Some of our customers tell us the Thermapen® “changed their life.” It’s a dramatic claim reflecting lots of little daily moments. One of the things that does change when you understand how to use a Thermapen is that you never overcook steaks on the grill again. Here are 5 tips you need to know to make sure each and every steak you grill is perfect every time.
1. Flip at least once before testing the temperature
It may seem obvious to point out, but steaks on the grill cook from the grilling surface up. All the heat that is transferred from the piping hot grill surface to the meat directly adjacent to it has to reach the center of the steak for it to be fully cooked through. Your steaks will be much hotter down close to the grill than they will be in the center or near the top. Those different temperatures within the same piece of food are called gradients. And before you flip your steak, all the gradients run in one direction.
Flipping your steak not only browns both sides of the steak, but it also helps cook the steak from both sides. Once you’ve flipped your steak, you will begin to notice that the coolest part of the steak is now in the center. We call this the “thermal center,” and it is the key to grilling perfect steaks.
2. Push the probe tip past center & pull back through the steak
Properly understood, finding the current temperature of a steak means finding the temperature of the thermal center of that steak. While some chefs recommend inserting the probe from the side, we find that the easiest way to find the temperature of the center of a steak is to insert the thermometer probe tip into the steak from the top, avoiding bone.
Push the Thermapen probe tip past where you think the center of the steak is…
…and then pull the Thermapen probe tip back through the steak until you find the coolest temperature reading. This will be the steak’s thermal center—the coolest temperature in the center of the steak.
For example, if you push your probe tip past the center of the steak and see 136°F (58°C) on the Thermapen display, and then, as you pull the probe tip back through the steak, you see 128°F (53°C), 123°F (51°C), and 127°F (53°C); you know that the temperature at the thermal center of that steak is the lowest reading: 123°F (51°C).
3. Verify your readings in multiple places
As you get closer to the target pull temperature for your desired doneness (find a chart of chef-recommended doneness temperatures here), you’ll want to verify the thermal center temperature of the steak in a couple of different places. Typically, the steak will be hotter near the ends, but you may find a lower number as you check your steak in different places. Remember, the lowest number you find is the best indication of the internal doneness of that steak.
Note: Sometimes people ask if they shouldn’t avoid probing a steak multiple times for fear of “letting all the juices out.” Steaks are not like water balloons. The water in the steak is bound up in the cells of the muscle fibers. You may lose a tiny amount of steak juice from probing a steak but that amount pales in comparison to the amount of water you will lose from overcooking your steak by even five degrees. Probe fearlessly and have perfectly done juicy steaks every time!
4. Pull when the lowest number reaches your target temperature
Steaks come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Two steaks from the same package will typically look very different, let alone different cuts of steak. Add the variability of hot spots on certain grills and you end up with steaks that will be done at different times. One of the paradigm shifts of owning a Thermapen is that you can remove each steak when it reaches its target temperature and not a moment before. If you are aiming for medium rare goodness and one of your steaks shows a lowest internal reading of 127°F (53°F), pull that steak off the grill, not all of the steaks. Another steak right next to it may only be at 123°F (51°C).
different sizes and shapes of steaks + a variable cooking surface = different cooking rates
Let the steaks that are done rest on the platter while they wait for the other steaks to reach the same perfect doneness temperature. Test every steak and get perfect results every time!
Note: Our chef-recommended temperature for medium rare steaks is 130°F (54°C), but because of the high heat of the grill cooking environment, grilled steaks will experience a little carryover cooking, so we pull our steaks at 127°F (53°C) or 128°F (53°C) and let them “rest up” to 130°F (54°C).
5. Always use a Thermapen
None of these steps (except maybe step 1) are possible with inferior thermometers. The difference between using a Thermapen Mk4 or Classic Thermapen to check your steaks on the grill and using a dial thermometer or a competitive digital thermometer is like the difference between using an electric drill to drill a hole in the wall and spinning a sharp stick between your hands. Using the right tool for a job makes getting the right results easy.
Unlike other thermometers you might have in your home, Thermapens have a professional-grade thermocouple in the very tip of the probe. That thermocouple gets to within ±0.7°F accuracy in 2-3 seconds. But once it comes to temperature, it shows you changes in temperature in real time. Thermometers with 10+ second response times don’t show you the gradients as you pull them through a steak. They are still trying to recalibrate to each new temperature. Your hand starts to scorch as you wait for the reading to update and you never have confidence that the number you saw was accurate.
But finding the thermal center of a steak is easy with a Super-Fast Thermapen, which makes getting perfect steaks a reality. And that little change just might make a difference in your life!
More on Steak Temperatures and Tools
And the Science Behind It
Own a Thermapen Mk4