Well Done.

x-posted here

Like me, President Obama orders his hamburger “medium well”:

But apparently there’s some controversy over at the Internet Food Association about the way Obama prefers his meat prepared:

I should mention that President Obama apparently ordered his burger “medium well.” The heated argument caused by this particular presidential decision on our IFA listserv put that whole “torture” debate to shame.

I think there’s more to this than simple preferences.

Several years ago, I went out for dinner in Dallas with a relatively diverse group of friends (I was the only black guy). It was only then, at the tender age of 24, that I discovered asking for my steak to be cooked “well” was a faux pas in certain circles.

They challenged me so much that night about my choice that I actually got a bit defensive. I might have even said something about someone’s mama. It was a moment where our cultural differences were never more apparent – if I like my food prepared a certain way, what the hell was the problem?

See, I grew up in a home where my mother knew to cook my steak (she never even bothered asking) until it was charred. In fact, most members of my family didn’t want to see any pink in their meat. I never even heard of someone ordering anything “rare.”

But that confrontation in Dallas stuck with me. And with the help of a very friendly waitress at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo (home of the free 72 oz. steak!), I have relented a little and started ordering my beef “medium” and “medium well.” That’s as far as I’m willing to go.

However, when I’m back home in Houston, my mother – as always – never bothers with asking. She just cooks a steak up the way I really like it. And no one is there to judge me. So it occurred to me that maybe Obama was actually putting on a good front at Ray’s Hellburger, just like me.

Now if someone really wants to find a problem with Obama’s burger order, how about him asking for all that nasty mustard? Blech.

But is it possible that peer pressure can change the way people eat? Or that there’s something cultural to the way people prepare their meat?

Just asking questions, folks.

15 thoughts on “Well Done.

  1. Tiffany In Houston May 7, 2009 at 8:36 pm Reply

    I swear if people could discuss the way that poor man took a shit they would. Mercy!

    Anyhoo, back to what you ask…my people are similar to yours in that all their meat must be fully cooked. And I too, now tend toward medium/medium well but that just kind of evolved over time as my palate got a little more seasoned (damn that sounds prententious).

    I think there is a cultural component to preparing meat. Our forebears were given the toughest cuts of meat to deal with (and this after having to butcher it) and lot of that meat had to have the shit cooked out of it for it to taste good. Most folks learn to cook stuff at mama’s or big mama’s elbow and continue cooking the way they’ve always known.

  2. shani-o May 7, 2009 at 8:46 pm Reply

    I don’t know if it’s cultural as much as it is socioeconomic; my Jamaican mother makes steak in a certain way — cooked all the way through with lots of seasoning. I do think TIH has a point about the quality of the cuts of meat, because when my mom buys steak it’s always the really tough stuff.

    Anyway. I thought it was weird that ‘other’ people ate steak rare with, maybe, some salt or A1 sauce. But when I started working at a fancy pants grill that specialized in steaks and burgers, and I would hang out with the servers after work, they always ordered beef rare. I wasn’t having it until I tried rare kobe beef sliders. Changed my life.

    Now, when I eat steak/burgers out, I order it medium if it’s a high quality cut of meat. But when cooking at home, I still like my steak brown all the way through.

    (By the way, I thought the real controversy was over the fact that Barack got ‘fancy’ mustard on his burger – http://mediamatters.org/clips/200905070001 ).

    • Lauren May 7, 2009 at 9:16 pm Reply

      It’s amusing that dijon is fancy mustard now.

  3. Lauren May 7, 2009 at 9:15 pm Reply

    BRA. VO. I like my steak well done and I’m dead tired of my chef husband and his foodie buddies mocking me for it. Although I do eat my charred steak with fancy mustard, so there’s that.

    I also prefer all the fat trimmed off.

    • Tiffany In Houston May 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm Reply

      Lauren, I’m no fat of extra fattiness either. If it isn’t meat, there’s no point in me chewing it.

  4. -k- May 7, 2009 at 9:23 pm Reply

    This post is weird to me.

    People.. eat different foods, and prepare the same foods in different ways. You can like what you’re used to, and you can like something new. If you don’t like something, don’t eat it again. If somebody goes overboard commenting on your tastes, you probably *should* insult their mother, because why in the fuck does it really concern them.

    Anyway. The steak thing, as I understand it, isn’t so much a “cultural” thing as it is a foodie thing. Foodie standards and practices are different from what most people do at home, and I’m not sure what Tiffany said really is pretentious- I think people normally grow up eating according to what’s served and how it’s served at home, and we don’t really go much deeper than “I (do/don’t) like this” or “needs more ______”. If at some point you start paying close attention to certain types of food or drink, it makes sense that you become more aware of the nuances. (Which Malcolm Little book talked about professional tasters? They have crazy tasting skills. I can’t relate.)

    The other possibility, of course, is that the friends you went out with would like a well-done steak just as well, but are equally concerned with the possibly dire social consequences of a meat order faux pas.

    The thought of which kind of makes me want to kill myself.

  5. Winslowalrob May 7, 2009 at 9:55 pm Reply

    I have always liked my steaks medium-rare. I watched it in a movie once, and boom, that was it. I do not drink martinis, but if I did you would best bet they would be shaken, not stirred. Still, my choice of food was made in retaliation against my family. My mom’s peeps only roll with blood and my dad’s peeps go medium well to well. As far as I can tell, they are both savages. I tried well-done once and meh, not my style. I would probably razz someone for it, but I never realized the possible cultural component… maybe I would start out by saying something REALLY offensive, and then recommend they bloody up their meat in the aftermath :).

    Another thing to think about is spicy food and hot sauce. I cannot stand the stuff, and it took years of standing firm to learn how to get a crowd to not make me eat it.

    As for Obama himself, dad was Kenyan, mom was American, grew up in Indonesia, so to pre-empt the discussion, how the hell does his choice of burgers get mixed up with African-American historical foodways? I think this is just a case of the man can do no right, as Tif says.

  6. ladyfresshh May 7, 2009 at 10:20 pm Reply

    i’m stubborn about my food. It’s really simple your taste buds ain’t my taste buds so take that peer pressure crap and shove it. I will take my burgers, hot dogs and chicken charred to beyond death. I’ve been lucky, very few people have tried to pressure me about food. i suspect it’s the evil glint in my eye and the way i hold my steak knife though lol.

  7. Rick S. May 8, 2009 at 2:39 am Reply

    Wow, I didn’t know this was such a big issue. I think those Texans (and the foodies) are being overly sensitive about the way people like their meat.

    I personally like my beef as rare as possible. On occasion, I will eat it raw — Steak Tartar or Carpaccio anyone? But my dad likes it well done, and I have never found fault with that. It’s just the way some people like it.

    Now, if the President decides to start eating hot dogs with ketchup, that’s another story. I’m afraid we won’t be able to ever allow him back in Chicago if that happens. Ketchup on hot dogs? It’s just wrong, people. It’s wrong.

  8. blackink May 8, 2009 at 8:54 am Reply

    In all fairness, I must note the good-people at IFA were probably half-serious about giving President Obama grief about the way he likes his meat. Most of those cats, like Yglesias and Klein, are probably a little more concerned about him preparing to fire his first openly gay Arabic linguist (which, again, is ridiculous).

    And I don’t know that this is a big issue, per se. Just something that I’d noticed over the years. Even Gawker made a snide comment – a specialty of theirs, of course – about Obama ruining the burger by ordering it medium well. That’s just interesting to me because, up until a few years ago, I would have never considered eating meat any other way than well done.

    As for the “controversy” about the Dijon mustard, I mean … come on, fam. How fancy could it really be if they offer it at Subway?

  9. bitchphd May 8, 2009 at 11:50 am Reply

    I dunno if there’s a culture or socioeconomic aspect to how people prefer food, but there’s certainly a class aspect to how people feel one *should* prefer food, and what foods one should prefer.

    Which is part of why it’s so fucking rude to comment on how someone else orders their damn meat. You’re not the one eating it; stfu and mind what’s on your own damn plate, people.

  10. Ron May 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm Reply

    I started with the whole medium well thing after a trip to California once when I was still in the Air Force and a flight nurse told me about the whole “for people who get steak well done, they use a smaller cut of meat.” From that point forward, I just started on the whole medium well thing just to ensure I was getting my money’s worth.

    But my mother does give me a strange look if we go out together for something to eat.

  11. Aisha May 8, 2009 at 11:05 pm Reply

    It’s interesting that my mom always cooked steaks well done but when we went to restaurants, which was quite often, she ordered medium.

  12. me May 9, 2009 at 7:09 am Reply

    i always grew up thinking that well done or medium rare was the way to go. to this day when i go home and ask my dad to cook my meat medium rare, he refuses to do it because he thinks all that blood is a health risk.

    side note: ordering a burger and ordering a steak are 2 different things. you don’t want to order a burger too rare because ground up raw meat is just gross (mushy and weird). but with a steak, the rarer the better.

    • blackink May 9, 2009 at 8:50 am Reply

      Me, I appreciate you pointing out the difference between the preparation of a burger and steak.

      But again, you bring up something that sounds a lot like what people accept as a universal truism: that steak must be “rarer” to be properly enjoyed. And I’m not saying that you’re wrong.

      However, that’s exactly the sort of talk that prompted me to write this post in the first place.

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