Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Judging Doneness


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

So we all know that temperature, as measured by a thermometer, is the best way to judge the doneness of a piece of meat.

How many of you use a thermometer whenever you cook a piece of flesh large enough to be measured this way? How many just use the press-the-flesh test? How many simply go by time and hope for the best? Be honest!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can do chicken and steak by touch.  For fish you can often peer between the flakes.  I often make these great chicken meatballs, and for those I am just paranoid enough to break out the digital instant-read.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You've hit a raw nerve. A couple of months ago our meat  thermometer broke down, and I've been doing a little too much guess work. Recipes for roast chicken no prob, as recipes are reliable in  terms of timing. Hazan's especially. . But sauteed chicken. I have to cut into the meat to see. Thighs come out mangled!

What some books say about just pricking with skewer to check that no red appears is not a good test for me. No blood appears but still semi-raw. What to do? Get a new meat thermometer I guess would be a start. Any tips appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've got a Polder digital thermometer/timer combo unit and ever since a chef friend took me to taks I've been using it for just about any roast or thick piece of meat. It's a great device because you can insert the probe into, say, a bird and you can place the readout unit on the countertop next to your stove and actually watch the temperature rise degree by degree. You can even set it to sound an alarm at a given temperature. For something thinner like a hamburger or a flattened chicken breast I use the press-it-with-the-thumb test. I'd say this is the test used by the overwhelming majority of professional chefs, even though they know thermometers are better. It's just so convenient, and it's pretty reliable if you're experienced with the test and with the ingredients. Visual tests I find the least reliable -- meat naturally varies in color, and I'm not convinced that the clear-juices test is reliable. It may indicate safety to some extent, but doneness is different. If your oven is very reliable and your ingredients are always the same and at the same temperature, time is a decent measure of doneness, but any variation in product or environment will affect timing.

Three things to remember when using a thermometer or temperature probe: 1) Placement is critical; it has to go into the thickest part of the meat, but it can't touch bone (because bones conduct heat too well and will therefore give false readings); 2) All mass-market cookbooks and cooking magazines lie about the appropriate temperatures of meats -- they overestimate by 10-20 degrees in most cases, because they're so focused on food safety. Trust only professional sources. 3) Remember that carry-over cooking will add five or so degrees to your temperature even after you take the meat out of the oven.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am always using the old fashioned thin pocket thermometer for roasts. Steaks, chops and Chix breasts my thumb. (been doing this for 48 years, am a chef [ret]).  As Steven says, we do get a feeling for it. I never set a timer, my interior clock tells me when its "time" for anything. yes, do undercook!! Carry over temp is up to 15 degree on larger pieces.

Peter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not sure where i heard it but someone told me what steak is supposed to feel like when done at different levels.  Place you're hand face up, fingers out but not tense.  press the center with you're other forfinger.  that's rare.  an inch towards your little finger is medium rare.  the ball just below your thumb is medium.  Or something like that.  When i actually remeber which is which it works wonderfully.  

Does anyone know this, and can correct me about which places on your hand are what?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I really like my Polder thermometer, but I would add a 4th tip to Stephen's list: don't put your Polder thermometer anywhere near the stove! It's made of plastic, and mine got a melted corner almost immediately. I'd suggest that they make it of metal, but I suppose that heat hot enough to melt plastic would fry the electronics, too.

Also, if you're leaving the probe in the meat while it cooks, be careful of the wire, it gets really hot and is hard to manage when removing the probe.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote: from Max Robbin on 6:37 pm on Aug. 31, 2001

Does anyone know this, and can correct me about which places on your hand are what?

what i've heard, but rarely use (oh, the pun), is the following:

touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your first finger.  the feeling of that bit of flesh btwn your thumb and first finger will register rare.  touch your second finger with your thumb, and you have med.  touch your pinkie with your thumb, and you have well.

of course, this all depends on how tone this flesh is to begin with.  with that said, i usually guess, with pretty good results.  and yes, i'll occasionally cut in.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

practice, practice, practice!

using thermometers are great for large cuts of meat such as a whole rib or leg of lamb. matter of fact, it's the only way to do it properly.

however, if you're roasting individual portions of meat or poultry thermometers are not at all practical. when roasting, the juices inside are rushing away from the center of the meat. this is evident if you happen to slice a steak right from the oven without giving it time to rest. before you know it, your juicy steak is dry and the cutting board is soaking wet.

if you poke a thermometer inside a small portion and then remove it, the same will happen. in professional kitchens, the cooks all test for doneness by touch! it doesn't happen overnight and certainly makes for stressful situations when someone gets it wrong! :blink:

you'll be surprised, one day you'll be cooking along....and you'll just get it...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thermometers are for candymakers.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For large cuts of meats and whole poultry - an instant meat thermometer. For chops, steaks and cut up poultry - timing plus touching and sometimes, especially with chicken - the awful sin of cutting into it. It's more of a health thing with the chicken - a steak just doesn't worry me a whole lot - I like it pretty darn rare and the same with a beef roast but pork and whole poultry are a bit scary and not a bit of fun to eat if not properly cooked. I like my pork barely pink but couldn't eat it rare - health concerns aside - it just doesn't look appetizing.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For large cuts of meat (like the prime rib I roasted for Christmas) I find the digital thermometer indisposable. Likewise all poultry. When I sautee meat though I go by touch and sight.

When I'm not sure how to cook a specific piece of meat, I'll buy a whole bunch of them and over the course of a week, try cooking them in different styles and with different sauces. My last experiment was with inch thick pork chops. I sautee, baked and what I finally determined to be the preferable way was to heat a cast iron pan in the oven at 500 F and cook at 4 to 5 minutes a side. I didn't use a thermometer, just the old cut and see what it is method.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've got a Polder digital thermometer/timer combo unit and ever since a chef friend took me to taks I've been using it for just about any roast or thick piece of meat. It's a great device because you can insert the probe into, say, a bird and you can place the readout unit on the countertop next to your stove and actually watch the temperature rise degree by degree. You can even set it to sound an alarm at a given temperature. For something thinner like a hamburger or a flattened chicken breast I use the press-it-with-the-thumb test. I'd say this is the test used by the overwhelming majority of professional chefs, even though they know thermometers are better. It's just so convenient, and it's pretty reliable if you're experienced with the test and with the ingredients. Visual tests I find the least reliable -- meat naturally varies in color, and I'm not convinced that the clear-juices test is reliable. It may indicate safety to some extent, but doneness is different. If your oven is very reliable and your ingredients are always the same and at the same temperature, time is a decent measure of doneness, but any variation in product or environment will affect timing.<p>Three things to remember when using a thermometer or temperature probe: 1) Placement is critical; it has to go into the thickest part of the meat, but it can't touch bone (because bones conduct heat too well and will therefore give false readings); 2) All mass-market cookbooks and cooking magazines lie about the appropriate temperatures of meats -- they overestimate by 10-20 degrees in most cases, because they're so focused on food safety. Trust only professional sources. 3) Remember that carry-over cooking will add five or so degrees to your temperature even after you take the meat out of the oven.

It's not that mass market publications lie, or individually overestimate out of (implied) neurotic concern for food safety. Actually, I think the USDA suggests cooking temperatures above the most basic "food safety" levels...the levels at which certain microorganisms are killed off. Most magazines follow USDA guidelines.

For example, trichinosis, which barely exists in pork anymore, would be killed off at 137F, and dark poultry meat (not ground) is presumed "safer" from the harmful effects of ecoli before the recommended 185F.The USDA says 185F on dark meat because at 165F the flesh will still have a pink tinge, and the American public is understandably uncomfortable with that. Since dark meat is, unlike light meat, still moist at 185F, the USDA can urge consumers to eat it at this higher temp, which leaves less room for error.

Also, it is interesting to note that all these temperatures are the result of mathematical formulae. In truth, it is not that a chicken breast is certainly free from harmful microorganisms at 160F...it is far, far more likely to be, though. (This was told to me from a leading food scientist at Rutgers) The incidence of certain bacteria decreases as temperature increases. So even more of the little suckers are dead at 180, and more still at 190. But I sure won't eat my chicken breast cooked that far.

And those great instructions, such as above, for taking temperature can save you from awful illness...and if you are immune suppressed in any way, a thermometer can save you from worse. So to take the temp of a boneless chicken breast, simple insert your instant read horizontally into the thickest center of the breast. Two seconds of work and you don't have to suffer through dry overcooked food to ensure its safety.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Last night I cooked a 4 bone rib roast using a regular thermometer (not instant read, not electric). The thermometer said the inside got to 125-30, but when I deboned, the meat near the bone was pretty raw. The rest of the meat was edible, but very rare.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When taking the temperature of a beef tenderloin - how do you insert an instant read thermometer? From the top straight down - From the top on an angle - or straight in the middle from the end of the meat (like a bullseye). I have seen it in print all three ways - does it matter.

johnjohn

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For a tenderloin, I would insert the thermometer at an angle from the top, in the middle of the piece, to get the maximum length inside the meat -- just so long as the tip does not hit the pan underneath or otherwise protrude. Although I'd also think that tenderloin could be checked by feel, since it's not all that big in circumference.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I use a thermopan digital which has the sensor in the first 1/2" of the tip, so I aim it whatever way will get me to the part of the meat that will heat last: in a roast that has bones, the area near the bone; in a boneless roast, the center.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For a tenderloin, I would insert the thermometer at an angle from the top, in the middle of the piece, to get the maximum length inside the meat -- just so long as the tip does not hit the pan underneath or otherwise protrude.  Although I'd also think that tenderloin could be checked by feel, since it's not all that big in circumference.

I'm learning such neat little things from the Zuni Cafe cookbook. I'd heard that insta reads come in two types - those that take the temp at the tip and those with the temp sense further up the shank.

Here's the neat tip from the book, "Most manufacturers mark the sensor location with a dimple in the shaft." Sure enough: looked at my Polder digital, no dimple; Cooper dial (which I really like), three dimples an inch and three quarters from the tip.

Don't think the latter would work too well on a steak. :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having just spent a couple of days at the Fat Duck, I witnessed Heston Blumnethal and his team use meat thermometers on everything. I have recently bought a thermometer and have had fantastic results every time. With this method of cooking and a little experience you know exactly what the meat is going to be like when you take it out the pan or oven.

Lots of things have an effect on meat cooking times and the way that the meat feels. Heston demonstrated this to me with two scallops that although cooked to exactly the same internal temperature were very different in feel. He also suggested that different pieces of meat have different textures bought on by different breeds or by different hanging times. What happens when your piece of meat has a piece of tendon just where you are squeezng it - it is obviously going to feel harder and this would lead to possibly undercooking the meat.

From now on I am a thermometer man all the way!

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matthew, that's interesting.

I was deeply impressed by Heston's Q&A session here.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My favorite thermometer is a Polder model with a dual sensor probe - the tip for the meat and a second sensor at the base of the tip for the oven temperature. Being able to monitor the oven temperature without opening the door is extra-nice and it is also fantastic for a very long barbeque. Mine went totally wacko though, measuring normal air temperature at 170 degrees. I am having an awful time replacing it - the few stores that carry it are out and it is back-ordered on Amazon.

For large hunks of meat, I am thermometer-obsessed anymore. I will often have two seperate probes in different places in the meat to more closely monitor for an even cooking or sometimes a deliberately uneven cooking as certain family members insist on super-cooked meat.

A.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Instant read thermometer for all meats, but not fish, which I do by feel / time. I also use the thermometer during the resting stage after cooking, before cutting.

Thermometer also for breads. Wheat and white breads come out at 190F, generally top out around 200-205 as they continue cooking for a bit during the cooling stage.

Apparently it's easier still to dictate the conversation and in effect, kill the conversation.

rancho gordo

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Baphie, I use a Maverick Remote Check - also with two probes, but with a remote readout. Excellent for all-night barbeque sessions; I no longer have to stumble outside at 3 AM to make sure the fire is neither raging nor dying. It's fairly reliable.

For steaks and other smallish cuts I use a Taylor digital instant read.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

. For my family Christmas, I followed everyone's directions on cooking the prime rib and took it out of the oven at 118. Unfortunately, my hubby came along, and decided it was "undercooked" and popped it back in the oven! Grrr.. How to ruin a very expensive roast in one step. I have a regular thermometer that I no longer trust to be acurate, so I need to get a new one. My new ovens will have temperature probes in them, but I still want a really really good thermometer.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steaks - Sear on one side and wait one or two minutes. Turn over and watch for "pearling." That's how I like them, and that's how everyone at my house gets them. :biggrin:

Thin fish filets - timing and poking and looking method.

Chickens - timing and looking and poking deep into the thigh and watching to see if the leg moves easily in its socket

Roasts, turkeys, anything else big - meat thermometer.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...