No one orders steak.
You see, red meat is complicated. There is the cut – New York strip, porterhouse, filet, hanger and so on. Breeding matters to some, so add Kobe, Angus or Texas Longhorn …
No one orders steak.
You see, red meat is complicated. There is the cut – New York strip, porterhouse, filet, hanger and so on. Breeding matters to some, so add Kobe, Angus or Texas Longhorn into the equation. And there’s the matter of temperature.
Steak can come to the table anywhere from bloody to coarse shoe leather, or bleu to well done in more proper terminology.
“Aging is important,” added Ted Wieberg, owner of Teddy Joe’s Bar & Grill in Martinsburg. “I want them aged at least 30 days.”
Yeah – there’s that, too.
So with every nuance of steak in mind, is there a right or wrong way to place an order? The answer is yes, with a little hedging.
Many of the decisions are made before a guest even sits down for dinner. For example, every cut has a different temperament, from strip to ribeye to sirloin. “My favorite cut is filet,” Wieberg said, “but I only do it at the restaurant for Valentine’s Day.”
Aging cures the steak, relaxes the fibers and brings depth to the savor of red meat, so that’s another aspect defined by the steakhouse.
Some rest their cuts for 26 days, some for several months. Inexpensive restaurants, well, they probably go straight from package to pan.
Whether a chef prefers dry or wet aging tips the flavor profile, too.
There are fans of different cuts and aging styles. The true rub is temperature. And that’s where things become divisive.
Surveys say about a quarter of Americans order steak medium rare and a quarter prefer their meat well done. The data also reveal that men are more likely than women to request medium rare, 26 percent to 20 percent, that Baby Boomers call for medium rare more often than younger generations and that income makes a difference, as well.
Almost a third of Americans earning less than $40,000 want their steaks well done. Meanwhile 26 percent of those making $80,000 plus send it back to the kitchen if it cooks beyond medium rare.
The folks at YouGov even break the numbers down by political preference, but that’s beyond the scope here.
Yet steakhouse chefs are pretty much unanimous on the matter.
“The more you cook it, the less flavor,” Wieberg explained. “The ones who order well done use steak sauce.”
The catch phrase “fat is flavor” sums it up. The more you render out of the steak, the less it has to show your palate.
Steak snobs demand rare, Francophiles want it bleu, with a cold, ruddy center.
“I recommend medium rare,” Wieberg said. He often challenges the medium to well done crowd to give it a try.
“I’ve changed several people,” he points out.
The chef and owner of Teddy Joe’s is in a position to know. The Martinsburg restaurant is a destination, with diners traveling for an hour or more to reach his place. Steaks account for at least half of all his sales – “probably more” – and he will go through a 100 orders on a typical Friday and Saturday night.
Wieberg says that most of his customers are in the medium rare to medium camp. The sweet spot, he adds, is somewhere between rare and medium rare.
Yet there are generational trends to consider here. When Slate checked out cookbooks over the decades, they found temperature recommendations dropping over time. And in the 1980s and ’90s, Americans gained a greater appreciation of global flavors and styles.
“I think this notion that well-done steak is for philistines probably comes from France and the influence of French taste,” Yale historian Paul Freedman told Town & Country in 2017. “Not that we actually like it as rare as the French do, but the notion is that somehow if you like it well-done you’re not really eating steak – you’re eating some kind of flavorless product.”
So the answer is clear, right? Order medium rare at most. However, if you happen to prefer medium to well done, that’s your choice.
There is another important consideration.
“You have to use good meat,” Wieberg points out. That’s the starting point.