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In defense of the well-done steak (and those who order it)

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Of all the terribly annoying things you can do at restaurants, there's no better way to reveal yourself as a condescending suck-merchant than by criticizing someone for ordering their steak well-done. It's the worst.

Here are four common objections that self-important foodies, macho bros, and indignant waiters make to thoroughly cooked beef (and why they're all sucky, inaccurate, and flat-out offensive).

Argument 1: A cow died to be this steak. Respect its sacrifice.

Meat lovers, including us, start the bull with the claim that to cook a steak well (which by FDA standards, is the same 160°F internal temperature required by "meat mixtures" and ground beef) is to ruin it. It's not right. The meat is worthy of your reverence. Venerate that sh*t.

This is the dumbest. The cow was dead before the well-done steak was ordered. Even if it was alive -- farm-to-table freshness being what it is in 2014 -- it wouldn't "care", as it is livestock. No matter how hard Chick-fil-A's ad agency tries to convince you otherwise, livestock don't have existential crises.

In fact, just because the cow died doesn't mean anyone is going to respect its sacrifice. According to the USDA's loss-adjusted food availability report, 23.5% of beef that enters the market perishes, and is never eaten.

On top of that, a USDA report from 2007 found that restaurants toss 2-5% of served beef because picky red-meat aficionados claim that it's been -- wait for it -- overcooked. No matter how skilled the chef, he/she can't "uncook" meat once it's been advanced to a higher stage of done-ness, but well-done orders don't get tossed as much because it's no problem to cook "up" if the first try is too red for a well-doner.

Well-done steak is an easy target for allegations of meat-blasphemy but the truth is everyone else is actually just wasting beef.
 

Argument 2: You're grilling away its nutrients

Protectors of the Rare have long contended that too much broiling robs a steak of its key nutrients, rendering that cooked-through sirloin a useless mass of smoking calories. I'm obviously very concerned about my health, so I looked into this.

I found answers at Dr. Stu's Science Blog, where Stu ably parsed the beef-specific findings of this Swiss study on the health benefits of eating heated meat. I have no idea who Dr. Stu is, but I cross-referenced his post against the report and it seemed to check out. Nice work, Dr. Stu!

His words & emphasis below:

  • The longer steak is cooked, the fewer vitamins it contains
  • Cooking meat in water reduces its vitamin content further
  • The levels of iron and zinc increase with cooking
  • Fat levels drop with cooking

Well-done steak isn't going to turn you into a malnourished wretch. It's got fewer vitamins, but more minerals, and actually delivers less fat than a piece of red meat. I'm no bookie, but that sounds like a push to me.

Argument 3: You're cooking cancer into it

Order a well-done steak around a med-school student, and you might hear about HCAs & PAHs, which are chemicals that form when meat is cooked for long periods in high, direct heat. In animal tests, these chemicals have been proven to increase the risk of certain cancers. Terrifying!

According to Cancer.gov, though, there's no concrete evidence indicating that well-done beef puts actualhumans in additional danger. (If you're reading this, you are a human, probably. Or at least a Chick-fil-A cow.) More good news: doses in the animal tests were "equivalent to thousands of times the doses that a person would consume in a normal diet".

Even if HCAs & PAHs are cancerous to humans, you're probably alright unless you're eating 1,000x more well-done steak than the rest of us. Don't do that, fellow humans.


Argument 4: It's a waste of money

The (extremely circular) reasoning goes something like this: 

  1. An expensive steak cooked well-done tastes just like a cheap steak cooked well-done.
  2. Restaurants pawn off cheaper/almost-turned steaks on well-done orders and charge the same price, assuming the customer can't tell the difference.
  3. Why pay more for worse meat?

Sounds good, right? Nope. Stop that.

There are three gaping holes in this oft-debated pro-red point:

  1. Expensive meat & cheap aren't the same. While an expensive piece of beef might be "worse" well-done (this is up to the diner) than medium-rare, the same is true for a cheap piece of beef. But bad steak starts at a lower quality to begin with, so while the expensive steak may get "worse" at the same rate, the depreciation is still on a higher "quality plane".
  2. Well-done diners are using their own money, or in cases where someone else is paying (dates, family outings, last meal requests to the state, etc.), money & decision-making power that they've been allotted. The done-ness they request is immaterial to everyone except them.
  3. Well-done diners ENJOY well-done steak. That's why they order it. That's what they're paying for. It's not a waste of their money if that's what they want.

As for chophouses who bait-and-switch cuts to "save" premium steaks from being "squandered" on a well-doner: that's a load of crap. They do it to dishonestly sell cheap meat at high prices. It's a condescending, illegal swindle that infantilizes a paying customer. Not cool.

Counter-argument: Burn it all down

If you're the sort of posturing, insufferable cad who throws a ghastly fit whenever he hears the phrase "steak, well-done", then you are a condescending suck-merchant. You think you sound like a connoisseur, but the rest of us know you're just an insecure buffoon plagiarizing your pro-red talking points from an old Chowhound thread.

Don't be a condescending suck-merchant. Stop whining about well-done steaks.

Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist Food & Drink. He orders his steak rare, but will die for your right to order yours however you want, you well-done sociopath. Follow @dinfontay on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.