A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 16, 2013
Poke Test or Finger Test (rule for cooking meat)

The “poke test” (or “finger test") involves touching a food to see if it’s done cooking. “Finger test” has been cited since at least 1960, when it was used to describe the cooking of a turkey. In a 1981 article, the “finger-test” was described to test steaks for doneness. The term “finger poke test” was used in 1992 for baking sourdough; “poke test” was used by at least 1999 to describe cooking meat.

Merle Ellis ("The Butcher") wrote a syndicated newspaper column; in a 1994 column, Ellis was asked, “how do you tell when a steak is done using the finger-test method?” Ellis advised that one doesn’t have time to learn—a meat thermometer should be used by almost everyone.


21 November 1960, Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Preparation Aids Conquest of the Formidable First Bird” by Ella Elvin, pg. 8, col. 3:
Finger Test
We recommend the moderately slow oven, set at 325 degrees. Usually an eight-pound bird will take three hours at this setting, a 12-pounder four hours and a 15-pounder five hours.

You’ll know it is thoroughly cooked (and poultry is not at its best unless it is) when the drumstick can be moved up and down easily, and when the meat on the thickest part of the leg is very soft when you press it with your fingers, protected with several thicknesses of paper toweling.

Google Books
Ladies’ Home Journal
Volume 98
1981
Pg. XLI:
Test steaks for doneness with the quick finger-test. After the first (and only) turning, touch with your fingertip. If steak feels soft, it’s rare. A little firmer, medium. Firm — it’s well-done.

Google Groups: rec.food.cooking
David Adams
10/12/92
REQUEST: Sourdough Starter and Bread Recip
(...)
Put dough in a clean bowl (no oil), cover, and let rise once only at 80F.  This takes about 1-1/2 hours—careful not to let it go over. Use the finger poke test (it’s ready when a wet finger poked into the dough leaves a hole that no longer fills in).

1 June 1994, San Antonio (TX) Express-News, “Charred steaks can be avoided” by Merle Ellis (The Butcher):
Q: Good chefs, I am told, can tell the doneness of a steak by simply pressing their finger on the meat. Is this method as reliable as using a meat thermometer, and how do you tell when a steak is done using the finger-test method?
A: An emphatic NO to the first part of your question. Yes, of course, if you started as a grill cook at a restaurant at the age of 14, got your first job as a chef at the age of 30 and have had 15 or 20 years of experience cooking 40 to 50 steaks a day for all those years, of course you can learn to—tell by the touch. But even the, I think you will find most good chefs will recommend a meat thermometer.

I use an instant read thermometer that reads from 0 degrees to 220 degrees F. Stick it in a steak or roast and it tells you in seconds the exact internal temperature. With regard to the second part of your question: “How do you tell....” Don’t bother trying to learn, you don’t have time!

Google Books
The New Wellness Encyclopedia
Edited by University of California, Berkeley
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin
1995
Pg. 199:
Or, use the finger test: the meat is done when it gives a little when pressed.

Google Groups: rec.food.cooking
What is it with Meat?
maryf
8/8/99
(...)
Never fails for me and a meat thermometer works wonders, but I can usually tell just by poking it with my finger.
(...)
Leila A.
8/8/99
Another trick I learned while hanging around but not enrolled at chef’s school: the grill chefs all test meat by poking it, and they learn the right “feel” of various doneness by poking at their own upturned palms. The meatiest, softest part of your palm feels like “rare”. The very center, where it’s flattest, feels like “well done”.
(...)
maryf
8/11/99
No I don’t have the problems, my meat is always cooked right.  I was bemoaning that friends who invite us over have no clue as how to cook meat, their meat is always dry (ergo, that’s why people ask us, when are
you having your next dinner party grin, that’s a nice feeling).  We don’t like eating shoe leather. I always use the poke test myself, I *know* when it’s done, its others that don’t grin.

Google Books
How to Grill:
The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques

By Steven Raichlen
New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
2001
Pg. 55:
THE DONENESS POKE TEST
(...)
The pros use the poke test to gauge the desired degree of doneness: A quick poke of the meat with your finger will tell you whether it’s rare, medium, or (heaven forbid) well-done.

10 June 2003, Detroit (MI) Free Press, “King of outdoor cooking gets a grilling during Ann Arbor visit” by Susan Sulasky, pg. F2:
Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness or use the poke test.

Simply Recipes
The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat
Posted by Elise Bauer on June 7, 2008
There are two basic methods to test for how done your meat is while you are cooking it – use a meat thermometer, or press on the meat with your finger tips. The problem with the meat thermometer approach is that when you poke a hole into the meat with a thermometer, it can let juices escape, juices that you would rather have stay in the meat. For this reason, most experienced cooks rely on a “finger test” method, especially on steaks (whole roasts are better tested with a thermometer). My mother has been trying to get me to test meat with my finger tips for years, and for years, being somewhat of a scaredy cat (won’t it burn my fingers?) I ignored, avoided, ran away from the idea. Then my friend David showed me up

Serious Eats
Jun 11, 2013 1:15 PM
The Food Lab: 7 Old Wives’ Tales About Cooking Steak That Need To Go Away
By J. Kenji López-Alt
(...)
Myth #7: “Use the “poke test” to check if your steak is done.”
The Theory: A seasoned cook can tell how well-done a steak is by poking it with their finger. If it’s rare, it should feel like the fleshy part of your hand at the base of your thumb when you touch your thumb to your index finger. Medium is if you touch it to your middle finger. Well-done is if you touch it to your ring finger. Capice?
The Reality: There are so many uncontrolled variables in this assay that it boggles the mind that anyone would think it’s at all accurate. First off, not all hands are created equal. My thumb is squishier than my wife’s thumb. Should I gauge my steak’s doneness based on hers or mine?
(...)
Then we get to the meat itself. Thick steaks don’t compress the same way as thin steaks. Fatty steaks don’t compress the same way as lean steaks. Tenderloins don’t compress like ribeyes. You get the picture. More than once I’ve seen a macho grill cook take an unfamiliar cut of meat, apply the poke test, and come out completely off the mark when the steak is sliced.*

*This usually happens when they are dealing with, say, an ultra-expensive, highly marbled true kobe steak for the first time, which has completely different compression properties than its leaner counterparts. The result is ruined steaks and ruined egos.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Sunday, June 16, 2013 • Permalink