One Saturday night when I was in my twenties, I was sitting in a diner with my buddy, John. We were not talking about women, sports,
One Saturday night when I was in my twenties, I was sitting in a diner with my buddy, John. We were not talking about women, sports, or politics. No. As hip and happening guys do, we were talking about the best ways to tell how a steak is cooked to the proper temperature. Based on this topic of conversation, I know you are saying to yourself, “It’s amazing that these guys would be alone on a Saturday night!”
John, who worked at a bunch of restaurants and was going to culinary school at Johnson & Wales, introduced me to the technique that he used. Instead of thermometers, he directed me to what he claimed was a simple way that involved touching one’s face, matching the feeling of the meat and a specific area facial feature.
Touch the meat and it feels like your forehead, then the meat is Well-Done. For Medium, touch your nose. Medium Rare is judged by feeling the area right above the point of your chin. If your steak feels like the meaty part of your cheek, you’re looking at Rare.
I had a problem with this method for a few reasons. First, it was so subjective. I’ve got a large nose bestowed upon me by my forbears that needed big noses to suck in as much oxygen as possible while living high in the mountains of southern Italy. There is no way that John’s very average Irish/ Scottish/ German nose and mine when touched would both produce an equally Medium Rare steak.
Second, this routine requires that you touch the meat, then touch your face to judge if it done correctly. In all likelihood, you’ll have to repeat the meat/face touching process. Even if the person cooking at the grill is not a pimply-faced teenager, this is just gross and unhygienic. Plus on a particularly busy night of cooking, you’d be walking around with meat juice smeared all over your mug.
Instead of reading a steak as Helen Keller would read Annie Sullivan’s face, I am a fan of using a proper thermometer. At first, I used a round dial thermometer. It was simple to use but it took a long time to register a temperature and its small face difficult for me to read.
My second thermometer was a Williams Sonoma brand whose model number is lost to history. It came in two parts- the monitor serves as a timer and digitally displayed the temperature. Its back is magnetic so it conveniently sticks to the stove and refrigerator. The probe can be connected to the monitor after the business end is inserted in whatever meat you happened to be cooking.
I have really liked using this over the years. The only major challenge here is that there is a bit of awkwardness in organizing the thermometer in the food in such a way that it gives you a good reading while still providing the probe with enough slack to connect to the thermometer base outside of your oven. Also, when the food is done you have to remember that the probe has spent a good amount of time in a hot oven. Taking it out with bare hands is not advised and, yes, I have done it on one more than one occasion. It’s usually around the time that I am in the throes of preparing a holiday meal. I’ve had that since about 2002, and I still use the timer.
Just a few weeks ago, I received the ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 as a birthday gift. It’s something that I coveted for a while but never would indulge to get for myself. Simply put, this thermometer is a dream. While it does not provide the constant reading of the old Williams Sonoma, its easy-to-read, back lit, digital display allows you to quickly ascertain the temperature of what you’re cooking without having to futz about. I have a feeling the Mk4 and I are going to be friends for a long time.
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