How To Cook Beef: 7 Beef Cooking Methods And 3 Touch Tests For Steak Doneness

How To Cook Beef: 7 Beef Cooking Methods And 3 Touch Tests For Steak Doneness

Did you know there are only seven basic beef cooking methods? Choose the right cooking method for each cut of beef and you’ll make each cut shine.

Do you like to cook beef or do you find it intimidating? When we talk to new customers we often hear concerns over cooking unfamiliar cuts of beef. This always surprises us because cooking beef is often easier than cooking other meats. All you have to do is pair the right cooking method with the right beef cut. It’s literally that easy.

Dry-Heat vs. Moist-Heat Beef Cooking Methods

The seven methods of cooking beef can be grouped into two main categories: dry-heat and moist-heat. Dry-heat cooking uses hot air to conduct the heat around the beef. Think roasting, broiling, grilling, or sautéing. Moist-heat cooking is any method that involves cooking with moisture, like braising or stewing.

1 & 2 - Braising and Stewing

Braising and stewing are moist-heat cooking methods. They are great for beginner cooks or anyone who is extremely busy. They require very little hands-on time, work best with less expensive cuts of beef, and the result is always great.

The term ‘braising’ may be new to you, but you’ve probably done it before. With braising, you briefly sear beef at a high temperature and then transfer the beef to a covered pot. You can use a crock pot, dutch oven, or any other large pot with a tight fitting lid. 

There are two big differences between braising and stewing. First, braising is for large cuts of beef (like a roast). Stewing is for beef that is cut into pieces (think of stew meat). Second, with stewing, the liquid will entirely cover whatever beef dish you’re making. With braising, you’ll only have a little liquid in your pot.

The best cuts of beef for braising and stewing are cuts that are from hard working muscle groups because they usually have more marbling. These cuts are traditionally known to be tougher, but they become tender when cooked low and slow. Look to cuts like brisket, short ribs, chuck roast, bottom round roast, and arm roasts.

3 - Baking

You may not think of baking when it comes to meat, but it does happen occasionally, like when you’re making a casserole. Baking is done in an oven and uses either a covered or uncovered pan.

Baking and roasting (see below) are similar, but the difference between the two is in the temperature and initial texture of the food. Generally, baking is done at a lower temperature (375 degrees and lower) and is used for foods without much structure (think cake mix and cookie dough). Roasting is done with higher heats (400 degrees or higher) and is for foods with a definite structure (think meat and vegetables).

4 - Broiling

Broiling is like indoor grilling. The biggest difference between broiling and grilling is where the heat comes from, above or below. Broiling uses dry heat, and the heat is above the beef. Broiling beef is great because it takes minimum time, it’s easy to do with any oven, and it results in great flavor.

When you broil steak, set your oven for broil and preheat for about 10 minutes. Your oven should be hot before you start cooking the meat. The length of time to cook will vary based on the cut’s thickness, similar to when cooking on a grill. For a ¾ inch steak, it will take about 7-8 minutes for medium rare to about 10 minutes to broil it to medium doneness.

5 - Grilling

Grilling doesn’t need much of an explanation. It’s a dry-heat cooking method and you cook food over hot coals or a gas flame. One of the biggest secrets of grilling is to give your grill plenty of time to heat up.

An easy test for checking your grill temperature is to put your hand just above the grill rack, and see how high you can count. If you can put your hand close to the grill rack and count to two (one Mississippi, two Mississippi), the heat is high. If you can get to 4 or 5 seconds, the heat is medium high. If you can count to 6 or 8, it’s medium heat. If you count to 9 or 10 it’s medium-low and counting to 11 or higher means it’s low heat.

Our favorite cuts for grilling are hamburger and steak.

6 - Roasting

Years and years ago, roasting would have meant using a split roast and a part of an animal over an open flame. Today, you can avoid the open flame and use your oven.

The secret to roasting is using a high heat to brown the exterior of the meat for a savory browned crust. But you have to be careful that you don’t roast it so much that the meat dries out. One of the ways to get around having dry beef is to use a baster to keep the meat moist while it’s roasting. 

With roasting, the beef cut counts. The best cuts for roasting are tender, like loin or sirloin. One of our favorite cuts to roast is a Sirloin Tip Roast. Also make sure you season the beef before roasting. For example, a salt and pepper rub will give the roast a very rich flavor compared to no rub at all. Last, but not least, you’re going to want to use a meat thermometer when roasting. The outer crust on meat can be deceiving. Using a meat thermometer will help ensure you don’t overcook your beef.

7 - Sautéing: How to Cook Beef in a Pan

There are different kinds of skillet cooking methods, but one of our favorites is sautéing. With sautéing you will cook beef in a skillet on high heat so that it quickly browns the beef. You’ll need to use thinner cuts of beef that are ½ inch in thickness or less. A great chef’s tip is to make sure to dry the meat with a paper towel before sautéing so that it will brown easily.

When the raw meat is ready, place a heavy bottom skillet on the stove and allow it to become hot. Just like grilling, you can easily test the temperature of your skillet by holding your hand above the skillet and counting to two Mississippi. Then coat the bottom of the pan with oil.

Place the meat in the pan. When you do, the oil will sizzle. If it doesn’t sizzle, the pan isn’t hot enough. If the oil starts to pop too much, you can turn the heat down to a medium high heat. The meat will take approximately 2-3 minutes to cook on each side. Once it’s cooked you’ll remove the meat from the pan. If you want, you can use some of the browned bits left in the skillet to make a delicious pan sauce for your beef.

Touching for Doneness

The absolute easiest way to ruin beef is to overcook it or undercook it. Thankfully, it’s an easy problem to solve with a digital meat thermometer.

However, we know that many people may not have or want to use a digital meat thermometer for two reasons. First, for those that don’t have a thermometer, they typically think they’re too expensive (they’re not...many are in the $30 range). Second, those that have a thermometer and don’t want to use it say it’s because they don’t want to puncture beef before they eat it because they don’t want to lose any juices. There have been lots of studies on this. And though you may lose a little juice by testing it with a thermometer, that’s much better than ruining the entire steak by overcooking it.

If you fall into either of these camps there are some DIY methods you can use to test beef for doneness.

Touch Test Method 1: Palm of your Hand

Hold your hand out palm up. Poke the base of your hand by the base of your thumb. What does it feel like? If you guessed raw meat, you’re right.

Now make an OK sign with your hand by touching your forefinger and thumb together. Feel the same part of your hand, it’s a little firmer. This is how meat feels when it’s rare.

You’re now going to move to your other fingers, and as you do, you’ll notice the pad of your hand will get progressively firmer.

Touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. That’s how a medium rare steak feels.

Next, touch the tip of your ring finger to your thumb. This is what a medium well will feel like.

Last but not least, touch your pinky to your thumb. That’s the equivalent of a well done steak.

Touch Test Method 2: Make a Fist

You can also touch test by making a fist.

First, make a relaxed fist. The fleshy area of your hand between your thumb and forefinger is soft, which is how a rare steak feels.

If you slightly clench your fish, it’s a little firmer like medium doneness.

Clench your fist tightly and the area will feel like well done.

Touch Test Method 3: Face Test

Your third option is the face test. Personally we like methods 1 and 2 the best, but some people really like touching their face.

When your face is relaxed (don’t smile) touch your finger to your cheek. A rare steak is like your cheek.

Next, touch your chin. Notice that it’s fleshy with some resistance. This is similar to medium doneness.

If you like a steak that’s medium, or with a pink center, it will be similar to when you touch the end of your nose.

Lastly, touch your forehead, it’s firmer which is like well done.

Touch Test and Digital Thermometer

So what’s our recommendation for testing a steak for doneness? Should you do the touch test or use a digital meat thermometer?

At our house, we always use an instant read digital thermometer. A thermometer is the only way to guarantee that you’re cooking your steaks with accuracy.

When checking for doneness with a thermometer, remember the temperature of cooked beef will continue to rise as it rests. Remove beef from heat when the thermometer reads about 5-10 degrees F lower than the desired doneness. The USDA recommends steaks and roasts to be cooked at 145 degrees F and then rest for at least 3 minutes. Ground beef should be cooked to a minimum 160 degrees F. Here are your temperatures for doneness:

  • Rare - Temperature: 120 degrees F. Description: cool, bright red center, soft to the touch
  • Medium Rare - Temperature: 130 degrees F. Description: warm red center, beginning to firm up with red juices
  • Medium - Temperature: 135-145 degrees F. Description: warm pink center, outer portions beginning to brown, completely firm to the touch with red juices.
  • Medium Well - Temperature: 145-155 degrees F. Description: slightly pink center, completely firm to the touch.
  • Well Done - Temperature: 155-160 degrees F. Description: very little or no pink, completely firm to the touch.

At Hagen Cattle Company, our cattle are 100% pasture raised. Our cattle are raised humanely and live stress-free lives. Taking care of our cattle is a huge honor and a big responsibility. If you want to taste beef from a happy cow, then consider ordering some Hagen Beef. Remember, Hagen Cattle Company cows never set foot on a feedlot.

We think our beef is amazing, but we’re obviously biased. What we can tell you is that Virginia is blessed to have some of the best beef in the US and that’s due to great cattle farmers. Contact us today to taste our exceptional beef.

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