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Steak myths (or not?) from Serious Eats

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  1. Okay, this is cool...I need to weigh in on a couple of zee myths.

    First, I was brought up in the "steaks with bones have more flavor" camp, I confess.

    Secondly, I've seen the "poke your hand" test myth perpetuated by more than one chef on the Food Network/Cooking Channel. Before Roger Mooking did his hot foods thing with Aaron Sanchez and the latest cooking w/ fire thing, he had his own cooking show and would constantly refer to the poke test.

    18 Replies
    1. re: pinehurst

      It doesn't mention the resting after cooking advice. I still prefer to bring meats to room temp and I always want a bone in, especially for the reason mentioned.

      I've never bought into the hand poke thing as determinant, either. Just dumb.

      1. re: mcf

        "I've never bought into the hand poke thing as determinant, either. Just dumb."

        what method do you use?

        My FIL likes "dry as a bone" as a starting point for doneness. after it looks like it's so dry it could choke someone, he cuts into it and then leaves it in the grill a little longer "just to be sure". Resting is done uncovered in a pile and is called "letting it cool down" or as I call it "cold steak". to each their own.

              1. re: Gastronomos

                Does he make you eat *his* overdone steak, or are you free to have your steak the way you like it?

                Because if so.... why do you care how your FIL likes his steak?

                1. re: linguafood

                  if we are invited over for a BBQ, he's grilling and all the meat comes out his way. it would be rude to refuse, no?

                  1. re: Gastronomos

                    Would it be rude to ask if he could take your steak off sooner? I mean, that's just communication 101.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      been there, done that.
                      *tzurriz* posts here"
                      "This is why my husband always insists on grilling our steaks when we visit his folks. My FIL thinks "rare" takes 30 minutes over direct flame. :( "

                      I tried that too. no dice.

            1. re: Gastronomos

              This is why my husband always insists on grilling our steaks when we visit his folks. My FIL thinks "rare" takes 30 minutes over direct flame. :(

            2. re: mcf

              Depends whose hand you're poking, I guess. Grandma's bony claw, or Uncle Ralph's meaty mit. Either way, what does it have to do with grilling a steak? I never got it.

              1. re: flavrmeistr

                That's hilarious, flavrmeister, it's always been in the back of my mind.

              2. re: mcf

                I always let meat sit out for an hour before cooking too. Kenji’s previous advice was to take a steak out of the refrigerator 40 minutes in advance of cooking, and someone posted a comment asking him whether he no longer recommends this step. His reply, “Yep, new shit has come to light. No longer a necessity!”

                He does acknowledge a 10 minute rest after cooking in response to a poster’s comment, so that remains the same.

              3. re: pinehurst

                The hand poke has always puzzled me. Maybe I have a mutant hand, but it just feels the same however I hold my hand. Anyway, I just touch the meat with my tongs. Couple of years of cooking has taught me what various temperatures feel like.

                1. re: pinehurst

                  I don't know that bones add flavor but they definitely protect what is typically the lean side of a steak from drying out during the cooking process.

                  1. re: Tom34

                    But that's not the "myth." I never thought about it before but it makes total sense to me..

                  1. Touch the steak "myth".

                    Kenji barely alludes to what I suspect is the most significant issue; how often do you do this and how consistent are the steaks that you are cooking? Someone who spends several nights a week wrangling dozens and dozens of carefully procured steaks over the same grill is not the same as Sam Suburban who fires up the Weber once a week to cook whatever looked good at the grocery store on the way home.

                    FWIW, in making a sort of hobby of watching competent people working large grills for a crowd, I've never seen a Thermopen or any of its relatives used. I suppose roasts and the like are monitored with thermocouples, but so far, I've yet to see one used in a restaurant for steaks. 'Anyone seen one used?

                    62 Replies
                    1. re: akachochin

                      I spent years in front of restaurant broilers. Always used the touch method to determine temps. I had no idea it didn't work until now. There were no thermo pens back then and while we had meat thermometers, we never pierced steaks with them. Plus that would have taken too long.

                      1. re: chileheadmike

                        That is the one "myth" in the article that has no "Food Lab" discussion in it, and is more just about the author saying whatever he thinks makes sense. His points aren't actually that convincing -- more along the lines of "it seems random to me, so it must also be random to an experienced chef."

                        1. re: calumin

                          I think the point is that the "touch method" requires a LOT of experience and can't be used reliably as a doneness measure for inexperienced cooks. The cut of the steak and thickness makes a big difference in how it feels.

                          I can get steaks right by touch ~90 percent of the time but it's easy to screw up if the steak is extra thick or thin.

                        2. re: chileheadmike

                          I think it makes clear that it works for someone like you, but not the rest of us without such high volume experience.

                          1. re: mcf

                            Yes. I thought he made it perfectly clear that if you're cooking multiple steaks every night then you can do that.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              So I misread. Oops, not the first time.

                            2. re: mcf

                              Have to disagree with you on the press test. I know how it is explained using the hand and I guess that is a good way to get the basic point across but there is far more to it than that.

                              There is a KNOWLEDGE factor of which a few key elements are cut of meat & thickness which the author alluded to. Most avid steak lovers can easily distinguish the most common steak cuts by chew alone. With practice, the same is true for the resistance to pressure with the press test.

                              There is the EXPERIENCE factor of the more you do something generally the better you get at it. I am not & have never been a professional chef but every time I grill meat I constantly press on the product throughout the cooking process.

                              I have gotten to the point where I am very accurate using the press test for beef steaks, pork chops & even hamburgers.

                              1. re: Tom34

                                I'm guessing you cooks steak a lot more than many/most of us. For me, it's probably once a month. And the cut/thickness could be anything. So muscle memory isn't going to work. I'm not going to be able to remember how that the 2" thick, bone-in ribeye felt six months ago. Unless one can, why run even a small chance of botching it up when it's not necessary. I've mentioned on other threads that we do house exchanges and what kitchen tools I take. My thermometer is always at the top of the list.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  I only have 2 meat thermometers. One is a 1970's w/a big dial & thick probe for roasts. The other one is from the 1990's, has a small 1 inch dial and a much thinner probe and it is faster than the ancient one but still not fast.

                                  If Thermalpen's claims are true about being extremely rugged & giving an accurate temp within 3 seconds the $100.00 or so sounds like a very good investment. I know my wife could use one and I would use it for chicken where a couple degrees either way is a big safety concern.

                                  1. re: Tom34

                                    I don't have a thermapen. Mine cost about $15 and does the trick for me.

                                  1. re: monavano

                                    Kind of like free hand knife sharpening on a stone. There is a "Feel" that changes with different grit stones and different metal hardness. Practice, practice & more practice. BTW, I never got that feel and got an Edgepro sharpener so I fully understand folks getting the Thermalpens :-)

                                    1. re: monavano

                                      And, as I posted above, if I cook a particular cut and thickness of steak a couple of times a year, then no amount of knowledge, IMO, is going to offset the lack of experience...with that particular cut and thickness.

                                      And we're VERY picky about the degree of doneness we're willing to accept. If it's overcooked a little we complain. If it's overcooked a lot we save it for the dogs and have the vegetarian plate that night. So, yeah, if you're willing to accept subpar even occasionally, then go for it. We're really not.

                                    2. re: Tom34

                                      So, what are you disagreeing with? I said the same thing; do it a lot and you develop the skill.

                                      1. re: mcf

                                        Some people develop certain skills faster than others. I am not a chef nor a high volume griller. I just started doing it from raw to finished product every time I handle a piece of meat and got good at it.

                                        1. re: Tom34

                                          Not typical, though, wouldn't you agree?

                                          1. re: mcf

                                            It is my experience that I can show someone how to a million times over and they just don't get it. (or don't want to get it)

                                            Some, though, claim they can "teach a rhesus monkey" to broil a steak. I take that as "to the requested temperature". I guess it is up to the instructor/teacher and the student.
                                            And a broilerman in a restaurant should NEVER cut a steak or chop that is served whole (not sliced a la Peter Luger).

                                            1. re: Gastronomos

                                              Degree of interest in the subject to be learned, paying attention to instruction, concentration while practicing & confidence play huge roles in just about all learning.

                                              My favorite meal is steak. I took great interest in learning about cut, quality, aging & cooking it. Most friends say my end product is as good or better than most steakhouses. There are many other meals I cook often but my heart is not in it to the same degree and the end product reflects that.

                                              1. re: Tom34

                                                I cook mighty fine steak, too. Using a $20 instant read thermometer, timing and a good rest at the end.

                                                1. re: mcf

                                                  I don't dismiss what seriouseats says but really don't much care about everything they put in print either. I cook thick steaks and take them out of the frig about 90 minutes before cooking and cover them loosely with plastic wrap & rest 10 minutes after cooking. It works for me & looks like it works for you too.

                                                  1. re: Tom34

                                                    Yep, except for the part about plastic wrap. I don't even have it in my house any more. :-)

                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                      what do you use in place of plastic wrap? why do you no longer use plastic wrap?

                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                        I use either foil, or an upside down plate. I am avoiding plastic food storage and contact wherever I can, and scrupulously avoiding warm plastic contact with our food. Chemicals leaching, don't want it.

                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                          thanks. I get the avoiding of food touching and the warm food-plastic combo. I've seen restaurants on TV that cover the roasts in plastic and then foil and then bake. When they open up the foil after baking, the plastic is gone. I always wondered why we ate melted plastic wrap in restaurants :-/

                                                          Al foil has it's down side as well according to some studies.

                                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                                            If you're talking about Alzheimer's, no. That connection was debunked long ago.

                                                      2. re: mcf

                                                        Agreed. I use aluminum foil. Don't want that plasticky flavor on my steak, plus you can tent aluminum foil where the plastic wrap would glom onto the meat and be not what I wanted.

                                                  2. re: Tom34

                                                    "Degree of interest in the subject to be learned..."

                                                    I agree. Maybe that's why I show some people who *say* they want to learn and when I do... no can do.

                                                    I love sauces. Just as you love steak. I have perfected sauce making. All kinds. Every kind. pasta sauces, gravy, you name it. My heart is into making sauces. I make sure my steak, chops, burgers, chicken, etc. is grilled/BBQ'd to my liking so I can more fully enjoy the sauce I put so much love into making. Grilling a steak, for me, is great, so I can enjoy the sauce. I am not a steak lover, so it HAS to be perfect or I'm ordering a pizza, with extra sauce.

                                                2. re: mcf

                                                  I can only say what works for me. If this thread were a poll it would appear more find it difficult than not. I don't think that makes it "dumb" or useless though.

                                                  1. re: Tom34

                                                    I don't think it's dumb or useless, either, any more than I think it's dumb not to bother learning it. As long as we're getting good steak from whatever method we employ.

                                                    1. re: mcf

                                                      I agree 100%, what ever works for the individual. I never gave the thermometers much thought for anything but roasts but this thread has thinking about them.

                                                      1. re: Tom34

                                                        I only just started using them for burgers, beef and pork. We weren't ever getting them particularly overdone but sometimes they could have a used just a touch more. And I've been seeing cassarole-type recipes giving an internal temp reading.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          I am lucky because if I error a tad bit on the rare side everyone in my house is ok.....I wonder why there is such a price spread between the Thermapen / Thermometer and the $20.00 ones. I have always been willing to spend $$ on good well made high performance products that last so I will have to research it a little.

                                                          1. re: Tom34

                                                            You mean with steaks AND burgers? Bob and I are fine with super rare burgers, guests maybe not so much so. I know, get new friends. That's cool. But if I get rid of the daughters then they'll likely take the grandbabies with 'em. NOT GOOD :)

                                                            I've had my $20 one for some years now and occasionally have to replace the battery.

                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                              I researched it a bunch, and found that mine gives me enough info in 8 seconds and I don't need to spend a lot more to cut that down to 3. I'd still have the $15 one if I hadn't accidentally dropped it and had trouble fishing it out of a very hot oven. Replaced the battery once, maybe twice, over the years.

                                                              1. re: Tom34

                                                                The price point difference is because the Thermapen is more accurate, registers the temperature more quickly, and has a smaller probe so the piercing hole is virtually unnoticeable. I love mine. Use it all the time. Turkey, steaks, pork chops, the temperature of the oil when I need to know. Have bought it for friends as gifts. Love it. Can you tell?

                                                                1. re: JoanN

                                                                  Joan, how high will it go when checking oil please? I got one of the infrared ones for that and it failed early on.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    No idea. Never tested it past 375F-380F. Never had an infrared, but my understanding is that it detects surface rather than internal temperature. No idea whether that is correct or not.

                                                                    1. re: JoanN

                                                                      Thanks. I had no idea it went that high. And, yes, I also had a problem with a surface reading.

                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                        Was curious, so I just looked it up. Web site says range for the Thermapen is -58.0 to 572.0°F.

                                                                        1. re: JoanN

                                                                          "Web site says range for the Thermapen is -58.0 to 572.0°F."

                                                                          Have you ever cooked a steak to 572.0 degrees? I assume it involved a fire extinguisher?

                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                            I assume you're just being funny here, but as noted above I use the Thermapen not just for checking the temperature of food, but for checking the temperature of oil and have therefore never personally tested it beyond 375 or 380F.

                                                                            1. re: JoanN

                                                                              Takin' oil to 572 is gonna require a fire truck, not just an extinguisher. But, I'm with mcf, I don't see the expense as worth it. Especially, since sooner or later somebody's gonna break it.

                                                                              I use experience or a chopstick to tell when oil's hot enough. I'm good at the finger test. I prefer jazz to classical.

                                                                              Then again, I also drive an eleven year old GMC truck, with manual windows and locks, so . . . .

                                                                  2. re: JoanN

                                                                    Joan,

                                                                    Strangely enough I just asked a friend this morning who I turned on to the Big Green Egg last year if he heard of the Thermapen. He said, " yup, bought one a month ago after reading sterling reviews on the Green Egg Forum and love it."

                                                                    Mine should arrive in the mail by Friday :-)

                                                                    1. re: Tom34

                                                                      I'll be surprised if you don't become a convert as quickly as I.

                                                                      Now, in my next life, I want a NYC apartment somehow compatible with a Big Green Egg. I think it might be illegal, but I can still dream.

                                                                      1. re: JoanN

                                                                        I know for anything my wife cooks it will come in handy & I will use it for things like chicken where I am extremely cautious.

                                                                        I know there are some strict regulations in NYC but on the other hand NYC is one of the culinary / entertainment capitals of the world. Old friends who lived in Manhattan for years eventually moved to long Island. Best of both worlds, space to breathe but a short trains ride from culinary / entertainment utopia.

                                                                  3. re: Tom34

                                                                    Get a thermapen if you appreciate high quality tools, kitchen or garage or garden. I like knowing my thermometer is "Correct". I use my Thermapen to calibrate my other thermometers and to verify thermostats on deep fryers or whatever.

                                                                    1. re: DWB

                                                                      I would tend to lean that way. All my tools have been high quality and given me years of good service.

                                                                      A Thermapen would be great for my wife and I could use it for my fresh ground chicken burgers as there is such a fine line between just cooked enough & overcooked with them.

                                                          2. re: mcf

                                                            Would not agree.
                                                            This isn't rocket science.

                                                            1. re: monavano

                                                              Sorry, but I have no idea what point you're disagreeing with.

                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                I'm having a hard time tracking on that one also.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  If you click on the "RE:mcf" button on the top right corner of the post, it'll take you to the post monavano is responding to.

                                                                  In this case, the post was about whether a layperson could quickly and easily learn to tell the doneness of steak by feel. This one:
                                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9054...

                                                          3. re: Tom34

                                                            How is this hard to get?
                                                            We've got skills.

                                                    2. re: chileheadmike

                                                      "How can you tell if a steak is done" is a question like "how do you tell if it's raining". Observation, mostly. Tell me how you want it; that's how you'll get it.

                                                      1. re: chileheadmike

                                                        There are fingers and then there are experienced fingers. If you are doing it all day long you get good at it

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            Need I add ...and most of us don't have them.

                                                          2. re: scubadoo97

                                                            Whoever it was that told me about the finger thing gave me three points of touch reference: middle of cheek = rare; jaw end of cheek = medium; tip of nose = well done. That takes care of it for those who grill a maximum of one steak per month. The only problem is that it does NOT work on every sort of steak, much less other meats. However, taking note of another myth Kenji busts, you can poke a thermometer right on in there and all the juices will NOT run out.

                                                      2. I think the writer said it best. "There are so many uncontrolled variables in this assay that it boggles the mind."

                                                        1. The hand test works if you are showing someone in person and you know how firm to make your fist. It's not very useful when someone is explaining it on TV, or online or in a book though obviously.

                                                          With regards to the flip only once thing, it's definitely more of an aesthetic thing for me. I don't want to see grill marks zig zagging all over the place, and I prefer there to be some variance in the doneness of the meat.