Is Your Steak Really Done When Your Hand Says It Is?

Image courtesy of Consumer Reports

When it comes to detecting when your steak is done, there are those among us who eschew meat thermometers in favor of using what’s known as the touch-test method. But does this form of culinary palm reading actually work?

For those unfamiliar, the idea is that you can touch different fingers to each other on the part of your palm below the thumb on one hand, and then push on your palm with the index finger of your other to get a feel for what’s rare, medium rare, medium, and well-done. You then compare that to the feeling of touching the steak while it’s cooking on its second side.

Our colleagues at Consumer Reports and its professional team of testers took this method for a spin by cooking five sirloin steaks — all cut to the same thickness — on a gas grill, and checking the accuracy of the method with a meat thermometer. They put some of the results in a handy video, but here’s a quick rundown of what they found.

Results: When CR’s testers checked the steak’s doneness using the hand method and decided it was suitably rare, the thermometer read 106° F.
Verdict: Rare is considered around 125°F (CR recommends cooking meat to at least 145° F) so in this case, the finger test may prove too rare.

Results: The target temperature for a medium-rare steak is 135° F, but the hand method yield a steak measuring 110° F.
Verdict: This would be well below what someone who likes medium-rare is into, CR ruled, and was more consistent with a steak they’d consider rare.

Results: The internal temp using the finger poke resulted in meat with an internal temperature of 127° F.
Verdict: Though medium is often around 145° F, testers decided that though this was on the undercooked side at 18° F below a temperature CR considers safe. However, it may be close enough to satisfy most.

Results: The ideal internal temperature here should be 155° F, but the hand method produced a steak at 142° F.
Verdict: The hand method was found lacking by CR in this case. Most people would call the one they poked medium, and it was still 3° F shy of the minimum safe temperature recommended by the USDA.

Results: Well-done should be about 165° F — and the hand test came close, at 157° F.
Verdict: The finger method produced a steak that was slightly pink, which may put off the most devoted well-done enthusiasts.

Overall Verdict?

The hand method could prevent someone from overcooking their steak — after all, you can always throw it back on the grill a bit longer.

However, an accurate meat thermometer is the way to go: Consumer Reports recommends the Oregon Scientific AW131 meat thermometer for $40. You can also check out their full meat thermometer buying guide here.

And remember, don’t forget to let your meat rest 10-15 minutes before cutting into it. You don’t want to go through all that and lose the juices.

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