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When do you send back a steak for being under/over cooked?

For steaks and prime rib I'll accept one degree off, plus or minus. So if I order medium rare I'll accept rare or medium. I think this is fair. For hamburgers, when they ask for desired degree of doneness, I ask for pink/medium but usually get medium well or well done. In that case I say nothing and eat them as delivered.

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  1. I find even the Top Steakhouses today generally under cook their steaks, since it's far easier to cook up, rather than throw a steak out for being overcooked. I generally order Medium-Rare for most Steak Cuts or Prime Rib and the steaks always come out RARE. It's easy to tell, as the meat does not cut easily and it's more chewy than MR. I won't return them....but any steak cooked past Medium, i.e., Medium-Well, goes back. I'm not as fussy with Burgers.

    So, I'm much like you in this regard.

    14 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      This is exactly my experience as well. In addition to the reasons cited above, I think a lot of places do this because they bring the steak out on a screeching hot plate so it won't get cold as you eat. This, of course, has the effect of bringing the meat up one or possibly two notches, so they undercook to compensate so it sort of catches up with you as you work your way through it. I guess.

      When I was younger, medium rare meant pink and juicy throughout with a hint of red. Now it means seared outside and virtually raw inside. The more upscale/expensive the place, or the closer to the east coast it is, the more this tends to be true. You're pretty unlikely to see this happen in an Outback in Omaha, in my experience. But when not long ago we went to the best steakhouse here in Seattle and ordered the $115 Long Bone Wagyu Ribeye (how can it be the Ribeye if it's still on the bone? But I digress) and described how we wanted it, as above, the waiter suggested medium well. I was horrified at the thought. But he said he'd take it back if it wasn't right, so I acquiesced, and it was perfect.

      So Medium Well is the new Medium Rare. Even the meat thermomenters that used to say 145 is medium rare are certainly wrong. Who Knew?

      1. re: acgold7

        As I read I'm reminded of a few things.

        Here in the UK, people tend to get very fussed about warming plates - it's commonly done even for informal meals at home. I personally have never liked warm plates for precisely the reason you mention: they continue cooking the food. If you want rare meat, that's a serious problem. So if I know a restaurant would typically warm the plate, I'll ask them not to do so. (although if the plate came warm anyway I'd surely not send everything back)

        One other reason I find to send things back, much more commonly than doneness: when a dish has a sauce or condiment, not mentioned on the menu, put on top. So, e.g. I asked for a steak and got one with a huge ball of herbed butter on top. Or drizzled with some mystery sauce. That's likely to go back; they didn't mention it, I didn't want it, and it would have had the effect of severely diminishing my experience, possibly to the extent of inedibility. That's one thing I do think restaurants ought to be mindful of: never have "hidden" ingredients that you don't mention or even hint at, yet automatically add.

        I also think it's interesting, but not surprising, that people will more readily send back steaks (which represent greater cost to the restaurant) than hamburgers (which usually except for ultra-posh varieties at some places are lower-cost). Most of us are doing a "how much effort is this worth?" calculation when deciding to send something back, much more than a "is this really a serious defect that the restaurant should correct?" calculation.

          1. re: fourunder

            :-D (Presuming you've read my other posts)

            Luger's gets a special exemption from the usual severe whinging on such matters on account of the excellence of the steak.

            Though yes, it does still irk about the hot-plate thing. And that cutting-up-the-meat thing. Not, naturally, that I haven't tried to get them to do neither. The answer was, naturally, no. Part of the atmosphere, really.

          2. re: AlexRast

            "Most of us are doing a "how much effort is this worth?" calculation when deciding to send something back"

            I never figure in my effort when sending something back. For me at least, it does not take a significant amount of effort to explain the issue to the server and ask for a replacement.

            1. re: Fowler

              effort? no
              aggravation? yes
              inconvenience? yes

              it's a pain to send back food, your dining partners are pretty much finished eating by the time you get your food
              they feel awkward eating in front of you, so then you get the pity
              "here, have some of this" from everyone at the table
              you can
              A) say "no that's okay" and nibble on the bread or sit there an eat nothing, making your dining partners more uncomfortable
              B) take what their offering, eat it and then you're barely hungry enough to eat 1/3 of your freshly cooked steak

              THEN when the steak does arrive and they're all done eating (or nearly) you're the one that's holding up the table....
              "dessert? well, MAYBE.... we'll see when cgarner's done eating"

              1. re: cgarner

                Oh, I agree cgarner and that is why I said in my original response that if I sent a steak back it would depend upon the circumstances of where I was and who I was dining with. For example, if I am dining alone while out of town on a business trip I would be far more likely to send the steak back than if I were dining with a group of friends.

                In my reply to Alex I was simply addressing his statement about how "most of us" factor in effort when sending something back. Effort is simply not part of my decision making process to send a steak back.

                1. re: Fowler

                  This sounds just like a difference in interpretation over terminology - the "effort" word here is meant to incorporate "aggravation", "inconvenience", etc.: all those things that cost mental energy.

                  And on the "most of us" - yes, I'm someone who's going to try to summarise what appears to be general trends in thinking. It's never meant to be applied too deterministically or personally. It's like describing climate vs. giving a weather forecast. The climate anywhere has only a very vague relationship at best to the weather forecast for a particular place, at a particular time. Same thing with these sorts of descriptions; I'm just trying to capture common threads.

                2. re: cgarner

                  Interesting, I had a similar experience where I ordered a rib eye steak rare, the steak was so thin it came out well done. By the time I got the attention of our waiter, and based on where others in the dinner party were with their entree's, I told him to take it back and not bring a new steak. I just ate some bread and nibbled on my remaining salad.

            2. re: acgold7

              Interesting. It could indeed be a regional thing. Growing up in the NY/NJ area in the '70s, my parents introduced me to "Medium-Rare," which meant a warm, red (not pink) center. A hot, pink (not red) center was "Medium."

              As an adult I have learned that the fattier the cut, the more one might want to cook it. A highly marbled ribeye appeals to me more when the fat is thoroughly melted, so I have learned to order that Medium instead of Medium-Rare.

            3. re: fourunder

              I wish I had the same issue. I eat a lot of steak when dining out, because I have allergies, and a steak is generally a safe option for my allergies. Maybe it's my luck, but I order medium rare, and hardly ever have one come out under, but frequently come out over.

              I will accept medium, but medium-well or beyond is just not ok with me. Rare is workable for me, depending upon how rare. At home I probably cook things on the rare side of medium rare, but I don't like cold in the middle.

              1. re: jw615

                The most common reason you will get a steak that is cold in the centre, if cooked to some degree of rareness, is that it has gone from refrigerator to grill. No decent chef does this.

                I like my steak blue, and preferably with the bell still on. A great chef I worked with once told me it takes as long as a medium steak to make a great blue steak. Steak should begin it's cooking life at room temperature.

                1. re: cronker

                  Steak should begin it's cooking life at room temperature...

                  Unfortunately, that would get you a big fine in a commercial kitchen...

              2. For steaks, I prefer very rare; I'd definitely send back anything more than medium-rare, and if medium-rare, I'll note that to the waiter/waitress, without insisting that they redo it, but just so the kitchen notes it. I'm not particularly fond, when I get a steak asked for rare, that's actually *cold* in the centre, but by the time this is discovered I'll have eaten too much of it for it to go back.

                For hamburgers, I wish it were possible to get them rare! This is so uncommon, though, that it's usually pointless to expect it. I do get surprised looks every time when I ask if they can do that. Most of the time the answer is no. :-( There is one thing, though, that does bother me, and puts me in a dilemma. It's frequently the case that a restaurant will offer 2 grades of beef for the hamburger: an "ordinary" one and a "premium" one. But self-defeatingly, it's even more invariably the case, that they will be able to offer the "ordinary" one to desired doneness degree, but the "premium" one can only be done medium. What's with that? (My usual solution then is to vote with my feet and walk out)

                9 Replies
                1. re: AlexRast

                  At "Bern's Steakhouse, Tampa, they are very exacting on steak temperatures and degree of doneness, rare is defined in many variations from a "raw cold center to a cool center". If one orders a steak well done the menu states "not responsible for well done steaks".
                  the matrix below is from the Bern's menu, very interesting.

                  http://www.bernssteakhouse.com/Our-St...

                  1. re: ospreycove

                    I will attest the meat ordered RARE at Bern's is indeed raw when served.

                    1. re: fourunder

                      Exactly what I mean. I loved Bern's when I was there, but to me there should be a difference between raw, Black & Blue, and Rare.

                      1. re: acgold7

                        Actually there is if you use the words/definitions on the "Doneness Matrix".......LOL!!

                  2. re: AlexRast

                    Are you referring to burgers in the US? I have no problem getting them cooked rare and have never seen two grades offered.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I've been refused a MR burger in PA. But then if a place is nervous about their ground beef - or can't guarantee that it's not infested with e.coli or whatever they're worried about - I'd rather not get a burger at all (and likely not eat there again).

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Possibly then this is a difference in local custom. No, this is the situation for hamburgers in the UK. There may be stricter regulations in force. The UK has gone a bit mad over health and safety.

                        It will be noted though that on a recent trip to NY the Minetta Tavern had 2 grades of burger and I had no difficulty getting the "premium" one (Black Label) done rare. However Minetta is an entirely different class of establishment to begin with. So that's not a fair comparison.

                        1. re: AlexRast

                          Here's the menu"

                          http://www.minettatavernny.com/menus/...;

                          I'm surprised that you couldn't get either cooked to order.

                    2. I took the question slightly differently before I read the actual question (yeah, sometimes I do that, to my embarrassment, like Emily Litella), but I'll write my original thought-

                      After the first bite or two, right as you discover it's done wrong. Otherwise, you look like a real jerk for eating 3/4 of a steak or piece of prime rib and THEN saying it isn't done to your liking. You knew a long time ago, if you're telling the truth, and everybody knows that. We've dropped dining friends for being that way, they tend to be embarrassingly bad tippers besides, and spend the whole time looking for a reason to be comped. I HATES people like that!

                      Otherwise, I'm in agreement with you.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: EWSflash

                        You mean you don't wait until just that little tail piece of fat is left, demand a new one, and then take the new one home in a doggie bag?

                        1. re: acgold7

                          Oh God, now you're making me furious! 8^O

                      2. I can only recall sending a steak back once (in 1980) - it's only one of four times we've ever sent anything back, which is why I recall the year and which country we were in at the time. I recall it being undercooked but how much has faded from memory.

                        1. I like my meat cooked, which means no blue or dripping in blood. I order my steak mid well when I eat one, which is not often but I won't send it back if it's well as long as it's not dry like shoe leather. I will even keep it if it's medium as long as it's not red when it's supposed to be pink. Burgers have to be completely cooked for me or it goes back. I always cut my steak or burger in half when I get it and I will know right then whether I can stomach it.