5 Ways to Know When Your Meat Is Done

While you might not be blessed with the intuition to know when meat is done, you still have to get the right doneness and taste from your meat dish.

Let’s be real here overcooked food is not the best to satisfy any craving. The same thing goes for undercooked food, no matter how hungry you are. As a cook, you need to work hard and correctly to make sure your meat tastes so great and tender for anyone to eat easily.

Even if you are trying a new meat dish, you need to make sure it is properly cooked (not too soft nor too hard, just exact) for anyone who eats it.

Moreover, whatever type of meat – beef, pork, lamb, venison, chicken, etc – has its specific method of telling. However, it doesn’t mean there are general ways of telling meat is done. And if you want to avoid your meat having a chewy or worse, bacteria, you need to harness this skill of knowing when meat is done.

Consequently, I have put together ways you can know when meat is done to get the perfect doneness.


1. Use a Food Thermometer

Recently I shared a post on the importance of cooking your food at the right internal temperature. In the post, one of the vital kitchen utensils I advised you to buy is a food thermometer. A food thermometer gives you the exact heat level at which your food is being cooked. The average temperature to cook your meat is 165°F (740C).

Always use the food thermometer correctly when checking your meat temperature. To do this correctly, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and make sure it does not touch any part of the bone or fat. If the thermometer touches fat or bone it will give you wrong readings.

SEE: How to Use a Food Thermometer to Avoid Undone Meal

2. Forget About the Cooking Times You’ve Learned

One of the steps to making good meals is to abide by all instructions labeled on groceries such as cooking procedures and duration. And I do advise that for every grocery you buy only the manufacturer’s information and instructions must be taken into consideration.

Do not go about looking for how long it will take food to cook or taking suggestions from friends. You will only end up getting different answers and too many cooks spoil the broth. To avoid this, ignore all unrecommended cooking times.

For your meat dish, this method cannot work. If you apply time suggestions to cooking your meat dish you will never be able to determine if your meat is done or not.

Here’s a temperature guide stating the different stages of doneness for meat.

  • Well done – 75oC
  • Medium – 75oC
  • Rare (medium)– 75oC
  • Well done – 75oC

SEE: Does Parmesan Cheese Go Bad?

3. Check the Meat With Your Fingers

Sometimes I improvise with my fingers to test when my meat is done. I wouldn’t say I prefer using my fingers more than a food thermometer but it’s not a bad idea. Knowing it is an addition to your knowledge, which is why we are here (to be a pro).

Besides, the best option to test your grills is to use your fingers. And there’s something good about using your fingers to check your meat; it doesn’t allow the liquid spice in the meat to drain off, unlike the food thermometer.

Generally, meat cooks at four different stages; raw, medium, medium-rare, and well done.

To finger test your meat, here’s how;

For the raw stage

Open your right palm wide and feel the downwards part of your thumb with your left thumb. You get to feel smooth skin but rough and squishy inside. That’s exactly what a slice of raw meat feels like. You can confirm this with your raw meat in the freezer or wait till when you are ready to make your meat dish.

For the well-done stage

A slice of done meat feels tough and soft at the same time. To test, touch the tip of your pinky finger and feel the bottom part of your thumb with your other hand. You get that feeling, that’s how to know if meat is well done. Here’s another way: touch your cheek; a slice of done meat feels just exactly like that. So keep this in mind when next you wanna boil your meat.

For medium stage

The process is similar to the previous ones but here, move your thumb to your ring finger. Now touch the downwards part of the thumb, the feeling you get is exactly how meat is cooked medium.

Still, under the finger test, I will like to also share with you how you would touch your meat and you will know if it is done or not. When you touch your meat and it is springy, it simply means it is in the medium range. If it is firm, it is well boiled and can be eaten.

4. Check Using Your Face

Lots of cooks at home stick to using the food thermometer to check if meat is done. Get used to using other methods like your face and fingers. Just like your finger test, the feeling you get when you touch your cheeks represents medium-rare or done meat, the forehead – medium meat, and the chin – medium well meat.

5. Check for Shrinkage

This is a method everyone knows and it is a popular kitchen cheat that I should dwell on too much. When meat is well cooked, it gets smaller indicating it has absorbed enough heat. It is an easy sign that everyone looks for whenever meat is being cooked.

There are times when you might get a little bit confused. Like in moments when you carry a “well done” finger test for your meat and it feels like it’s done but it doesn’t look smaller.

Do not be deceived, your meat is not done. Or when you noticed the meat gets so small compared to what seems normal, it is an indication your meat is overcooked. Mistakes from the finger test usually result in bad meat but they can be avoided if you follow my guide.

Signs to Tell if Your Meat Is Bad

There are a few signs you should know before or after cooking your meat to tell if the meat is bad. You are on a journey to becoming a pro, so you should avoid food poisoning at all costs.

I have heard stories and complaints of how meat is one among other food that gets spoiled quickly in the kitchen. My neighbor called for my help a week back on how she can quickly identify when her meat is bad. I saved her with these few tips I will be sharing with you now.

1. Discolor

The first thing to look out for in any type of meat when checking if it is spoiled or not is to compare what it looks like and how it looked like when you bought it. Discolored meat can be a bit tricky to identify. Spoilt meat appears in a deep brown color same thing as a newly bought meat; except for the fact that it has an excess touch of redness.

Well, discolored does not mean the meat you cook cannot be eaten. But I will advise you not eat such to stop food poisoning. Just bid it good goodbye once it appears like that.

This sign applies to only raw meat as cooked meat does not get discolored. Only in cases where it wasn’t cooked well.

2. Bad smell

Next in line, is to check if it still smells as it should. Raw meat is odorless and the smell you will perceive most of the time is the harmless blood content. So it is very easy to detect spoilt meat through its smell. You will experience the most awkward moment in your kitchen if your meat gets spoilt as you could throw up at the slightest perception of the smell. That’s how bad it can be. The odor fills everywhere if you do not trash immediately.

A rare and simple method to keep your meat safe and free from the bad smell is to dry or dehydrate your meat. To dry your meat follow this easy guide.

  • Cut the raw meat into small pieces.
  • Marinate the meat in the refrigerator.
  • Place them in a rack making sure the pieces do not overlap one another.
  • Use a dehydrator (you can buy one online) or use an oven to heat the meat at a temperature of 130oF or 140oF.

With this procedure, your meat can last long as can imagine even if you do not freeze it because you have reduced its moisture content which is what attracts bacteria. The USDA also recommends drying as the best alternative to preserving meat if you do not want to refrigerate it.

3. Meat is slimy

Any slimy meat is spoilt. I mean you haven’t even added spices to it, so why should it look shiny. This is probably the highest stage of meat spoilage because what you will notice is tiny white mold on the meat. You do not want to see that part, it is very disgusting. Therefore, try as much as possible to keep your meat intact and freeze at the right temperature.

SEE: Get a Chance to Win a $500 Gift Card at the Fresh Market Survey

4. Date of expiration

Sincerely, there’s no one hasn’t neglected the expiration date indicated on the grocery pack. Why should I pay attention to the expiration date when I know I can freeze it at the right temperature. That’s the general excuse. But I will break it to you that it is a bad habit and to indulge in that is bad for a cook who aspires to better in the game.

Another reason why the expiration date is usually ignored is that people can hardly tell the difference between “use by” and “sell by” dates. The sell-by date mostly applies to sellers but as a buyer, it is a guide to let you know if you should go ahead and buy or not.

Sell-by date indicates the number of days a store can keep a meat product on the shelf for sale. Most times, meat on shelves after one day from the sell-by date are still good for consumption. All you have to do is to boil the meat longer than the usual time at the same recommended temperature.

Use-by date simply means the period you must consume the meat before it starts to lose quality. This is the expiration date so I will advise you to trash any meat that has passed its expiration date even if it is just a day.

Simple guide to follow

Here’s a guide with an example on how to follow a use-by date and sell-by date. If a sell-by date of a steak reads March 31st, the store must sell it before that date so you can have enough days to cook the meat.

And if the use-by date goes by April 6, you have to make sure you cook before the day. If you intend to freeze it, do so three days before the 6 of April and let it thaw properly about a day before eating it.  

5. Can’t remember the storage date

No one is above any mistake but you should never place any of your food in the freezer or refrigerator without labeling it with the exact date and time you placed it there. I emphasized this when I made mention the vital ways you could store your food.

Make it a habit to label your storage containers and plastic bag not only for your meat but for other food too. Well, you can call this your use-by date because you are sure the date you labeled will guide you to know how long it has been frozen and when you should consume it. No meat stored in the fridge should stay longer than 3 to 5 days before cooking it or transferring it to the freezer.

SEE: How Long Should You Keep Your Food?

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know meat is boiled?

There is no difference in how you check if meat is done or boiled. Asking if meat is boiled is just another way of asking if it is done. So there is no special method or test to use that is different from the ones I explained to you.

How do you know when hamburger meat is done?

It takes approximately 20 minutes for hamburger meat to boil.

How do you know if a veggie burger is done?

There are three ways to know if a veggie burger is done. By smell, touch, and color. Due to the blend of seasonings and ingredients especially the Pea protein, a veggie burger smells like the Pea protein when done. By color, it turns brown when it is well cooked and by touch, it is very hot to hold.

How do you know when meatballs are done?

Meatballs cook for about 20 to 30 minutes. To confirm if they are well cooked, take one and cut it in half; if it is brown through then it is ready to be eaten.

Should you boil your meat before frying it?

Yes, you should. However, it is not compulsory. It depends on your choice of dish. You could either dry it before frying or boil it before frying. Boiling your meat before frying is not the wrong method. I prefer drying my meat before frying because drying makes it easier to sear when it fries.


I hope I have been able to give you every necessary information needed for you to understand the doneness of meat and how in no time identify spoilt meat. With this guide, you will no longer ask questions of “is it done yet?” from your friends or take suggestions from unverified online sources.

Depending on the recipe and dish you are making, choose the doneness level you want and decide on the test to use to know when your meat is done.

Thanks for reading.

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