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What does "cooked to order" mean to you?

There's a thread about a burger joint in Boston that has a sign posted that their burgers are "cooked to order." The thread's original poster assumed that the restaurant cooks the burger to the doneness the patron wants (ie: well done, medium well, medium rare, etc.). And as a result tried to order a medium rare burger. The restaurant said that "cooked to order" means they cook the burger when the burger is ordered, as opposed to cooking it, and having it sit under a lamp.

I agree with the original posters definition of what "cooked to order" means, as in doneness, and not the restaurant's cooked when ordered. The phrase just seems like it means cooked to the order's specification.

What do you think? What do you expect when you see a sign that says "cooked to order"?

I didn't want to hijack the original thread, but here it is:


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  1. I guess they thought people wouldn't understand 'we cook your burger a' la minute'.

    1. I've always taken "cooked to order" means that they don't cook it until after you order and its not sitting around under a heat lamp ala mcdonalds.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ESNY


        Speaking of ambiguous signs, an orchard I used to go to had a sign that said "Baked on Premises," which people took to mean their pies were homemade. Years later it came out that they bought Sara Lee pies and baked them in their ovens and put them into plain white boxes. Technically the sign didn't lie - the pies were literally baked on the premise.

        1. re: SarahEats

          When you think of it, what does "homemade" mean? Whose home? You mean this diner is someone's home?

      2. Well, it means whatever the restaurant that posted it says it means. In a different restaurant, it might mean something else altogether.

        But I've always understood it to mean what they said theirs means, we don't cook it until you order it.

        1. Add me to the list that when you order the burger, the raw meat hits the grill, not a fast foodie.

          Cooked to your specifications or to your desired doneness means they will try to meet the request on med-rare, arre, well, etc. Some states down south will not serve a burger less than medium.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jfood

            That's not just down south. Lots of restaurants on the West Coast won't either; their insurance companies are concerned about E-Coli.

          2. Cooked after receiving an order.

            1. I assumed it meant cooked the way you want it

              1. I would have assumed it meant cooked to your desired doneness, but in reality, it is open to reasonable interpretation either way.

                1. I guess to me, it depends.

                  The OP on the Boston thread was discussing UBurger, which is trying to follow a better-than-average fast food burger model (supposedly like In-And-Out). In such a case, I'd expect "cooked to order" means they're prepared fresh once ordered.

                  If I was in a regular pub or burger specialty placed, "cooked to order" damn well better mean laid on the grill after I ordered and cooked to my requested level of doneness.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Dax

                    I assumed the burger was prepared fresh once ordered--I agree that it better be made after I order it and made to my specification of doneness

                  2. One concept is simply a lesser included version of the other:

                    If you want a burger cooked to a specified level of doneness, it cannot be cooked and held in advance unless you specified well done...so it will be cooked upon ordering and cannot be held too long without compromising the level of doneness.

                    1. Regardless of what any particular individual thinks it means, or would like it to mean, the fact is (as is amply demonstrated by this very discussion), the phrase in question is unambiguously ambiguous. No amount of saying, "I don't care what they meant, I think it REALLY means this!" will make it so.

                      Bottom line: it means, in any given context, what the writer intends it to mean - in this case, that they will cook your burger after you order it, not to the degree of doneness that you specify. And at a quick head count, that is how roughly seven out of ten responders above who expressed an opinion read it. Granted, Uburger should have chosen a less ambiguous way of saying it, but what they meant is what it means. Take that, Humpty Dumpty!

                      1. Means they cook it when you order it. Around here, half the time the rare/medium-rare/medium/whatever thing is "al gusto". :-P

                        1. Ambiguous? Sorry, it's not.

                          Cooked To Order does *not* mean Cooked When You Ordered It. It means cooked to the state that you desire. i.e. the way you ordered it. (And as stated above by Karl S, it cannot be cooked to your preference before you state your preference.)

                          To equate CTO with CWYOI is merely sloppy thinking; much the same as people who say "I could care less" when they really mean that they could *not* care less. Or merchants who sell Orange's instead of Oranges.

                          Unless we want to start discussing the difference between what we say and what we mean. :)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: butland

                            Ah the beauty of the English language. There is no right or wrong on this question, which makes the comments and opinions so interesting.

                            Imagine a non-native English person going to a diner and ordering a "well done" hamburger. He loves that red juicy meat from his native country. Out arrives a overcooked slab of ground meat. He looks at the waiter and says, "This is not well done, but it is poorly prepared."

                            As in lots of colloquialisms and oximorons, there is no absolute right answer. Medium rare, we all know that has tons of meanings. Extra large shrimp, not really all the same size, over easy eggs versus over medium, soft boiled eggs, how many minutes?

                            If you ordered a "cooked to order" rare hamburger in North Carolina, your getting the same grey meat as you would if you ordered well done.

                            I would be careful placing a line in the sand and declaring the area to the left is white and to the right is black.

                            When you see "cooked to order" you should also ask for level of doneness so there is no doubt once the meal arrives. A happy customer makes a happy waiter.

                            1. re: butland

                              Not to be overly contentious, and I say this with a smile (I love a good linguistic discussion!), but you should try looking up the definition of ambiguous before getting on a high horse here. Just because you assert that this phrase has only one specific meaning does not mean that it does have only one meaning - as is incontrovertibly evidenced by this very discussion!

                              The two examples you present are unrelated to this - the first is a colloquialism which, while grammatically contradictory to its intended meaning, is universally understood and thus in fact unambiguous, while the second uses incorrect punctuation, but again, is not ambiguous. Amusing to those of us who know how to spell, but not ambiguous.

                              The phrase in question, "cooked to order," is neither gramatically nor punctuationally incorrect, it is, purely and simply, open to more than one legitimate interpretation, and thus, by definition, ambiguous. And if we're going to take this any further I suggest we take it off Chowhounds altogether and move it to a linguistics site.

                              1. i can't believe all the hair-splitting about what the original and subsequent ops both describe as a "fast-food burger joint."

                                if they proclaim they "cook to order", you're already in trouble.

                                1. In my experience, it means "cooked the way the kitchen managed to do it, and you better not complain."