The great steak debate has reared it’s ugly head yet again. This time Donald Trump is the catalyst — sending a million alt-righters on a path to burning their steaks and a million lefties in the other direction. Will this push liberals back to beef carpaccio? Raw or nothing? Debates rage! Jokes abound!
Here’s the thing: We actually know the perfect preparation for a steak based on science. Yet that preparation has been politicized because, 2017.
Gordon Ramsay once sagaciously pointed out “unfortunately you’re never going to identify the quality of the beef when the steak is ‘well’ cooked.” He’s 100% right. Overcook any protein and you’re going to lose flavor and form. Albeit, the nutrients will still largely be intact. But before we let the comments rage, let’s look back and figure how we got here in the first place.
A Handful Of History
Rare versus well-done goes back to the late 1970s/early 1980s, when food legends Julia Child and James Beard updated their recommendations for internal cooking temperatures of the various proteins in their respective cookbooks. It’s was less about safe and not safe — that was the USDA’s job — and more about the changing preferences of American palates. That being said, the USDA has also lowered its target temperatures for safe/edible meat.
Child and Beard effectively lowered the industry’s accepted definition of rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well-done. They dropped each recommendation down 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. So a rare steak was no longer rare at 140F, but at 125F and so on. Remember, this was also Donald Trump’s heyday, so the idea that he got locked into his ways before this revolution seems quite likely.
At the time, New York Times’ food critic Florence Fabricant cited the influence of French Nouvelle cooking and Japanese styles of raw and rare beef preparations for helping us the rethink what properly cooked proteins ought to look like. She noted, “Food has become fresher tasting and more likely to retain its natural juices. Rosy slices of sautéed duck breast, delicately pink calf’s liver, vegetables that are brightly crisp-tender, and moist fillets of fish are setting the standards in restaurants and at dinner parties.”
Prior to that, the general public’s idea of cooking meat was ‘burnt crisp so it doesn’t kill me’ to a large extent — unless you were someone like Bill the Butcher and just wanted to burn the bacteria off the surface.
A Dash Of Data
The Gangs of New York scene is an important scene, culinarily-speaking. Bacteria cannot magically appear inside a solid piece of protein. Bacteria, even the pathogenic (harmful) kind, generally is only found in ground, minced, or tenderized meats when the surface is mixed into the whole in unsanitary conditions. This never happens with steaks (unless someone has literally stabbed it with a syringe and added bad bacteria in). So as long as the surface is clean, you’re pretty much good to go.