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The Rare Exception

May 14, 2010

Last year at this time I wrote a little post entitled How Do You Like Your Meat? And I shared a maxim that I follow: always order the burger one degree of doneness below the desired temperature.

After all, this is what I would do for my favorite hamburger at The Original Joe’s.

Well, a year has passed, and there were a couple of times over the last 52 weeks when I felt the need to diverge from this strategy.  One was based on the influence of a reader, and the other had to do with a proprietary ordering system at a local burger joint.

Lou Quillio had a very compelling technique for ordering meat where one enlists the help of your waiter, so that food doesn’t need to be sent back.

Maybe I did it wrong.  I didn’t touch the waiter’s elbow.  Perhaps that was a more critical part of the method than I suspected.  But my pink-all-the-way-through burger ordered medium-rare as recommended by the waiter, came out brown-all-the-way-through.  And it was so sad.

This was a pretty fancy restaurant, so I thought I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they could cook meat to the desired temperature.  Especially since the waiter had been brought in under the tent of my desires.

When I sent it back, I regretted diverging from my system.

In some cases, though, the system is of no help at all.  This year I explored the burger stylings of Juicy Burger & More.  And there one doesn’t order burgers by the standard measures.  Rather, they ask you if you would like a red center, a pink center, (or presumably a brown center, although we never got that far).

My first visit to their Guilderland location, I asked for a burger medium rare, and the man behind the counter asked if I would like a red center or a pink center.  The gears in my brain started spinning, and told me that medium-rare is pink all the way through with a warm red center.  The pink center is the hallmark of a medium burger.

“Red center, please.”

Well, that answer produced a rare burger with a cool red center.  I didn’t mind.  It was a tasty burger.  But it was hardly a juicy burger.  I would call it a silky burger.  At that temperature the fat in the meat didn’t melt sufficiently to create the restaurant’s signature meat juice.

Thinking I learned my lesson, on the next visit I asked for a pink center.

While the center was pink, there was also a lot of brown surrounding that pink center.  In my mind that burger was more on the side of medium than medium rare.  Still, I did get to experience for the first time the juiciness of their meat.

In this situation, it would seem they can accurately cook their burgers, but the ordering scheme appears to leave medium-rare out of the equation entirely.  Perhaps I haven’t cracked the code yet, and the third time will be the charm.

Yes, I am triangulating my way to the best possible burger from this joint.

Although honestly, I’m better off just skipping it and heading off to New World Bistro Bar for their grass-fed burger.  It’s only a few dollars more, and I wouldn’t get the side of guilt that comes with conventionally raised beef.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    May 14, 2010 9:23 am

    I have the exact same problem with Juicy Burger. At the Milton location, when business is slow (and it usually is), I tell them exactly what you wrote–that red is too underdone and therefore not juicy and pink is a little overdone–and the young woman said “don’t worry, we’ll cook it right,” and they did.

  2. Kerosena permalink
    May 14, 2010 10:06 am

    I’m amazed that it’s so hard to get a properly cooked piece of meat. Or at least a piece of meat that has been cooked to the temp I’ve requested. My sweetheart and I used a gift certificate at the Barnsider recently. My thought was: “this place is a steakhouse. Surely they will serve what I’ve ordered.” So wrong. Both steaks were overcooked. I will admit that they were still tasty and juicy, though. We did not send them back.

    Sweetheart has a very special knack for cooking meats. A meat savant, if you will. I think he has spoiled me.

  3. May 14, 2010 6:32 pm

    I’m too wimpy to order a medium rare burger out. I don’t trust our country’s ground beef supply lines. I do enjoy them at home though.

  4. May 14, 2010 6:37 pm

    A properly cooked piece of cow meat in this town is a rare find indeed. Or maybe I’m just not looking in the right spots. But it is SO annoying. I too prefer my meat medium-rare, but rare is usually the way to order.

    Oddly enough the doneness by color system works surprisingly well. I don’t get it.

  5. May 14, 2010 7:19 pm

    Not much of a problem for me here, I am no fan of the thick style burger that requires a temperature preference. I like a thin, diner style burger with a high fat content to keep it moist. This probably explains my preference for 5 Guys style burgers and my unnatural obsession with White Castle sliders. I am pretty much the opposite of a food scaredy cat, but I agree with Jon. Eating ground beef of unknown provenance rare sketches me out, regardless of the restaurants claims about the quality or origin of the beef.

  6. Chris permalink
    May 16, 2010 8:08 pm

    Yep, make sure you make it to Pizzeria Bianco. Get there early.

    • Chris permalink
      May 17, 2010 9:31 am

      Oops – meant for this to go on the Phoenix post – sorry!

  7. May 16, 2010 8:21 pm

    When I was younger and my mother used to chastise me for my preference for rare to medium rare burgers, I’d respond “well, if that’s what’s going to kill me, then I guess I’ll die happy.” Smartass, I know. One too many corporate restaurants telling me I simply couldn’t have anything less than medium solidified my devotion to the cool, red center. I don’t worry so much about the safety, most places don’t get it right anyway, and those that do, like New World, I feel pretty good about.

  8. mirdreams permalink
    May 17, 2010 12:01 pm

    I was at one of my favorite NYC restaurants recently (Almond in the Flatiron district, if you get a chance, go it’s good non-fussy seasonal yumminess, promise) and asked for my burger medium rare. It’s the first time so ordering I’ve gotten a burger rarer than I would have preferred. Tasty, but not really hot enough and I agree with the Prof that such a burger is silky rather than juicy. So next time I guess I’ll ask for medium, something I never do in the normal run things. And perhaps I’ll do the same the next time I’m in any place that is wise enough to serve soup with marrow on a winter’s day. You have to trust someone after all.

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