I had a real letdown recently at one of my favorite restaurants. I ordered a ribeye cooked medium rare but what the server brought was a disappointment.
When a steakhouse doesn’t understand what medium rare means, you know you’re in trouble.
I had two disappointments in a row at one of my favorite ones recently. When it comes to a nice ribeye, I prefer medium rare. When it comes to a hamburger, with ground beef, I don’t want to see any pink at all.
The reason is simple: foodborne illness. Presumably, the way beef is treated at the processing plant, it’s possible for potentially dangerous bacteria to get on the outside of the beef. If a steak is properly cooked, any bacteria on the outside is killed while the inside can be left rare or medium rare without a problem.
Ground beef, however, means that any pathogens on the outer surfaces of the beef have now been ground into the meat, which means it needs to be more thoroughly cooked to be safe.
As a result, I’m pretty picky about how I want my beef prepared.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the restaurant and ordered a burger. When asked how I wanted it cooked, I told the server I wanted it medium well: I wanted as little pink on the inside as possible, but I did not want it charcoaled on the outside.
That seemed like a simple, self-explanatory instruction to me. What I got, however, was a burger that was on the medium rare side of medium. It actually made me feel a little queasy when I looked at the burger I’d just bitten into.
I ate the sides and the appetizer and by the time she returned to the table, the uneaten burger was the only thing left. I asked her to take it off my bill and that I would pay for the rest.
She asked if I wanted them to prepare another burger and I said no. I’ve heard enough horror stories about what goes on when someone sends food back to the kitchen that I’d have sooner eaten the undercooked burger!
When I recently returned for a steak dinner, I had the opposite problem.
I ordered a medium rare ribeye. I didn’t add instructions about the steak not being burned because when a steak is cooked medium rare, the outside should never be blackened to begin with.
But the steak I got had plenty of blackening on the edges. I was immediately suspicious. The first bite tasted like charcoal, not beef. I cut into the steak and saw tiny hints of pink, but it was clearly past medium for the most part.
It was the second time in a row I sent my entree back and told them to take it off my bill.
I didn’t accept an offer for them to make me another steak. I paid the $6 bill and left.
Why is ordering beef cooked properly a problem these days?
Many restaurants take efforts to illustrate what terms like “medium rare,” “medium” and even “well” mean to their kitchen staff. So if they’re going to define what those orders should look like, it shouldn’t be difficult for them to deliver.
Plus, there’s research to indicate that when meat is overcooked, particularly when it’s burned to the point of blackening, a chemical reaction inside the beef produces a carcinogen. That’s why no matter what type of beef I’m eating or how much I want the interior cooked, I don’t accept beef that’s burned on the outside.
I do realize, of course, that one of the keys to preventing foodborne illness is making sure the interior of the meat reaches a certain temperature. But I’m not in the kitchen with a meat thermometer when someone’s cooking my dinner.
And if I can’t trust them to pay attention to keep the meet the way I order it, how can I trust them to actually measure that internal temperature.
The easy answer is this: I can’t.