Red Meat In Tooth And Claw: An IFA Colloquy

goodburgerBy 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.


22 responses to “Red Meat In Tooth And Claw: An IFA Colloquy

  1. If there was truly the “right” way to serve a burger – why is it that every time you order a burger the following question is asked:

    “How would you like that done?”

    When I am in a new place – I tend to skew toward the safer side. I ordered my burger medium at Rays even though I prefer more rare to medium rare. It was perfectly done. Next time I’m in the area I plan on going for the rare.

  2. That analogy doesn’t hold up at all! Clearly there is a “right” way to run the government, and yet we still have these ridiculous elections.

  3. And here I thought only conservatives and their press lapdogs would stoop to criticizing the President about whether he likes arugula or orders orange juice for breakfast. Thanks for clearing up my confusion and showing that liberals can be just as dumb about food too. I hope this was all a bunch of snark.

  4. Ron: I think it’s safe to say that none of us think less of the president for ordering his burger the way he did.

    Back to the debate at hand. I think I trailed off toward the end of this debate, and generally overcomplicated what I was trying to say. The point I wanted to make was this: we all agree that steak should not be overcooked — rareness is desirable. My assertion is that a hamburger is not like a steak — it’s typically made from a cheaper cut, it cooks differently, it’s served differently and it has an entirely different texture. What we know about steak shouldn’t necessarily inform our opinions about hamburger. Personally, I don’t think burgers benefit from being served rare, and instead prefer a thoroughly-cooked flavor paired with a not-overdone level of juiciness — medium, in other words.

  5. I think the phrase “abundance of caution” needs to invoked here. He is the President after all.

  6. I’ve had food poisoning (well, once it was actual salmonella) twice in my life, and I’ve learned from each experience. I won’t go back to the India House on Downing and Yale in Denver, and I won’t eat a medium rare hamburger. Period.

  7. When it’s the President of the Free World (or, more to the point, a Democratic President) ordering a burger, I for one appreciate him choosing the option least likely to lay him out with food poisoning–no matter how high-quality the burger joint.

  8. Stephen Bank

    I think what’s important is that it shows Obama is out of touch.

  9. Keep in mind the burger he ate was likely made from the beef trimmings from Ray’s the Steaks, Hell Burger’s sister restaurant. Meaning, much higher quality beef than your average strip mall burger joint.

    Also, this man spent close to a year on the campaign trail, which involved many greasy burgers at uncountable mom and pop diners. Few of them would bother to ask how he wanted it cooked, so he probably didn’t even expect the question to be asked.

    I go for Medium Rare anywhere I go. If they know what they’re doing, it’ll be genuinely medium rare. If they don’t know what they’re doing, it’ll come charred to Well, but that’s okay because you’re safer to have poorly handled ground beef cooked that far.

  10. This dialogue reads a little like something out of the Times Sunday Style section. Let the man have his slightly-too-chewy burger. He’s the goddamn commander-in-chief; risk-aversion in regard to possible food poisoning is a good trait.

  11. I’m with tom lee. Burgers are made with ground beef, so texture is a lot different. Who cares if it’s ground sirloin? It’s still ground. You miss all the marbling and texture from its previous incarnation as steak. Add ketchup, pickles and lettuce and you have too much going on to tell the difference.

  12. Lets go to the tape:

    Given that Bidden ordered medium well first and Obama was also ordering a bunch of to-go orders as well, I think its at least possible that he chose a moderate compromise temperature to keep the overall order as simple as possible.

  13. I think all available evidence points to the fact that the President likes his burgers medium-well.

    At 1:10 he gets around to ordering a burger…medium well.

    It’s not certainly how I’d like it, but I can see where it might be appealing. I’ve been to enough outdoor BBQs where the burger comes out one way: done. With enough condiments I can cover up the damage somewhat.

    There is usually enough char to trick me into thinking there is bacon on the burger. That crispy.

  14. Char on ground beef tastes awesome and anyone who dismisses that out of hand is brainwashed by foodies and unwilling to have their own opinion on anything

  15. Guys, I love a medium-rare burger, but unless I know for a fact that the meat is ground in the kitchen, and I trust the chef to clean the grinder, I don’t care what cut of meat was the original source of the burger, I will eat it medium and no cooler.

    Slaughterhouse ground beef is one of the primary sources of E. coli infections in this country, and you can get some really nasty things off of a grotty kitchen meat grinder, as well.

  16. I think we need to see footage of other high ranking public officials ordering burgers. We know Biden ordered medium-well also. Perhaps this is a secret service directive. Shouldn’t the people responsible for protecting the President & Co. also have a role to play in protecting them from a crippling outbreak of inappropriately placed bacteria?

  17. You’re all murderers.

    And, by the way, I like my veggie burgers medium-well.

  18. Pingback: Talking Burgers « The Internet Food Association

  19. I haven’t been to Ray’s in a couple months, but isn’t “Medium Well” their “normal” way to prepare the burger — as in, if you don’t specify, that’s what they give you?

    Their burgers are damn good. I wants me one right now.

  20. isn’t “Medium Well” their “normal” way to prepare the burger — as in, if you don’t specify, that’s what they give you?

    Not sure about if you don’t specify, but their “recommended” level of doneness is essentially medium-rare (as in, if you say “I’d like an au poivre recommended”, it will come out pink in the center).

  21. Well that may be our problem right there. Medium is supposed to be pink, too, at least according to the Iowa Beef Council (here’s a better graphic, though one that carries less of an air of authority).

  22. Pingback: Talking Burgers |

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