Being on grill and saute station means I get the pleasure of cooking a shit-ton of steaks. I had a thought the other day: 'Have I cooked a thousand steaks yet?' It certainly feels like I have. If I'm not at a thousand yet, I think I'll be there soon.
It's tricky business, cooking meat to temperature order, and even trickier when your instrument for measuring doneness is your finger. Line cooks temp to touch, no thermometer in sight, and it takes a lot of practice to get it right. A LOT. There are so many factors affecting the touch: The cut of meat, the thickness, the temperature before it was cooked, how marbled or sinewy it is... getting it right is a challenge. But when you do, there's nothing quite like cutting into a steak and seeing the inside look exactly how you wanted and imagined it to look like. On busy nights, I tend to make audible "Wooo!"s and the occasional "Yeah, baby!" when I cut into and plate a particularly gorgeous piece of meat. Nerdy cook stuff, y'know.
I'd say the average temperature order we get for steaks is medium rare or medium. Medium-well comes in every now and then, and there are certainly folks who go for "bloody". I can see the appeal behind the Pittsburgh steak, aka "Black and Blue"--charred on the outside, rare on the inside. Personally, I like my steak a nice medium rare with a well-seasoned crustiness on the surface.
About two or three times a week, I get an order for a well-done steak. My immediate reaction is to look at the table number on the ticket and take a peek at the person who ordered the well-done. I try to put myself into their shoes; maybe it's how they grew up eating it, or they're old and set in their ways. Maybe they really enjoy chewing on shoe leather. Maybe (and this is usually my assumption) they get squeamish at the sight of the red (and wonderfully delicious, might I add) juices, which makes me sad that anyone has that much of a disconnect with the fact that they're eating an animal that gave it's life to provide us with a delicious piece of meat.
It's about as judgmental as I get from my side of the line.
As a grill cook, it's my job to make the food the way the customer wants it, and I do that to the best of my ability. When that well-done steak order comes in, I try and take as much care of that order as I do the medium-rare. There's certainly a way to cook a steak to well-done while still maintaining a relatively appealing appearance on the surface. But no matter how you slice it, per se, you're still cooking the shit out of a piece of meat, and it will be tough and chewy with not much in the way of taste, because that's what happens when you cook the shit out of a piece of meat.
Frankly, it breaks my heart to cook a beautiful cut of meat to a charred leather state. Temping a well-done steak to the touch is equally heartbreaking--touching a steak that has little to no give whatsover is kind of frightening. Every time I cut into a well-done steak, I get this pang of "OH GEEZ WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?" And then I quickly realize that someone asked me to do this on purpose, and that thought could possibly be even more disturbing than the initial pang of guilt. As I watch a person chew (and chew and chew and chew) on a well-done steak, all I can think is, 'Are they actually enjoying this?'
Judgmental much? Just a tad, I know.
In my attempt to maintain a sense of diplomacy and open-mindedness on this here blog o' mine, I'm hoping to hear from someone out there who actually enjoys their steak well-done, with an accompanying explanation. Maybe if your explanation makes enough sense to me, I'll cook you a well-done steak.
(But you're paying for it.)