11/02/2011 12:01 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Test Meat For Doneness

Testing meat for doneness can be a tricky skill to learn, but Chef David Kamen of The Culinary Institute of America provides helpful tips, like using meat's firmness to determine when it should come off the grill. Kamen shows readers how to use their palm as a barometer for firmness, and defines what rare, medium rare and well done look like on the outside and the inside.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

I'm Chef Dave Kamen from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to test meat for doneness.

We all like our steaks cooked different ways, and there's a number of ways you can tell how well cooked your steak is, based on looking at it or touching it.

One of the first things we'll talk about is the touch test. When you're grilling steaks, if you hold your hand like this with your fingers very loose and touch this part of your thumb - the pad of your palm at the base of the thumb - that's what rare should feel like. If you close your fist, touching the same place, that's what medium should feel like, and if you give your fist a good hard squeeze, that's what well done should feel like.

Over here on the grill we've got a whole bunch of steaks that went on pretty much at the same time. A couple of these are ready to go, and a couple still need a few more moments. We're going to be able to use these steaks to illustrate the different degrees of doneness.

This first steak over here feels very, very soft. It has a nice mark on the outside, but it still looks less brown than some of the other steaks will look. Let's take it over to the cutting board and see what it looks like. That's a really nice rare: you can see it's dark red in the middle, and it's just a little bit warm - about 120 degrees - in there, and that'll be our definition of rare. We'll move this one off to the side.

Our next one over here will be more medium-rare. It's a little more firm on the inside, and a little bit darker color. You can even see the color change up on the edge over here, where it's starting to turn a little more pink on the outside. We'll bring this one over to the cutting board and take a little slice out of that one. You'll notice the ruby red color is turning into more of a reddish-pink color. It feels a lot hotter inside there: about 135 degrees or so internal temperature, and that's going to be our medium-rare.

Now we'll check on the other two. This one does feel like it's going to be a pretty good medium: we feel a little more firm resistance inside here, and see, a little bit darker color on the outside. You can also see the juices starting to come up from the top. That's a good indication you're reaching about medium. We'll take this one over here and put a slice in there. What you can see is that dark red pink has turned into a very light pink; it's still juicy and quite hot on the inside. For well done, most people don't want to see any pink at all. They want to have it grey all the way through.

You can see the cutting board is starting to get very juicy now. It's best to let your steaks rest for about five minutes after they come off the grill, for what we call carryover cooking but also to allow the juices to redistribute. That'll help prevent a lot of these juices from escaping on the cutting board. We did this for illustration purposes today, but make sure you always rest your steaks a little bit before you carve them.

So that's how you would test your meat for doneness.