Grilling Techniques

Is It Done Yet? Five Failproof Tests to Check for Doneness

Is it done yet? When it comes to grilling or smoking, that’s the, er, burning question. Even the most seasoned grillers and smokers sometimes experience a twinge of uncertainty when it comes to gauging the doneness of a particular meat or seafood.

One of our missions here at Barbecue! Bible is to help you take the guesswork out of grilling. Here are five tests you can use now to tell exactly when the food on your grill is ready.

  1. The visual test: Look at the food and smell it. Properly grilled food will be sizzling and dark golden brown on the outside. Seared chops and steaks (of the bovine, porcine, and piscine variety) will have a dark visible crust.
  2. The olfactory test: Food that has been grilled properly has a distinctive smell, too—toasted, caramelized, and smoky.
  3. The pinch test: Similar to the poke test, only you pinch the meat between your thumb and forefinger. (This is particularly useful for shish kebab.) Here’s a key to what you feel: soft and squishy = rare; yielding = medium-rare; gently yielding = medium; and firm = well done.
  4. The pierce test: Use this test to check the doneness of foods that are hard to see or poke, like ember-roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or whole onions. Insert a slender metal skewer into the center. If it meets no resistance, the vegetable is cooked. You can also use the pierce test to check the doneness of fish fillets or planked fish. Insert a metal skewer through one of the narrow edges of the fish toward the center and leave it there for 15 seconds. If the skewer feels hot to the touch when you pull it out, the fish is cooked.
  5. The instant-read meat thermometer test: This is the most accurate method of all, and yes, even the pros use it. It’s especially useful for testing doneness in large cuts of meat, like prime rib, pork shoulders, whole chickens and turkeys, and even planked salmon.

    Insert the slender probe of an instant-read meat thermometer into the center of the meat; the reading on the thermometer will tell you the internal temperature. For poultry, insert the probe in the thickest part of the thigh. Don’t let the probe touch any bones or you may get a false reading.

    If you are checking a thin piece of meat, like a chicken breast or steak, insert the probe through the side. For hot dogs or other link meat (chorizo, bratwurst, etc.), insert the probe through an end toward the center.

    There are also a number of digital remote thermometers on the market. The probe stays in the food throughout the cook and alerts you when a preset temperature is reached. And remember, the meat will continue cooking off the grill—expect a 5 to 10 degree temperature rise depending on the size of the meat.

Do you have your own innovative ways of checking doneness? Let us know on the Barbecue Board.

Pick up a few great tools to make sure your food is cooked perfectly next time:

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