July is National Grilling Month. To celebrate, "Low & Slow" co-author Colleen Rush will be offering up vital bits of barbecue wisdom every Thursday throughout the month.

Pity the grill fool who thinks nothing of hacking into a piece of meat to see if it's done. These are the same cavemen who smash meat for the primal thrill of watching grease flare-ups. Both barbaric practices let the natural, tasty juices in meat escape.

There are better, less brutal ways to check the done-ness of your steak, burger or chicken wing. The first: jab it with a digital instant-read thermometer. (Invest in one if you're still using a Stone Age analog thermometer.) Purists argue that this, too, lets meat juices loose, but if you're going for accuracy, it's the only way to get an exact reading.

However, if you want to impress friends and family with your instinctual cooking prowess, you can also check done-ness with a touch test. Learn about this meat mastering methodology, after the jump.

The Finger Test
While the meat is cooking, gently press the center of the cut. How much "give" the meat has when you poke it corresponds with how the fleshy part at the base of your thumb feels when your hand is in these four positions:

Well Done: With an open, relaxed hand, lightly press the tip of your thumb and pinky finger together. Touch the fleshy pad below your thumb. It should feel firm. Well-done meat feels similar to the touch when you press it.



Medium: Gently press the tip of your thumb and ring finger together. Once again, press the fleshy area under your thumb. Medium-cooked meat has the same feel -- slightly less firm than well done.



Medium-Rare: Hold the tip of your middle finger and thumb together. Press the spot below your thumb. Medium-rare meat has more give and feels softer.



Rare: Hold the tip of your index finger and thumb together. Press the area at the base of your thumb. Rare meat has the same spongy, springy feel to the touch.



Remember, too, that meat continues cooking after it's removed from the grill, a phenomenon called carryover cooking. During this time, the internal temperature can increase 5 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the size and cut of meat and cooking temperature). If you want a medium-rare steak, pull it off the grate when the temperature reads 125.

The USDA's recommendation for safe minimum internal temperatures in meat is draconian -- generally 5 to 10 degrees hotter than what most chefs would agree with. But if you're worried about food-born illness, here's what they suggest:

Beef, veal or lamb steaks and roasts: 145 degrees
Fish: 145 degrees

Grilling Guidance Week #1 -- Marinades and Brines
Grilling Guidance Week #2 -- Charcoal Versus Gas
Grilling Guidance Week #3 -- Using the Right Heat for Your Meat