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"How can you tell when a steak is done?"

"I recently started working in kitchens.  I can cook chicken but steaks seem to give me trouble. I can't tell/don't know when a steak is done enough to be rare, or medium rare, and so on. I was wondering how to tell by touch, what does each stage of doneness feel like? Also, if you take a peek at the middle, what would rare, medium rare, etc., look like?"

 

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There are at least three good ways to tell what stage of doneness a steak has reached.  The easiest is temperature—a small digital thermometer with a slender probe will give you an instant reading. Generally, a rare steak is considered to be 140°F (60°C), medium-rare is 150°F (65°C),  medium is 160°F (70°C) and well-done is 170°F (75°C).

You're quite right that color is also a good indicator of doneness, as myoglobin, which gives meat its color, changes from red, to pink, to brown as meat cooks (See also: The Molecular Art of Grilling). A tiny cut into the center of a steak will give you a good idea of how the cooking is progressing (though a steak with a cut in the top will likely be unacceptable in a good restaurant, so try this at home).  

A rare steak is bright red. A medium-rare steak is dark pink, with some red striations still present; a medium steak is very light pink in color; and of course, well-done is brown. Most chefs cringe at cooking a steak to the well-done stage. The longer a tender steak cooks, the tougher and drier the meat becomes, as muscle fibers shrink and juices are lost.

If you cook a lot of steaks, you have the advantage of getting to know the "feel" of steaks at various stages of doneness. Though the differences are subtle, they become recognizable by probing the meat with your fingertip (See also: the Finger Test for Doneness).  Try this, along with the temperature probe, until you are familiar with how each stage feels. Hope you will soon be cooking those steaks to perfection!

 
 

 

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