How to Cook Steak Perfectly Every Time

Welcome to Cooking 101, a fun, weekly series of cooking lessons and hands-on learning from America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Who are we? Our knowledge and techniques are based on 20 years of test kitchen work creating foolproof recipes for Cook's Illustrated magazine and for our television shows. We believe that everybody, whether novice or advanced, can gain the skills and confidence to become a better cook.

Week 4: COOKING MEAT TO TEMPERATURE & KNOWING WHEN FOOD IS DONE
(read other Cooking 101 posts)

Who would ever want to eat an overdone or undercooked steak? The secret to perfectly cooked meat is an instant-read thermometer. Whether cooking a burger or roasting a beef tenderloin, you want to always take the temperature of the area of the meat that will be the last to finish cooking, which is the thickest part or, in some cases, the center. Bones conduct heat, so if the meat you are cooking contains bone, make sure that the thermometer is not hitting it. For especially large roasts, take more than one reading to confirm you're at the right point of doneness.

For Perfectly Cooked Steaks, Chops, and Small Roasts

When taking the temperature of thin steaks or pork chops, it's easy to insert the thermometer too far or not far enough. To avoid this, use tongs to hold the meat, then insert the thermometer sideways into the center, taking care not to hit any bones. You can also use this technique for pork tenderloin or rack of lamb; just lift the meat with a pair of tongs and insert the thermometer into the end, parallel to the meat.

For Perfectly Cooked Burgers

Leave the burger in the pan (or on the grill), slide the tip of the thermometer into the burger at the top edge, and push it toward the center, making sure to avoid hitting the pan with the probe. This technique keeps the burgers in the pan and prevents them from falling apart.

RELATED: Is your thermometer accurate... or totally off? Learn how to check your instant-read thermometer's accuracy in seconds.

DONENESS CHART FOR BEEF OR LAMB

Since the temperature of meat will continue to rise as it rests, meat should be removed from the oven, grill, or pan 5 to 10 degrees before the desired serving temperature is reached.

Rare: 115 to 120 degrees (120 to 125 degrees after resting)
Medium Rare: 120 to 125 degrees (125 to 130 degrees after resting)
Medium: 130 to 135 degrees (135 to 140 degrees after resting)
Medium Well: 140 to 145 degrees (145 to 150 degrees after resting)
Well Done: 150 to 155 degrees (155 to 160 degrees after resting)

READY TO COOK? In our "Using Measuring Tools" course (free for Yahoo! Shine readers through Sept 30, 2012), we teach you everything you need to know about measuring, from which tools you really need, a breakdown on different kinds of thermometers and timers, and even how to perfectly tell when a loaf of bread is perfectly baked through.

See what we're up to at America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. Get access to our complete catalog of over 100 courses, receive personalized one-on-one instruction, and become a better cook today!

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