The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat

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Easily check for the doneness of meat without using a thermometer by comparing how the meat feels with the feeling of your hand as you touch different fingers together.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

There are two basic methods to test for how done your meat is while you are cooking it—use a meat thermometer, or press on the meat with your fingertips. The problem with the meat thermometer approach is that when you poke a hole into the meat with a thermometer, it can let juices escape, juices that you would rather have stay in the meat. For this reason, most experienced cooks rely on a “finger test” method, especially on steaks (whole roasts are better tested with a thermometer).

My mother has been trying to get me to test meat with my fingertips for years, and for years, being somewhat of a scaredy cat (won’t it burn my fingers?) I ignored, avoided, ran away from the idea.

Then my friend David showed me up. Here’s a guy who loves to grill but doesn’t know how to boil water. (Really. Cannot boil water. Just ask him, he’s proud of the fact.) David taught me how to test for the doneness of meat using this method and these days half the time I don’t even bother with a thermometer.

Now the point of this story is not to embarrass David (though that would be fun, if it were even possible) but to encourage you, if like me, you’ve been shying away from trying this approach. This really isn’t rocket science.

This is one of those things that gets easier with practice. The next time you cook a steak, even if you are still planning to rely on a meat thermometer, press on the meat here and there while it cooks, and compare the feeling of the meat with the following finger test. With practice, you will become more confident.

The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat

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Method

Open the palm of your hand. Relax the hand. Take the index finger of your other hand and push on the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm. Make sure your hand is relaxed. This is what raw meat feels like. (Check this out the next time you have a raw steak to cook.)

Finger Test for Meat Doneness Raw

Now gently press the tip of your pinky and your thumb together. Again feel the fleshy area below the thumb. It should feel quite firm. This is what well done meat feels like when you press on it. (Check this out the next time you overcook a piece of meat.)

Finger Test for Meat Doneness Well Done

Press the tip of your ring finger and your thumb together. The flesh beneath the thumb should give a little more. This is what meat cooked to a medium doneness feels like.

Finger Test for Meat Doneness Medium

Gently press the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. This is medium rare.

Finger Test for Meat Doneness Medium Rare

Press the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. The fleshy area below the thumb should give quite a bit. This is what meat cooked to rare feels like. Open up your palm again and compare raw to rare.

Finger Test for Meat Doneness Rare

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Showing 4 of 39 Comments

  • Mike

    I’m known for cooking meat to spec, rare, medium rare, done…
    The test I used to learn is using the part between the thumb and first finger.
    The very outer part of the “web” is raw, move in a little and that’s rare, more is medium, and at the hand is well done.
    You can feel these spots with tongs n then try the steak….
    just another way to do about the same thing.

  • Julian

    Regarding the risk of letting the juices out when using a thermometer: it may be best to test the temp after resting. That way it will have reached its final temp and the juices will have settled.

  • Nancy C. LeRoy

    Absolutely love the “press” test. Will use forever. I like very rare meat and always seem to overcook it. Thanx so much.

  • Colin (20yrs catering)

    Yeah standard chef routine. It’s not foolproof but 90 odd percent of the time it works. The trick is to keep your palm relaxed.

  • Kristie

    I keep trying to feel the difference between all these finger positions and I think I’m being punk’d. Maybe I burned all of my nerve endings in the minus 80 freezers at work. Oh well.

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