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Do you struggle with guessing how well done your steak is? Do you make a calculated guess based on thickness of the steak, heat of the fire, and a length of time to the desired doneness? Sometimes that works, but often it fails dismally. So, is there a better way? How do steak houses seemly get it right every time? Have you noticed that they don’t poke them with meat thermometers? Any time you poke a hot steak you let all those delicious juices run out into the plate where they are wasted. Professional chefs can tell when a steak is done just by feeling it, and you can learn how to do the touch test too.

Chefs have developed four primary “touch” methods, including the “Face Test,” where the firmness of the steak is compared to various areas of the face. But, we don’t like the idea of our cooks touching their face while they’re cooking food, so we are going to discuss three other methods that use hands, which are more likely to be clean every time. Each of these methods takes a bit of practice, which is a great reason to cook (and eat) more steak.

Spring Back Touch Method

  1. Lightly press the center of the steak with your thumb. If it feels really soft, or jelly-like, it is still rare.
  2. When the center of a steak has a little more resistance and just springs right back, its perfectly medium rare. (It’s important that it springs back!).
  3. If it’s just firm and hard, and has no springiness, it’s well done (overcooked, in our humble opinion).

Fist Touch Method

  1. 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.
  2. Now, slightly clench your fist. It will feel a little firmer, like medium doneness.
  3. The last step: Clench your fist tightly, and that area will feel like well-done meat.

Palm of the Hand Method
Palm tests for steak doneness
We like this one best: Here’s how to do the Palm method:

  1. Hold your hand out, palm up, and relaxed. Poke your hand by the base of the thumb with your other index finger. This is what raw meat feels like.
  2. 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.
  3. Move your other fingers to your thumb in the following order. As you do, you’ll notice the pad of your hand will get progressively firmer:
  4. Touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. That’s how a medium rare steak feels.
  5. Next, touch the tip of your ring finger to your thumb. This is what a medium-well will feel like.
  6. Lastly, touch your pinkie to your thumb. That’s the equivalent of a well-done steak.

Both these methods are fairly easy, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll cook perfect steaks every time.

Sound sound too complicated? It really isn’t, but we realize that the touch method can appear to be, until you get some practice in. In the meantime, if you would rather continue using an instant read thermometer, here are the temperatures for doneness:

  • Extra Rare – 115-120 degrees
  • Rare – 125-130 degrees
  • Medium Rare – 135-140 degrees
  • Medium 145-150 degrees
  • Medium-Well – 155-160 degrees
  • Well Done – 165 degrees

What happens if the steak has a gorgeous crust, but the temperature clocks in too low? It’s time for pan roasting! Fire up the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. Meanwhile, put your steak on a roasting rack on a baking sheet with sides. Stick it in the oven. It’ll finish cooking without getting too dark.

For other insights into proper techniques for cooking that delicious piece of steak, see our notes on 7 Tips to Cooking Great Steaks.

Pitch-in dinners are a fun way to share togetherness and fellowship with friends and family, and you can kick up the fun factor by making it a themed pitch-in. Make it an “Appetizers Only” party, Munchies Only, with dips and things to dip into them, “Some like it HOT,” featuring spicy dishes, Hot Casseroles Only, Cold Salads Only, or, “How Sweet it is!” desserts only. Here are some dishes, with links to our recipes, that you can pass along as ideas.

Appetizers Only
Sweet Swedish Meatballs
Cheese and Sweet Pickles
Breaded Mushrooms
Honey Roasted Cipollini Onions

Munchies Only
Rye Bread with Dill Dip
Herb Oil Fried Zuchinni with Ranch Dip
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms

“Some like it HOT”
Campfire Chili
Gene Vaughn’s 2-Alarm Chili
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Peppercorn Encrusted Roast Chicken

Hot Casseroles Only
Creamy Four Cheese Macaroni
Orange & Gold Potatoes au Gratin
Sour Cream and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Cold Salads Only
Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Sweet and Sour Yellow Beets
Cauliflower and Broccoli Salad
Green and Gold Pea Salad

How Sweet it is! desserts
Peach Cobbler
Butternut Cream Pie
Gooey Butter Cake
Pear Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

Have fun with your pitch-in dinners! Select a theme and see how much more fun the party is when you elevate it to a whole new level. And, be sure to let us know how your idea worked out!

We love a tender, juicy, well-cooked beef steak. It can elevate a meal to an entirely higher level. Steaks are, perhaps, most often grilled in an attempt to replicate the flavor of steak cooked over the glowing coals of a campfire. But, steak can also be pan-seared, roasted, broiled, cubed for stew, and even ground to make steak-burgers. When you prepare a good quality slab of steak, you want to have some insight in how to prepare, season, cook, and it. mess it up with complicated cooking techniques. Serving a perfectly prepared steak is very satisfying, and there is no reason it has to be overly difficult. The notes below can help you avoid common mistakes like an ugly gray exterior or over-cooked, dry, interior.

Chart of Beef Cuts

Premium Meats for Primo Meals

Steak isn’t just a cut of beef, it is the best of the best. Steaks come from the top of the steer, generally along the backbone, where there isn’t much muscle or connective tissue, which is why this meat is much more tender and faster cooking. Intense heat is all that’s needed to char and brown the outside, while the inside can be eaten as rare as you like. These much sought after premium cuts are only a small piece of the animal, which contributes to their premium prices. Since they are expensive, it’s worth knowing how to prepare each cut, and what to expect from the finished product.

1. Filet Mignon (aka Tenderloin, or Châteaubriand)

Filet Mignon Steak, uncookedThis is the tenderest of all the steaks. This is also the most expensive steak because there just isn’t much of it per animal. It comes from the short loin and sirloin, right under the ribs. A whole tenderloin starts out wide (the “head”) and then tapers down to the other end (the “tail”). Filet Mignon is from the tail end, and Châteaubriand comes from the head. When trimmed properly, the tenderloin is small, lean, fine-grained, and usually cut thicker than most steaks due to its smaller size. Lean tenderloin is buttery and mild in flavor. The best way to cook it is pan roasting.

2. New York Strip (aka Manhattan, Kansas City strip, top sirloin, top loin)

top-sirloin-steak_rawUsually boneless, this steak comes from the short loin behind the ribs. It has fat on one edge of the steak, with some fat marbling, but no large pockets of fat. New York strips are tender, with medium fat content, but not as tender as tenderloins or rib eyes. Their big beefy flavor is brought out by cooking over high heat; pan-seared, broiled, or grilled.

3. T-Bone (aka Porterhouse)

T-Bone Steak, uncookedSold bone in, the tenderloin portion must be 1.25″ wide to be classified as a porterhouse and only .5″ wide to be classified as a T-bone. You get the best of both worlds with this steak; super-tender, buttery tenderloin, and beefy, juicy sirloin (strip) steak on either side of the longer portion of the T-bone. Because there are basically two different kinds of steak, you have to be careful, because the tenderloin will cook more quickly than the sirloin side. Try to keep the tenderloin further away from the heat source, or use a two-level fire to grill.

4. Bone-In Rib Eye (aka Delmonico, Scotch fillet, Spencer, Market Steak)

Rib Eye Steak, uncookedRib-eyes are basically a prime rib or standing rib roast cut down into individual steaks. Taken from the upper rib cage, it has webs of fat marbling throughout the meat, and pockets of fat interspersed throughout. There is finer grain at the center while the outer section is looser and fattier. It tastes super beefy, juicy, and flavorful. Cook over high heat. It will hold up very well to pan searing, broiling, roasting, or grilling, although with the high fat content, you need to be careful about drippings into the fire.

These are the most popular cuts of steak, though not a complete list of cuts available. For other tips on how to prepare and cook steak, visit our How to Cook Steak page. Your butcher can help you select additional cuts of meat to try, too. Their insights can introduce you to newer, less popular cuts of meat that boast huge flavor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how to cook your new selection, because they like to share their knowledge.

Ready to make some magic happen? Try these great steak recipes:

Pan-Roasted Rib Eye Steak
Malted Pepper Steak
Browned Steak Strips with Pan Gravy
Jamaican Jerk Beef-Tenderloin Steaks
Grilled Rib-Eye Steak
Horseradish & Black Pepper Crusted Rib Eye

Dinner Table SettingAs the holiday season approaches, we begin thinking about those wonderful times the family gets together and shares a sumptuous way-out-of-the-ordinary meal. The traditional family dinner at our house wasn’t as much about the menu as it was brimming with opportunities to gather around the table with loved ones to catch up, and share stories while enjoying a delicious meal. The centerpiece of the meal, (excluding, for the moment, the desserts), was a delicious protein, which was often a beautifully roasted bird.

One of our favorite memories of days gone by was our “talent show” the afternoon of Christmas Eve, when we would each perform a skit, usually humorous, because few of us had any theatrical talent. It was a fun couple of hours, and was a great time of family sharing. Afterwards, most of us were in the kitchen preparing goodies for that evening’s Birthday Party for Jesus. Good food and seasonal drinks lined the table as we held hands as we stood in a big circle around the table, each telling what we were grateful for, and then gave thanks before eating our fill.

Roasted Tangerine ChickenTo highlight your table, and delight your guests, prepare a bird that really stands out. One of the more colorful birds we have had good success with was the basted Tangerine Roasted Chicken with its bright orange tone created by the combination of molasses, tangerine and lemon juices, and a touch of Lemoncello. The bird shown here was a large one, weighing a little over five and a half pounds.

Birds carved at the table seem to please guests the most, because we eat with our eyes first, and watching the bird being carved stimulates anticipation and excitement. Another attractive bird is the Peppercorn Encrusted Roast Chicken. If you like crispy skin, you might like the stuffed Italian Roast Chicken which is roasted in a hot oven, and stuffed with flavorful herbs, orange wedges and garlic. Another eye pleasing recipe is the Roasted Worcestershire Sauce Chicken with Balsamic Glazed Hericot Vert and Corn on the Cob.

Bacon Wrapped Turkey BreastIf you want something a little out of the ordinary for your get together, you might consider the spatchcocked Roasted Cornish Game Hens, the very flavorful Pepper Crusted Turkey Breast, or, the very elegant Bacon Wrapped Turkey Breast that always gets o-o-hs and a-a-hs when presented.

Don’t throw that carcass out when cleaning up after your meal! Stick it back in the fridge to be used in another favorite dish that usually follows the next evening or so, Chicken (or Turkey) Pot Luck Supper made with the meat left on that carcass, combined with some fresh vegetables, and topped with sumptuous spoon dumplings. It’s easy to make, fills the house with wonderful holiday aromas, and delivers a very satisfying meal for the evening after the feast.

Potluck Supper

What are your favorite memories or traditions? What dishes make regular appearances at your family’s gatherings?

Lea and Larry Vaughn

Lea and Larry Vaughn

Welcome to our family cookbook, including recipes we have developed, plus tried and true recipes we have used for years. We both enjoy cooking, and have shared a fun kitchen rivalry during our 50+ years together. We also have had the pleasure of preparing large group meals for our church family on fellowship nights.

Lea is a classic Midwestern cook with cooking experience starting with meals for her family of five brothers, a sister, while her mother worked outside the home. Her father was a former farm laborer before entering his career as an hourly worker on the railroad, and favored hearty meals of meat and potatoes. A part of the skills Lea learned as a young girl was how to get the maximum number of portions from what was available, and how to flavor it for everyone’s palate. She learned recipes and techniques at her mother’s side, and developed a free form cooking ability that requires no recipes, just a good memory for what ingredients go well together.

Larry, on the other hand, is a recipe cook, although he enjoys experimenting, and often stretches the boundaries of the culinary imagination and challenges the palate. No one will ever forget his green St. Patrick’s Day gravy, or blue mustard cream sauce for Independence Day! His cooking experience spans many years of special grill and roasting techniques, unusual (while tasty) flavor combinations, special basting and flavoring steps, and precise temperature control. His favorite perspective on cooking is pretty presentations . . . good food served with lots of eye appeal. Many of his sauces and rubs have been developed to deliver a complimentary flavor to a dish while adding  just the right splash of color.

To browse our collection of recipes, simply click on the category links at the top of this page. “Entree” means “main item,” (often meat), while Side means something to accompany the “main item,” such as a vegetable. Enjoy! And, please, let us hear from you! If you’re fairly new to cooking you might enjoy browsing our page on spices. Wonder about what spice goes with what? Just click here for some helpful detail.

Large Stock PotCook’s Note: By the way, for home cooks, keep in mind that when we say a “large” pot, we may mean a LARGE stock pot, because we also provide a site with recipes for large groups. The photo at the right is our oldest grandson, who accompanied us on a visit to a restaurant supply house, and was taken with the size of the equipment. He couldn’t help but try to lift this stock pot, which as you can see here, even at age seven, he could do. He has always enjoyed helping with prep for making cookies and mixing batters, so he’s going to be a great help in the kitchen one of these days!

Surviving God’s Woodshed, a Blog

Read about the terrible ordeal Lea and Larry underwent in 2005 when Lea spent 78 days in a coma during 180 days of emergency treatment in Hartford Hospital. Read about her miraculous healing and eventual return to an active lifestyle. Click here.

Recipes for Large Groups

Looking for recipes for a large group? Lea and Larry cooked for 50-100 at church functions. Find their recipes
here

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Food Prep Terms

Need to know when to Chop, Dice or Chiffonade? How about Stir, Blend, Fold, or Mix? What are the differences? Click here

Surviving God’s Woodshed

Read about the terrible ordeal Lea and Larry underwent in 2005 when Lea spent 78 days in a coma during 180 days of emergency treatment in Hartford Hospital. Read about her miraculous healing and eventual return to an active lifestyle. Click here.

Recipes for Large Groups

Looking for recipes for a large group? Lea and Larry cooked for 50-100 at church functions. Find their recipes here

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