I think it’s important to start this blog entry off by telling you that there is no correct way to order your food at a restaurant. There isn’t a correct section of the menu from which you should order–no reason to favor a steak over a pasta dish if you’re craving a nice fettuccine alfredo or carbonara.
But there certainly is a wrong way to order your food, particularly if you’re ordering a piece of red meat.
You may think that, by ordering a $45 filet mignon, you won’t be able to go wrong. After all, it’s one of the most tender, juiciest cuts of steak and, chances are, you’re ordering it at an upscale restaurant. However, every steak–from a NY Strip and filet down to a skirt steak–can very, very easily be ruined by just a few words, tacked on to the end of your order, casually floated to your server, seeming almost like an afterthought.
I’m not one to police what others eat. You’re free to order anything or everything off of the menu when we’re out to eat together. If you prefer your steak cooked medium-well or well-done, by all means, order it that way, just know that you’re robbing yourself of a properly prepared steak.
A well-done steak is robbed of the juices, textures and flavors that make a steak a steak. A properly cooked steak will retain its juiciness and won’t taste like you’re gnawing on a leather football when you try to eat it. A well-done steak tends to lack juiciness, drying out far too much to be palatable for most people. With the runoff of juice comes a similar runoff in taste and tenderness. Cooking a steak well-done–no pink in the middle at all, brown throughout–will toughen up the steak and cause it to be difficult to chew without taking periodic gulps of your glass of water.
The range that you run when ordering steak goes, of course, from rare to well-done. Stops in the middle include medium-rare, medium, and medium-well. Most people tend to hover around the middle of that spectrum, ordering medium-rare or medium steaks is what you’ll find many “foodies” do when they’re at a steakhouse or upscale restaurant.
While many people who consider themselves food connoisseurs may order their steaks medium or medium-rare, there are exceptions to the “rare is better” rule, particularly if you’re not ordering a steak. Ordering burgers cooked medium-well is fairly common, as the flavor of a burger is often masked to some degree by toppings.
Getting a steak at a chain restaurant can run risks in and of itself, whether it’s properly prepared will come down to how the cook is feeling that evening; I wouldn’t recommend getting a steak–particularly one that leans towards the rare end, at a restaurant you’re not comfortable with or you don’t trust.
Lastly, if you’re ordering a well-cooked steak at a restaurant, you also need to understand that it will take a little longer to come to the table. While most chefs won’t necessarily balk at the idea of cooking a steak thoroughly, they will often recommend a medium-well in place of well-done.
Samuel Monsour perhaps put it best when discussing those who order their steak well-done, saying “Order it medium well, because it’ll still be well-done, but it’ll retain some juices. Nobody pays attention to a well-done steak. That’s kind of your get-out-of-jail-free card when you’re in the weeds. ‘Oh, that’s well-done? I can forget about it.’ I’m not going to tell you how to eat your meat, but if you don’t want any red color in it, just order it medium well and you’ll get a better product.”