Last week, we all discovered Donald Trump’s dirty little secret: he orders his steak well-done. This led to plenty of debate in the comments — with things getting pretty heated. While the news begs the question of whether we really want a man who purposely ruins his steaks to be the next leader of the free world, it also brings up another question: why, actually, is well-done steak a travesty?
Over at Reddit, someone asked that very same question last month. In a discussion of all things King of the Hill, the topic of steak came up (as it does when you’re dealing with Hank Hill), leading one commenter to ask, sincerely, for an explanation behind the cooked-through steak hate.
A professional chef quickly responded with a thorough explainer on the matter.
Steak, he argued, is designed to be served medium or less, “with mid rare or below being optimal.” Other cuts of meat are designed to be cooked a certain way, too. You wouldn’t serve veal medium-rare, because you’d get more complaints than satisfied guests.
Likewise, a well-done steak is improperly cooked. The less done the steak is, the more the unique quality of a meat is showcased. So if you’re paying $50 or more for an aged steak in a fine restaurant, you’re going to get the most out of your money by not having the kitchen overcook the cut.
Or, to turn the argument on its head, by eating a well-done steak, “You will pay up to $20/kg for the privilege of not knowing if this is brahmin meat from Fallout or Wagu beef from Japan.”
Chefgeoff also took the opportunity to vent his frustration over diners who do just that, and then complain about their steak. Because, he argued, there are meat dishes designed to be served well-done to showcase the work of kitchen. “The parts used in braised dishes are by design from the birth of the calf until it is on your plate to be well done AND you can tell the difference between quality and cheap meat still when they are done.” But that’s not steak. If you want well-done, stay away from his steak.
An additional commenter pitched in on the science of cooking steak, discussing how higher temperatures cause protein coagulation, which toughens the meat, and then dove deep on flavoring agents before comparing different types of cattle to wine-growing conditions.
Of course, there are a few other issues with well-done meat that the commenters failed to bring up. First of all, there’s the research that glycotoxins, which are found in higher concentration in meat that’s been cooked through, contribute to age-related dementia. And there’s also the cancer issue: in a nine-year study, people who liked their steak well-done were found to have a 60 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than their rare-loving peers.
So there you go. Now you know. And if you still have a hankering for meet that’s cooked solidly through, maybe you should reconsider ordering that steak. Or just don’t get offended when it tastes like shoe leather.
Check out chefgeoff’s full answer below:
I’ll try from the professional chef’s point of view.
It isn’t as simple as “I like it this way… you’re stupid if you like it that way”. Although the majority of arguments I have seen boil down to that eventually.
“Steak” through out the entire chain of procurement, from the raising of the cattle to the basic butchering and aging, to the fine butchering, storage, prepping and cooking is designed to be medium or less, with mid rare or below being optimal. This is different from other cuts of meat, some from different parts of the animal, some from different animals. Different cuts are designed to be boiled, fried, ground up, braised, sauteed, fricassee or microwaved depending on what they are and where they come from. Veal shank is a wonderful piece of meat, but if you wanted it rare, while it is still edible, it is not the optimal way to cook it as you will get more complaints about it than satisfied guests. Selling food to people as an industry for centuries if not millennia has taught us that.
The reason for this is for steak cuts is that the less the doneness the more we can present the uniqueness or quality of a steak. The difference between a really good small operation local cattle farmer or even USDA prime meat vs Peruvian class d or even USDA select is night and day, but in all reality after Mid-well you can’t really tell the difference. You will pay up to $20/kg for the privilege of not knowing if this is brahmin meat from Fallout or Wagu beef from Japan.
The care and dedication to a craft has been thrown out the window and it is as insulting to a master carpenter to use his finest wood and all of his skill to make a chest that is going to be burnt for fuel. Sure if you want to pay him for it, I suppose that is your prerogative, but it is also his right to feel that his time is being wasted IF he feels he could be showcasing his trade instead of simply exchanging his time for money.
Now this isn’t saying that you shouldn’t go down to the Piggly Wiggly, grab a USDA select eye of round and cook that sucker up to well done because you like it. If that is what you like then go for it. Head on down to the TGIFMCApplebees Factory and order their strip loin mid-well: it was a frozen pre-cut steak to start with and the uniqueness and difference in quality is pretty negligible. What I am talking about is cow that has been raised, butchered, handled and cooked with the express purpose of having the subtleties and nuances of it showcased in a rare-maybe even medium type scenario.
This leads us to Hank here and he has a point. He doesn’t care about the meat, but he really cares about propane. You want to taste the meat and not the heat? There is still depth and difference of flavor on a mid rare steak but a well done? This isn’t to be insulting but I can cook a well done to the same flavor and texture in a T-fall pan on an electric stove as I can on the $20,000 broiler I have in my restaurant (not to mention the extra fire insurance I pay every month, or the chef I pay $20.00 hr to cook it). So if Hank wants to show people how good his product is he looses that opportunity when steaks are too well done. And Hank, like me, are not public services. We are salesmen first, that is how we pay our bills.
Some of the frustration also comes from the fact that most restaurants in fine dining will offer a dish made from meat that are expressly designed to be cooked well done. The parts used in braised dishes are by design from the birth of the calf until it is on your plate to be well done AND you can tell the difference between quality and cheap meat still when they are done. So in our minds there is the eternal question “if you like meat well done… have this, it is the best work we have done and we are proud of it”.
Now I’ve been doing this for 20+ years and have run my own restaurant and even partial own it now for 9, and though I have been a chef for the vast majority of it I find myself doing more administration and Front of House relations than ever. But even as a chef when talking to people about this topic I have been told “well you are just the cook, just cook my food the way I want it, why do you care?” Because I do care what my food looks like and tastes like. Don’t come to my restaurant because you are too lazy to cook at home that night and just want food enough to keep you alive just like your mom use to make, come to my restaurant to experience what my staff and I have created for you. There are tons of restaurants who want to “make it your way” and there is nothing wrong with that at all, but it is a different business and should be treated as such. Like it, don’t like, that is fine: the market will speak for it’s self but don’t ask us to fundamentally change our meals because you think you like it different, try what we are showcasing and if you like well done meat try our selection of well done meats. Add to this that a well done steak takes forever, and to be honest if I was to cook it to the best of our abilities a well done steak will take about 90 min low and slow. That isn’t going to happen when I NEED to turn tables over AND need the space on the broiler/grill/Sautee to keep the business viable. So we will rush them to an extent so that they only take 20minutes to half and hour to cook and that leads to the inevitable… “I paid $XX.XX for this?” I can honestly say I have never had a customer with a medium steak or less ask me this question in the last 10 years. Sure people question our prices when they open the menu but very rarely once they get the food, usually because reality has set in. However the number of times a well-done steak has some jack ass on the other side of it questioning the price tag because he bought an edible hockeypuck is in the hundreds. This isn’t to say that people who eat well done steaks are jack-asses, just the ones who complain about the price/perceived value ratio. My most expensive items are by far the ones with the worst profit margins. I hardly make anything back on selling steaks and fresh seafood. The price that I buy the meat at dictates the price I can sell it at. The high end expensive items that make me no money get you in the restaurant to by apps, alcohol and dessert and those things keep the lights on and pay my kids dentist bills. Too many times we have tried to put something out, customer has insisted that we cook it in a way we do not wish to showcase and then they complain that it isn’t worth $40-$50 because I know and they know that at that level of cookedness they could buy the same thing at the grocery store for $6.00. Then these fucks go right over to Yelp and you can see the rest on South Park and/or agitate the rest of their party and complain loudly and bitterly and there is literally nothing we can do about it because they insisted on buying something we did not want to sell because of this “I have the right to eat what I want how I want it”.
I guess the TLDR is that high quality steak cuts aren’t the right meat for doing well done in the same vein that Ahi Tuna shouldn’t be cooked well done. You can buy Ahi Tuna at $30.00/lb so why would you cook it so that you couldn’t really tell the difference between that and the tinned stuff with the little dolphin on it in the 80’s. Nothing wrong with tinned tuna, I personally love it, but I’m not buying a tin for $22.00 each nor do I want to waste the time and effort it took to catch, butcher, preserve, and rush deliver sushi quality fish only to pressure cook it and slap it between two pieces of white bread. If you do that, its a matter of when, not if, someone is going to ask why their tuna sandwich costs $50.00.