The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat

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 finger tips. 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 finger tips 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.

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The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat

Method

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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

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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.

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59 Comments

  1. Mei

    Hey that’s cool. I’m definitely going to try this out the next time I cook a piece of meat. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Genie

    I like this method a lot better than another one someone taught me (also using the palm, but pressing on different spots on the hand, which is hard to remember and confusing…) — this is much simpler!

  3. Wendy

    I use a similar method using my face. If it’s the softness of my cheek, it’s rare; my chin, medium and my forehead, well done. It’d work a treat if I didn’t keep getting distracted and forgetting that I’m cooking at all!

  4. Victoria

    So, did you burn your finger? :o)

    No burns! :-) ~Elise

  5. Andy

    Thanks for the tip! I usually go with a thermometer, but I’d like to be able to get perfectly cooked meat without it.

  6. Cecelia

    Thanks Elise! I haven’t heard of this method before but I will definitely be trying it out.

  7. Ramona

    Do I ever like Wendy’s face method for testing meat doness. I am familiar wirh the hand method but I think the face method might be easier to remember. Wow! The great things you learn from these food blogs. This bit of information is a keeper.

  8. Elizabeth

    Funny you posted this, I was JUST trying to remember and explain it to my husband and our friend and they just looked at me like I was crazy. Elise to the rescue.

  9. Katie

    We have finally mastered this technique as well and can get medium rare pretty consistently now. A chef friend of mine once said, “once you stick a meat thermometer in you’ve let all the juices out and your steak might as well be well done.” I don’t know that it’s THAT dramatic but it is certainly an easy enough technique.

  10. samiya

    Wow! That’s fascinating. Although I am a vegetarian, it’s still cool to see that.

  11. Kalyn

    This is brilliant! Probably my favorite grilling post ever!

  12. Bri

    Great tip. So what about chicken? Mine always seems to dry.

  13. ångel

    I’ve heard this works great for steaks, but what else would you recommend testing with this method? I’d be nervous cooking chicken without a thermometer, but it seems like pork chops and tenderloin medallions would be well suited.

    What about raw sausage? Lamb? Would it work okay for a pork tenderloin or rack of lamb, since they aren’t as thick as a pork loin or other roast?

    For chicken, you can finger test first to see if it looks like a good time to test with a thermometer. You really do not want to be eating raw chicken so we always test with a thermometer or even cutting with a knife tip to be sure it’s cooked all the way through. I wouldn’t do this with raw sausage. But I would with a pork chop, pork loin, or lamb chop. ~Elise

  14. sharon

    Brilliant, I’ve never heard of this! Thanks for sharing. I wonder, how does it affect the test if you have really fat or bony hands? :)

  15. mike

    It’s not at all a bad method for checking steaks, filet, ribeye, NY, etc. For a burger, however, there are too many other factors at play (the density of the meat v. fat, how well packed the burger may or may not be – even seasoning can alter your result in that it allows fat to break down at lower temps than unseasoned meat). Keep in mind that it takes a piece of meat, any meat, a while to go from raw to medium rare, yet little time to go from medium rare to absolutely inedible hammered well done. My best advice is to pay attention to the juice. When a steak or burger begins to bleed, when the juices coming from the cut are bloody, you are looking at a medium rare temp. If the juices are clear, that is well done. Medium will tend to have an opaque and slightly bloody appearance.

  16. Stephanie

    Thanks for this Elise! My husband usually cooks all our “grill” meat (just because I’m semi-lazy and he’s good at it) and he uses the fingertip method. I asked him to explain it to me, because I wanted to get a hang of grilling steaks, and he couldn’t. He said you just knew. So I haven’t tried it because in Australia beef is pretty expensive on a student budget (much more so if you buy a nice steak) and I’d hate to ruin it. This makes perfect sense though! Comparisons are always helpful! I love your foodie-tip posts!

  17. Jim

    Great suggestion on checking the temp on foods. To comment on a previous comment, yes, it does matter about the density of certain meats, but that comes with the territory. A piece of filet mignon is a “softer” feeling meat to a N.Y. Strip steak which has a denser feel. Just take that in consideration, stick the “feel” in your data banks and have fun with it.
    A tip on getting to know your density of certain meats and how done feels, use a instant read thermometer combined with the hand feel test and remember how it feels. Also, when your cooking chicken, first touch the end parts, the part that cooks quicker (doneness cooks from outside-in) to get a contrast to the doneness in the middle.

  18. Paz

    Hmmm… I don’t know about this… I’m not sure if I can do this.

    Paz

  19. Bramble

    ^____^. I remember this from my Culinary Arts class. Now, I can practice it when my dad’s cooking outside. Thank you bunches for this post!

  20. DaveG

    Great tip. And the pictures save a lot of writing time. In addition to piercing the meat, I’ve found digital instant-read thermometers have two drawbacks; the battery dies and is tough to replace, and they aren’t all that “instant”. On the other hand, they look cool in a sleeve pocket!
    Can you recommend a ‘fast’ thermometer?

  21. Catherine

    I learned the finger-tip method in a cooking class I took about 10 years ago. I think it was the best lesson that I took away from the class. I have been using it ever since. It works on all types of meat (including seafood). I have taught it to people all over the world now..I love having the photos to illustrate it…thanks

  22. Acupunct

    Thanks so much! I’m a pastry chef turned acupuncturist, but obviously in pastry class, they didn’t teach us how to test meat. I’ve always tried to figure it out, but I can’t seem to really get the right “feel” by using the face. This seems more intuitive to me!

  23. Mike Panic

    I learned this technique from a cousin almost 20 years ago, and I’m only 29 now – I still use it and have shown countless friends over the years.

    I must say though, I bought a cheap ($15) digital thermometer for when I make latte’s in my espresso machine and it works wonders for cooking on the grill during the summer, when everyone seems to be in a rush. I usually pull chicken off at 155 though and let it rest, at which time it will hit 165.

  24. Tina

    This is much easier to remember than the way my grandpa taught me, and just as accurate.

  25. mary

    This is an AWESOME way to think about it. I’ve always heard people say touch the meat and I’m all touching it, but never really understanding what it should feel like so it wasn’t that helpful.

  26. Kia

    I’ve never heard of this or any other method of testing the doneness of meat. So needless to say I will definetely try this out the next time I cook steak. Thanx for the info Elise!!!

  27. Rick Smith

    Didn’t work for me. I operate heavy equipment. Pulling levers all day for 35 years has made the muscles in my hands quite tough. My hands also tingle most of the time so I use the “Face” method. Just works better for me.

  28. Sarah P

    This is a great tip – and so easy to remember!
    Thanks Elise

  29. Austina

    I used this method last night to grill steaks and it worked like a charm! The meat was done perfectly. Much better than poking and prodding, and losing all those delicious juices. Thanks!

  30. Joy the Baker

    What a fabulous post! I love it! Thank you for all the details.

  31. E. Michael Martin

    Wow, I’m a vegetarian and allergic to beef and I’m impressed by this. If anyone needs to know how to check, I’ll be the first to tell them!

  32. Leah

    What a handy tip (pun intended)! A great culinary mnemonic.

  33. Jena

    I can’t feel the difference in my hand, so I don’t think I could use
    this method to test steak. Interesting idea, though.

  34. eve

    This is a really great helpful tip! Thanks for sharing it.

  35. Shane

    In my past, I have been a professional cook, and I was taught this method for determining doneness. You quickly learn to often poke meat to see how done it is.

    You can also poke boneless chicken breast to determine if it’s done. You want it to feel like the “well done” test above.

  36. Andrew

    I’m a professional line cook, I use this test all the time to check my meat. It’s far quicker and easier than cutting it open to check.

  37. Jon

    I much prefer using an instant read thermometer, which is much more accurate when grilling a steak that costs $12.99 a pound.

  38. geoff

    This really does work like a charm… but it takes practice! A great way to get started is to try the finger test, then take the temp with the thermometer to see if you are right. Much more effective with chicken. Since a decent sized steak requires rest and will continue to cook when removed from the heat, you need to be careful to ensure that you are taking it off one level “less-cooked” than you want the finished product to be!

  39. lisa

    I would like to thank you for the finger test on doneness. I have taught it to my 20 year old son and his best friend. I hope when they grill it will help them. Sincerely, Lisa

  40. Brian

    Glad you’ve shared this. I have been poking meat for several years now and I found that after some practice I got better results this way.

  41. Stacy

    This is not an appropriate way to determine the doneness of meat. This is a question of safety, not just eating preference. It is very subjective and does nothing to guarantee safety. A meat thermometer is the way to go.

    Actually Stacey, if you are testing a steak (which is usually what this test is used for), or another solid cut of meat, then it is perfectly safe. Assuming you’ve washed your hands. Harmful bacteria live on the outside, not the inside, of cuts of meat. (I’m talking beef, lamb, veal, elk, deer, etc. Poultry is a different matter.) These bacteria get destroyed by the heat of the pan or grill. I don’t recommend this approach for a large roast, because you’re not going to be able to sense the doneness of the middle just by touching it. But smaller cut? No problem. ~Elise

  42. Cindy

    It is not safe if the steak has been tenderized by cutting or pounding with one of those meat mallets with the sharp points. This will introduce surface bacteria into the inside of the meat. It would not be safe for ground meat products, such as patties, as bacteria can become evenly distributed through the batch used to make the patties. As for the line cook who uses the fingertip method, yuck. I hope he washes his hands frequently and wears food service gloves which he replaces immediately after scratching his head, rubbing his nose…

    I think you’ll find 90% of the professional chefs and cooks out there use this method, so perhaps you might not want to eat out? Seriously, this is a well-used method. If you are going to make chicken-fried steak, or something else that requires pounding and cutting the heck out of steak, it’s probably a thin cutlet and you don’t need to test it, even with a thermometer. As for hamburger patties, the best way to ensure safety with hamburger is to grind the meat yourself, or get it from a butcher who does. The safety of the hamburger has to do with the ground meat itself, not whether or not whether or not you touch it as you cook it. Ever hear of steak tartare? It’s ground beef that is served raw. On fine dining menus everywhere. Or how about carpaccio? Steak pounded thin and served RAW. ~Elise

  43. Alisa@Foodista

    This is great Elise! I love the pictures. I remember someone teaching me this before, but I forgot all about it.Thank you! Im sharing this to my friends :)

  44. alan

    I also use a similar technique except it uses a clenched fist. Just loosely make a fist and push the area of skin that intersects between thumb and forefinger – lightly closed fist = raw; firmly closed fist =medium; tightly close fist = well done.

    I’m quite a thin person and using your technique it’s difficult to differentiate the degrees of softness between your rare and well done.

  45. merrill

    Thanks for these tips…I learned two new ways to see if a steak is cooked thoroughly without over cooking it. I used to cut it open in the middle to see if it was done…and never knew why it didn’t turn out right. Wish me luck on cooking london broil with this new technique!:-)

  46. Melissa

    What a great little tip! I am totally going to start using this. I use a similar technique for cooking eggs just the way I like them. I like my eggs over medium. After you flip the egg, lightly press on the yolk. You’ll feel when the yolks are cooked just right. Not to runny, not to firm. Thanks for the great advice and the great recipes. I love your site!

  47. Martha

    I am wondering if this technique applies to hamburgers… I like mine medium rare and have the hardest time getting it right. Any advise? Thank you!

    It does, but only use it if you grind your own meat, or bought it freshly ground from a reputable butcher. Otherwise for safety you should cook your hamburger all the way through. ~Elise

  48. Amanda

    Do you touch the meat with your fingers while it’s cooking to determine its level of done-ness, or do I poke it with a spoon or something? I have a meat thermometer that I use on chicken and roasts but this looks like this would be easier to use on steaks and pork chops.

    I think it’s easiest to use your fingers. ~Elise

  49. KC

    If you are flame broiling your steaks and worry about burning yourself, just take a grill flipper and pull the steak out of the flames and use the finger test. This is what I usually see chefs do in restaurants.

  50. Ed

    I will not cook anything either rare or well done so this method is very easy for me because even at 70 I can remember its got to be either the second or third finger. It beats trying to remember where that thermometor went to!

  51. Becky

    Thanks for this post. I have never heard of this before. I always wondered how chefs checked steaks.

  52. steven

    I know it’s hard for people to believe…but the steak won’t burn them. It’s a high warm to low hot feeling. And you only need a second or two to accurately gauge it. I have used the Rare technique for years as that is how I like a steak. I really didn’t know about the other options. Thanks for the info.
    I’m posting this to my Facebook page as well.

  53. chris

    when i cook i use my just thumb as rare not raw… thumb to index as mid rare thumb to middle as medium thumb to ring as mid well and thumb to pinky as well……

    thats how i was taught. i’d bet this is why when i go out to eat i get a medium steak as a mid rare. happened to me last night. i asked for a mid rare and I go what i was taught to be a medium for my steak… but a lot of cooks argue that its a mid rare. my chef at my job would argue in my favor

  54. Nick

    Haha, I saw this on here a long time ago and have been using it since. Takes a few times to get used to the feel but after that, smooth sailing. Awesome stuff.

  55. DWL Brown

    My dear, this method doesn’t work well on my 71 year old hands, but would have 40 years ago.. grins. Oh well.

  56. Judy

    A friend and I were having a conversation and discoursing the benefits of thermometer vs. finger test when she pointed me to this, and this definitely intrigues! Now to test it when actually cooking, I’ve been practising poking my palm =)

  57. juliano r.

    i agree with previous comments, first method is more rare rather than raw. although it depents with the heat in the pan

  58. Therese

    This is a great idea. Was cooking your flank steak recipe and this method worked perfectly to get it cooked just right. So much easier!! Thank you for yet another amazing tip…

  59. mike

    Or…just use a digital thermometer.

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