The Real Reason A Restaurant Might Undercook Your Steak

If you've ever ordered a steak and had it come out not to your liking, chances are you sent it back to the kitchen. After all, you want your steak cooked to a certain interior temperature, right? And you should get what you ordered — you're paying for it! 

But what if you and the chef have differing opinions on what constitutes "medium well"? For that matter, what if you and hundreds of your fellow diners all disagree with the chef? If you're all sending steak back as overcooked and asking for a new one, that really eats into a restaurant's bottom line, cutting into profits on the notoriously thin margins that restaurants work with. "While getting an underdone steak has been a possibility for decades, what's really given the phenomenon traction is that chefs are under bottom-line pressure to reduce throwaways that occur when customers say a steak is too well-done," per the New York Post

In response, the New York Post theorizes, some chefs are purposefully cooking your steak — and hundreds of other steaks — rarer than what you asked for. And, when you think about it, it's a method that makes sense. You can always cook a steak a little more if a diner complains about it being too rare; you can't un-cook a steak that's too done for their liking.

Finding the perfect finish

So what's a diner to do if they want a true medium-rare steak, one that they don't want to return because it's far too rare due to this new undercooking trend? The New York Post reports that some diners have taken to ordering steak at a new temperature, "medium-rare-plus." This basically tells the chef to cook the steak to the old definition of medium-rare, without the undercooking. Mark Pastore, president of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, told the publication: "The norm has become [for customers expecting medium-rare] to order by a new term, medium-rare-plus, because people found their steaks were arriving undercooked — like rare-plus."

But be careful where you try to use this terminology. According to the curious on Quora, the term is well-known at some high-end steakhouses, but isn't widely used outside of metropolitan areas. Mark Schatzker, an author of a book on steak who spoke to the Post, notes that this might be a cosmopolitan phenomenon rather than a nationwide concern: "Some chefs are swayed to undercook because rawness and near-rawness is seen as somehow superior. Overcooking steak is regarded [by some] as a greater moral and aesthetic sin than undercooking it." There's no way to know for sure what the chef's temperature tendency is, but you can always look up reviews of the restaurant beforehand to see if you can get a hint about the steak situation.