How to Test Meat & Poultry for Doneness

How to tell if food is done -- both for food safety and personal preferences.
When to Take It Off
Garlicky Steak and Asparagus

The great taste of food hot off the grill is a reward to be savored. Knowing when to pull it off the grill is important for a great eating experience and also to ensure safety. Determining "doneness" in terms of texture, appearance, and juiciness is often a matter of personal preference. However, in terms of safety, foods are "done" when they are cooked to an internal temperature high enough to eliminate harmful microorganisms. The best way to measure internal temperature is with a food thermometer.

Qualitative Measures

  • Steaks/chops/chicken breasts: With lots of practice, the "poke test" provides a quick gauge for doneness. The poke test compares the tension in the fleshy part of your hand at the base of your thumb with the tension you feel as you press your index finger into the center of the cut of meat.

  1. For rare: Bring your thumb and index finger together gently and press the base of your thumb to test tension.
  2. For medium: Bring your thumb and middle finger together gently and press the base of your thumb to test tension.
  3. For well-done: Bring your thumb and pinky finger together and press the base of your thumb to test tension.

  • Whole chicken: Insert and skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. It's done if the juices run clear. Or wiggle the leg, which should be loose.
  • Fish: Flesh is done when it turns opaque; breaks into large, firm flakes; and pulls away easily from any bones.

Scientific Measures

The most accurate and safe way to determine doneness is to use a thermometer. To achieve an accurate reading, use the following guide to determine where to insert the thermometer.

  • Beef, lamb, pork roast: Insert into the thickest part of the roast, avoiding the bone and fat. Remove the roasts from the grill 5 to 10 degrees F below final doneness. Tent with aluminum foil. Let stand for 15 minutes. The temperature will continue to rise to reach final doneness. During standing, the meat juices redistribute and the roast becomes easier to slice.
  • Burgers, steaks, chops: Insert horizontally into the center, away from bone and fat.
  • Whole poultry: Gauge the temperature at part of the thigh, avoiding the bone.
  • Poultry parts: Insert thermometer in the thickest area, avoiding the bone.


Continued on page 2:  Thermometers