Cooking 101: POKE

The last of the three “active cooking” moves.






The Poke move is where you put on your line cook’s hat and fire all the meals. It is during the Poke move that you cook and use a simple poke test to tell when things are done.


Recipes give you times and temperatures, but recipes don’t know the power of your oven or the thickness of your cuts. It’s far better to know how to check for doneness by eye.

Vegetable Poke Test:

Vegetables can be tested with a simple poke of the fork. If the fork goes in easily, they are done. If not, you might want to give them more time in the oven. Your personal preference is all that matters with vegetables.

Meat Poke Test:

Unless you are an experienced chef and can check things by eye, I suggest you poke meats with a digital thermometer. Poke the thermometer needle into the CENTER of the meat.

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Print this meat temperature chart and post it in your kitchen. It tells you when things are done.

You can find this chart under the Guides tab in your Members area.

Meal temp chart-site

Meat by eye: If you refuse to go the digital thermometer route you can check by eye. Cut through the thickest part to check. Chicken and pork should be white all the way through. Fish should not be translucent and should easily break apart with a fork. Red meat can be as red as you like in the middle, but the outside needs to be browned. Most people prefer beef cooked medium well, which means there is a little band of red in the center but it’s pink to brown everywhere else.


We will cover the THREE techniques you should know for everyday cooking: boil, sauté, and roast. Each comes with its own implement of doom: pot, pan, and earthenware, respectively.

But before we get into dancing around the flames, a quick safety message from your local fire marshal:


Kitchen fires are the number one source of home fires.

Own a dry-chemical fire extinguisher.


NEVER EVER spray a water based fire-extinguisher on a grease fire. Your home will be an inferno before you take your finger off the trigger.

ALWAYS keep the area around your stove and your cookware free of grease build up.

SAVE YOUR SKIN. Use silicone oven mitts and potholders rather than cloth. Silicone withstands greater heat and can get wet without getting hot when touching hot objects. If you get a cloth mitt or dishrag wet and pick up a hot item, the moisture in the cloth will instantly steam and burn your hand.


Now with our safety message behind us, lets get some heat on the subject.


How to boil (or steam)

Put water in a pot and turn the heat up to high. When the water is boiling with big bubbles drop your ingredients in and wait for them to cook through to your liking. To steam, place the ingredients above the boiling water in a steamer basket. Note that you don’t need nearly as much water to steam as you do to boil.

Safety tip: To test if done, extract ingredients from the boiling water with tongs or a slotted spoon. If you check your ingredient while still in the pot you risk burning your arm from steam rising up.

Why boil

In contrast to sautéing and roasting, boiling does not alter the flavor of the ingredient. There is no risk of flames burning the food, and you don’t need any oils or other seasonings.

What to boil

Boil ingredients that you want to cook before seasoning. Firm and soft vegetables are prime candidates.


How to sauté

Put your ingredients in a pan and cook them on the stovetop.

The higher the heat, the faster the outside of the ingredient will cook. This is an important thing to note when deciding how high you want those flames.

A general rule of thumb is: the thicker the cut, the lower the heat. Why? Thicker cuts take longer to cook through to the center, you don’t want the heat so high that the outside burns before the center cooks.

Some people like a char on the outside, some people like only the slightest browning. Some people like their ingredients soft in the middle, some like them more crunchy. You may have a different preference for every ingredient. It’s up to you and that’s the whole fun of working the stovetop.

Why sauté

Cooking ingredients in the pan allows you to see what’s happening. Adjust the heat quickly by stirring, flipping, adding additional ingredients, or raising or lowering the flames. And you can taste and add seasonings easily.

What to sauté

Anything. Meats, firm veggies, soft veggies and even leafy greens are all great items to sauté. The more you do it the better you will get.


How to roast

Put ingredients in an oven-safe container and stick them in a 400 degree oven until they are done.

Why roast

To get them out of your face. Like boiling, roasting is an easy way to go. Stick ‘em in, set a timer, check when it goes off.

Roasting applies a consistent overall temperature to your ingredients. This is in contrast to sautéing which applies variables temperatures throughout the cooking process. When you are new to cooking, roasting is the more forgiving approach.

What to roast

Firm and soft vegetables and thick cuts of meat are great candidates for roasting. Leafy greens and thinly sliced cuts of meat will dry out quickly.

Let’s Get Cooking!

At this point in the course we have covered the first four moves: SHOP, CHOP, SPRINKLE, and POKE.

You should know how to:

  • Pick ingredients for your meal by components
  • Measure serving sizes by hand
  • Use your chef’s knife to chop and mince your ingredients
  • Season your ingredients using The Starting 5 + Whatever’s Clever or The S’s
  • Cook your ingredients on the stovetop or in the oven and use a poke test to tell when they are done.

There is nothing else you need to know to whip up a delicious healthy meal.

We will cover the fifth move PLATE after you finish making your first meal Kitchen Karate style.

Please check out the materials for the White Belt Cook-Along.

Questions and Comments on This Lesson?

Drop me a note in our private forum The Dojo Lounge. I will respond during office hours.

Up Next

White Belt Cook-Along

For directions, click on the Cook-Along Materials tab in the White Belt section.