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As we’re deep in prime cook-out season, we are reminded that not every backyard chef can accurately judge the done-ness of the steak or the chicken. And there you are, dealing with a cinder that used to be a Porterhouse or a slippery inedible that was meant to be a juicy chicken breast.

How to tell when the meat is done? If you don’t already have one, waste no time in getting your hands on an instant read thermometer. OXO Good Grips makes one for $20; you can buy a Taylor model for $14 and another for $8. OXO is available online; we have seen the $14 Taylor at Radio Shack.

With your new instant read thermometer in hand, stick it through the steak horizontally from the edge to the center, so that most of the shaft is embedded in the steak. Pull the steak off the grill when it registers 120ºF for rare, 125ºF degrees for medium-rare, and 135ºF to 140ºF for medium.

For chicken, you’re looking for an internal temperature of 165º F for white meat and about 180º F for dark meat. These are USDA recommendations; some people feel that they’re set too high. Just bear in mind there are safety considerations, so avoid under cooking poultry.

Fin fish is generally done at 130ºF to 135ºF. For scallops and shrimp, look for 120ºF.

What to do in the absence of a thermometer?

Judging done-ness by texture is an inexact science and takes lots of practice.

Pick up the steak and compare its texture with that of your hand. Feel the fleshy part of your palm, between the thumb and forefinger, to approximate the soft, squishy feel of rare meat. Make a fist and do the same to approximate the springy, slightly resistant feel of medium. Touch the tip of your nose for well-done.