ve ever had, try checking out the reverse searing method, and use these tests to make sure it’s cooked to your liking!
We’d love to hear from you if you have success with either of these methods, so make sure to connect with us on Facebook, and as always, cheers to being a Grillaholic.