By The Internet Food Association
The controversy started at 1:54 p.m., when the White House press office released a pool report filed by Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor. President Obama had placed an order at Ray’s Hell Burger:
He definitely had a burger. I heard him say “basic cheeseburger, medium well.”
What followed was a spirited but civil dispute on our internal communications channels about the virtues of burger meat cooked so thoroughly. Is it appropriate to order a medium-well burger? Is it cliched snobbery to insist on a pink interior? Is it worth ending friendships over such a disagreement? As you’ll see after the jump, the answer to all these questions is, somehow, yes. Ben Miller: That’s a poor choice.
Tom Lee: It’s not how I order, but I think meat temperature rules have to go out the window when talking about hamburgers. It’s not like there’s a delicate texture to preserve, and char is an important consideration.
Matthew Yglesias: Medium-well is hard to defend.
Sara Mead: I’m just trying to figure out how the motorcade got from the White House to Ray’s in 5 minutes. Even with the ability to run the lights, 3.7 miles in 10 minutes, in DC, is pretty impressive.
Spencer Ackerman: It’s pretty easy to get to the Key Bridge from the White House, especially when they close traffic for you, and from there it’s a quick hop to Ray’s. But you’re right, five minutes seems like breakneck speed.
Kriston Capps: In a sense the temperature rules only come into play when you’re talking about hamburgers. When you’re ordering steak, you ought to have confidence that the chef can do rare without killing you, right? A burger is entry-level fare, so ordering a proper rare burger is fraught. To date I’ve only had food poisoning once, and I definitely should have ordered the burger medium rare.
Ben Miller: I agree with what Kriston says, but also consider where they were. I would not order a medium rare or rare burger at McDonald’s, and I think it’s a good thing they don’t let you choose. But Ray’s Hell Burger is a nicer joint than that and I would assume that they could handle a medium rare burger just fine since their ingredients are probably of pretty high quality.
Kate Steadman: I think medium rare is an excellent way to go on burgers. I can’t say I’ve had a rare burger, actually. But I also recognize that medium well burgers have a distinct flavor that you don’t get from a medium well steak. That and they don’t get as tough. So meh, let them eat how they please.
Spencer Ackerman: I always order burgers rare. Never gotten sick once. The rare burger at Ray’s is excellent.
Mandy Simon: Since you’re asking, I enjoy a burger cooked “medium.”
Amanda Mattos: Nameliness! I also order burgers medium. If I’m in a restaurant or a place that knows how to cook meat — meaning they usually serve it a little under whatever you ask for. I don’t like the center to be cold, which it often still is when you order medium rare (I’ve found).
Tom Lee: In general I think that the idea that a rare level of cooking is the only way to really enjoy beef is waaaay overextended — I know, I know. I read Kitchen Confidential, too. I like steak florentine! I like steak tartare! But the idea that only rubes order thoroughly-cooked beef is ridiculous to anyone who’s ever eaten and enjoyed beef stew. Hamburger meat is made from lousy cuts, and I don’t think there’s much lost by ordering it medium (or worse!). That goes double if condiments are going to be involved — once you start throwing ketchup on there, it’s hard to pretend that you’re opting for subtlety. Also: I hate finding the texture of raw ground beef in the middle of a burger. If it’s going to be on the borderline, I’d rather err on the side of firmness.
Sara Mead: Although, the culprit in the rare picnic hamburgers is often less that anyone intended to cook them rare, than that people are using those frozen burgers you buy at Costco, and didn’t thaw them properly before cooking. And we can all agree that this experience is nasty.
Spencer Ackerman: I’m not saying that you’re a rube if you order your burger well done. (Even though this is wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and a crime against meat!) To each his/her own. And you’re right — most burger meat is low-grade. But Ray’s is the exception here: they grind up the sirloin and strip and other cuts from Ray’s The Steaks to make the Hell Burgers. If ever you’re going to order a rare burger, you should do so at Ray’s.
Tom Lee: Fair enough. I haven’t been to Ray’s but I’ll give the rare burger another shot. I wrote it off on the basis of a thousand undercooked picnic burgers, retreating back to medium. Maybe it’ll be more appealing in the hands of a professional.
Kriston Capps: Tommy, I think you’re conflating taste and tenderness as ordering considerations. I mean, I wouldn’t serve you brisket “rare” because it would be impossible to chew. A stew cut needs to be cooked very well through because you don’t have the option of serving it rare—it wouldn’t be tender enough. But when you have the option, rare just tastes better.
Tom Lee: I disagree — I don’t think it’s just a question of practicality. I really think it depends on the cut and the application. Look at pot roast — that has a very distinct flavor from, say, a filet. It’s a good flavor! And it comes from cooking the hell out of that meat. That result can be achieved pretty easily using cheap cuts of meat. Consequently the taste of thoroughly cooked beef is less prized than is the taste of a rare steak which is, um, rare. But that doesn’t mean that the thorough cooking is an invalid way of executing certain recipes or handling certain cuts, and it definitely doesn’t mean that light cooking is the optimal way to deal with beef in all circumstances.
Kriston Capps: You don’t have to sell me on the benefits of slow-cooked beef! I’m just saying that with these bas-cuisine cuts, you need to do a lot to make them good. Yes—when you do, they’re great. But they’re great in large part because you’ve boiled them in beer for hours or smoked them over mesquite for a day. Again, though, with these cuts, you have no choice in the matter—they’re not edible rare. Now, with a filet mingon, you could ostensibly do some long slow cook method. If thorough cooking makes beef taste better, why doesn’t filet mignon come in well done? Agreed that it’s not a question of practicality—rare beef tastes really, really great. Optimal, even.
Emily Thorson: Perhaps as the leader of the free world, President Obama prefers to be a bit more risk-avoidant in his meat ordering than you or I do. Personally, I applaud that decision.
Like Piebald said, Sometimes Friends Fight.