Cooking School Secrets: Getting What You Want

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Maybe this sounds familiar. You order a medium steak in one restaurant and receive meat with a fair amount of pink. Order it somewhere else and you receive just a tiny line of pink. Frustrating, isn't it?

Equally so for the chef who prepares a perfect medium rare burger that's sent back for more cooking.

Doneness is relative. Customers and chefs often disagree. One chef's med rare is another's medium. Plus it's likely that neither one jives with the USDA Recommended Internal Temperature recommendations.

Experienced chefs touch meat to determine its doneness. Here's a way to learn the different feels: Form a circle by touching the tip of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. The feeling of the pad under your thumb is what a rare steak feels like. Touching your thumb to your middle finger feels like a medium rare steak. Use your thumb and ring finger for medium and your pinky for well done.

It was suggested that we use a thermometer at first. It's been working for me. Here are the color guidelines and the temperatures I use to pull meat from the heat. (If the numbers sound low, keep in mind that carryover cooking raises the temperature approximately 5-10 degrees. Always let your meat rest for at least 5 minutes.)

Rare: meat is warm throughout; extensive red - pulled at 100-110 degrees

Medium rare: meat is all pink with a thin line of strip of red - pulled at 120-125 degrees

Medium: meat still has a fair amount of pink - pulled at 130-135 degrees

Medium well: meat has a thin line of pink - pulled at 140-145 degrees

Well done: no pink remains - pulled at 150 or above

This may or may not match what you like or what you are used to. But there's a way to always have it your way. Talk to your server. Explain the color you are looking for -- or ask about the chef's idea of doneness.

Everyone will end up happier.

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