Steak is a popular cut of beef. In fact, it’s one of the most desired cuts of meat for many people.
It’s a common choice for backyard cookouts, being easy to throw on the grill on a weeknight whim.
If you’ve ever ordered a steak at a restaurant, you were likely asked how you wanted it cooked — rare, medium, or well-done?
This article explains how the hand test can determine the doneness of a steak, why testing your steak before you eat it matters, and other ways to tell when a steak is ready.
The hand test gets its name because it involves using your finger to poke a steak. Then, you compare its firmness with how your other hand feels.
The method might sound confusing on paper, and it may take a few tries to get comfortable with. Still, when you don’t have a thermometer available, it’s a simple way to measure the doneness of a steak.
Here are step-by-step instructions for using the hand test on a piece of steak:
- When you’re ready to test a piece of steak, gently press down on the meat with your pointer or index finger. Poke a few areas to get a general idea of how soft or firm it is.
- Open your other hand, extending all your fingers but letting them relax.
- Compare the feeling of the steak to the the flesh on the palm of your hand at the base of your thumb. When your hand is fully open, the flesh feels soft and you might notice an indention when you press it. This is similar to how a piece of a rare or raw steak feels.
- Gently press your index or pointer finger against your thumb, as if you were making an “ok” sign with your hand. Notice how the flesh below your thumb is not quite as soft as it was when your hand was fully open. This matches how a medium-rare steaks should feel.
- The firmness of the flesh on your hand changes as you press different fingers gently against your thumb. As you progress from your index to pinky finger, the flesh becomes less soft and more firm — just as a steak does as it cooks.
- Once you’ve compared the texture of the steak to the feeling of your hand, use the table below to determine which level of doneness the steak has been cooked to.
|Finger touching the thumb||Steak doneness||Feeling of flesh on hand||Temperature of steak||Color of steak|
|Open hand||rare||softest||125°F (52°C)||bright red throughout|
|Index / Point||medium rare||softer||135°F (57°C)||bright red center|
|Middle||medium||soft||145°F (63°C)||light pink throughout|
|Ring||medium well||firmer||150°F (66°C)||light pink center|
|Pinky||well done||firmest||160°F (71°C)||brown throughout|
To use the hand test on a piece of steak, compare the feeling of the cooked meat to the flesh on your hand. A rare steak will be soft, like the flesh on an open hand. A well-done steak is firm like the flesh when you press your pinky finger to your thumb.
The hand test is a well-known way to test the doneness of meats like beef steak and pork chops. Many home cooks and even professional chefs have used the method for years.
Yet, truth be told, there’s been little scientific evaluation of the method to date. In other words, it’s currently unclear how accurate it is.
A recent small study in 26 Australians evaluated the hand test for determining steak doneness. It found that the method’s accuracy was rather low, sitting at 36% (
The hand test relies on subjective interpretation of the firmness of the steak and your hand. Thus, it makes sense that it’s more prone to error than other methods, such as using an accurate meat thermometer.
Still, many people find the hand test to be a simple, quick, and effective way to measure the doneness of a steak.
If you decide to use the hand test yourself, remember that it takes practice to feel comfortable and confident with the results. In the meantime, it might be best to double-check the doneness of the meat using another method.
Many chefs and home cooks swear by the hand test for steaks. However, little research has examined the hand test to date, and it may not be as accurate as some people believe it to be.
If you’re not comfortable using the hand test or if you just want to double-check yourself the first few times you try it, there are a few other ways you can measure the doneness of a steak.
The safest, quickest, and most effective way to tell when a steak is done is to use a meat thermometer to measure the temperature — as indicated in the table above.
You can also cut into the steak and examine its color.
The center of a rare steak is pink or red in color, a well-done steak is brown throughout, and a medium steak is somewhere in between.
Aside from the hand test, you can measure a steak by cutting it open and looking at its color. A steak is red when rare, pink when medium, and brown when well done. Using a meat thermometer is the most accurate way to tell when a steak is done.
Many of us care about how cooked our steak is because we prefer the taste and texture of a certain degree of doneness.
Yet, the main reason to pay close attention to the degree of doneness of a steak — or of any meat for that matter — is to avoid contracting a foodborne illness.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking steak to a core temperature of at least 145°F (63°C), which equals medium doneness (4).
Eating a steak cooked to a lower temperature, which can be the case with a rare or medium-rare steak, can be risky for some people.
If meat has been contaminated with a pathogen like Escherichia coli, it can cause illness if not properly cooked — particularly in people who are more susceptible, like older adults, pregnant women, children, and those who are immunocompromised (
Still, most people who enjoy rare steaks will be fine.
Knowing when a steak is done is not only important for taste and texture, but it also lowers the risk of getting sick if the meat has been contaminated with a pathogen like E. coli.
Steak is a cut of beef that’s rich in many nutrients. This red meat is commonly served at backyard cookouts and sold in steakhouse restaurants.
Most people have a preference as to how they like their steak cooked. Some enjoy it rare, others prefer it well done, and many enjoy it cooked somewhere in between.
When you cook a steak at home, the hand or touch test is one way to measure when your steak is ready and cooked to your liking.
If you decide to use the hand test, remember that it takes practice to get comfortable with and it relies on your own subjective interpretation of the texture of the meat. It won’t be as safe or accurate as using a meat thermometer.
Just one thing
Try this today: Steak and beef are well-loved and an integral part of culinary traditions around the world. Still, some worry about how eating meat impacts health and the environment.
If you’re interested in this topic, check out our article on whether meat can be incorporated into a healthy, pro-environment diet.