September 13th, 2013
02:30 PM ET
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Josh Ozersky has written on his carnivorous exploits for Time, Esquire and now Food & Wine; he has authored several books, including The Hamburger: A History; and he is the founder of the Meatopia food festival. Follow him on Twitter @OzerskyTV.

Like every other man of spirit, I love steak houses. Even the cheesiest New Jersey ones, like Arthur’s, in Hoboken, or the Library III, in Egg Harbor Township, the kind with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books on the walls and a “Queen’s Cut” filet mignon, make me happy. Happier, in fact, than their more upscale rivals.

The contemporary high-end steak house promises an Hermès experience but often delivers a Men’s Wearhouse feeding. The reasons range from incompetence to immorality, but it’s the damage to body, spirit and bank that matter, not the motivations. Even a hard-bitten meathead like myself only gets to go to a steakhouse every few months. The calories are indefensible, the check averages sky-high. It’s not asking too much for the meal to live up to the hype. When it doesn’t, one or more of the following swindles is to blame.

1. The Illusion of Choice
You don’t go to a steak house to eat choice meat. I’m sorry. There is no chef, no recipes for the most part, and little in the way of service or sexiness here. The steak house takes the approach, crude indeed but honest, that a man is essentially a bag for putting meat into.

Therefore, it is imperative that they serve the best meat, which is to say USDA prime. Prime meat isn’t always that great; what they get away with calling prime these days is a crime, as old-school butchers are fond of saying. But choice is guaranteed to be mediocre. The only exceptions are the “choice or better” programs like Creekstone’s Master Chef line or Certified Angus Beef, which sometimes deliver better marbled beef than their rivals’ top-grade product.
 
2. Wet Dry-Aging
The allure of “dry-aged” beef is a powerful one, and it should be: It takes a long time and costs a lot of money. The beef loses a quarter of its water weight, which makes it more concentrated, and its secret biochemical degradation makes it tasty and tender: itself, only better. That is, if the aging room is dry and clean. A lot of them aren’t.

Too many steak houses try to cram too many steaks into a limited area, and are, let’s say, less than fanatical about humidity control. The result is mold, plenty of it, and a steak that tastes more like toe cheese than great beef.
 
3. The Burn Ward
Steak house meat is so often and so brutally burned that the places aren’t even ashamed of it! They advertise images of steaks that are half black and half gray, or, alternatively, as carbonized as a water buffalo after an air strike. Beef should be brown and crusty on the outside, not blackened and denatured and bitter and carcinogenic.
 
4. The Up-sell
This is something of a venial transgression, but a person’s enjoyment of a steak really does have much to do with its accompanying wine. When money is no object (i.e., when someone else is paying) there’s nothing like a grand cru Bordeaux, with bottomless depth and elegant tannins.

But price, in fact, is typically an issue, and they know that, so the cheaper wines on the list will too often tend to be big, jammy, Parkerized reds - the kind you buy for the price of a pizza in bulletproofed liquor stores, and which appear here at three times the cost.
 
5. The Suet Scam
One of the many subterfuges contrived by unscrupulous steak house owners is the practice, cynical and odious, of slathering “meh” meat with aged beef kidney suet and/or butter and/or marrow, thus to fool you into thinking you are eating something you are not.

There is a very famous New York steak house that takes this to an extreme, but I won’t say who it is or what bridge it is located beside. Laying on suet after the fact is the culinary equivalent of Photoshopping pimples and stretch marks: undeniably effective, but a swindle nonetheless.
 
6. The Bacon Burn
Exploitation can hardly be more stark and shameless than this practice, invented at the same very famous New York steak house mentioned above. Three slices of thick, broiled bacon on a white plate for $9 or more. That is the point at which, I think, the masks come off and the Red Death holds sway over all.

The best part is that it’s usually Boar’s Head or some other cheapo food-service product. You don’t even get three slices of good bacon out of this deal! My mind is still reeling from the effrontery of it.
 
7. Steakterfuge
I have saved these meat misrepresentations for last, not because they are they are uncommon or less than grave, but just because there are so many of them!

Where do you start? There is the rib eye steak masquerading as a rib eye, and denuded of its precious cap - the only reason to order it, for my money; the “frenched” rib lamb chops, ladylike lollipops with half their meat (and the best half) simply thrown away; the lamb or veal “T-bone,” really just a tough loin chop, cheap, chewy and hard to cut up; the porterhouses from the very end of the loin, with enormous gristly nerves disfiguring their strip loin sections; boxed or single-served meat, the kind you see at Costco or the Restaurant Depot, often hiding behind the facade of a great window of robust and ancient steaks; filet slices the size of muffins, and with no more flavor than scones.

The list goes on and on, infinite variations on the same theme of deceit. 

More from Food & Wine:
Best Steak in the U.S.
Best Burgers in the U.S.
Best Napa Wineries to Visit
Best Bacon Burgers
Best Chicken Dishes in the U.S.

Previously:
5@5 – Last-minute advice for steak supremacy
Superhero steaks for Dad
What's at steak? Perfect wine pairings from Down Under
What to do when you just can't chew

© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Filed under: Classic • Content Partner • Food and Wine • Restaurants • Steakhouse


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soundoff (283 Responses)
  1. Clay Micks

    Good day!Others have voiced my confusion above, but it's great sometimes to add for the melee. I've been signed up since the middle of January, but have three letters. They're excellent letters! But similarly, I'd like to know if this is just the process of the dust settling or if this is to be expected?Thanks!

    http://www.MUW61QOGDX.com/MUW61QOGDX

    January 4, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  2. dick

    Wal-Mart, now their known for their steaks!

    October 7, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  3. JellyBean

    Not sure what's up with all the ugly comments. I thought it was a good read, typos aside.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
  4. Culinary Blasphemy

    Reblogged this on Culinary Blasphemy.

    September 17, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  5. Shauna

    These comments and this article are hilarious. Too many pseudo intellectuals trying to sound educated about steak in one place. Really? Lmao I don't even know what made me read this crappy article. Maybe because I love steak. I really have no preference. Ruth Chris or my own kitchen. I just love steak. The person who wrote this article informed me of some things I didn't know about steak restaurants but nothing I really care about. The wording was extremely pretentious. I understand all the "big" words that he used but most of them were unnecessary and excessive. He was better off using a friendly comical approach as opposed to this haughty/fancy pants/ I'm an intelligent hipster who knows expensive food approach. It totally sucked. He sounds like a jerk. Lmao

    September 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • Michele

      I didn't get much insight into the article. We would have been better served by having him explain how to talk to the management if a less than adequate steak was prepared and served.

      I did get a gigle over your complaint about "big" words. These were all word most adults understand...

      September 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  6. Donald E Bloodworth

    Next time you No'therners come out west to Phoenix, check out Durants http://www.durantsaz.com/menus.html downtown or the Stockyards http://www.stockyardssteakhouse.com/menus.html in East Phoenix. Both establishments may not have been around as long as the many fine NY mentioned above but both are known for serving quality over quantity; yes it's a dry heat, but it ages you and the meat well!

    September 17, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  7. rizzo

    Steak is overrated and overpriced, especially since 'marbling' seems to be the most prized thing about steak these days. Yeah that's what I want with my meat, a bunch of gross fat inside it and only a fatty, greasy taste. Great job!

    September 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • Arick

      Go try a steak that is super lean. Enjoy your beef jerky.

      September 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  8. Joel

    The New York steakhouse he is referencing is obviously Peter Luger's. Unique place with a terrific porterhouse but if they are doing the things mentioned above not worth the $$.

    September 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  9. Max Perk

    I wish the writer would learn to write! This is a horrible article. What IS THE WRITER TRYING to say!??? The writer should stop the cryptic sentences (like in #1, #5, #7). The writer should just state in clear, succinct sentences the PROBLEM with steak houses. This article does communicate AT ALL the steakhouse scams...This writer should be fired for the inability to write an easy story...

    September 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Reply
    • Tima

      That's because the writer is a pretentious douchebag.

      September 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • Deborah Hudson

      I so agree with you! I stumbled through and pushed on in hopes of figuring out what the writer was trying to say. I guess he is so high on the foodie chain that he can no longer speak to the working class people.

      September 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • David

      I totally agree, I had a hard time trying to figure out what he was trying to say. He never really got to the point. He should definitely learn how to write better

      September 17, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      What this pretentious douche bag is trying to do is slam Luger's but doesn't have the balls to come out and say it's Luger's. which if you compare their prices to the other top steak places in Manhattan are much cheaper.

      Also he's insane if he thinks that bacon at Luger's is Boars Head he is out of his mind. The bacon is super thick with almost no fat to it and just amazing.

      October 11, 2013 at 9:36 am | Reply
  10. LindaMarie

    Question: What IS a good Steak ? One with a lot of marble in it or not?

    September 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      Marbled steak is by far the best tasting. Lean meets with less marbeling tend to be tough and the taste is not good.

      September 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
    • sally

      Linda a good steak is one that you like to eat. One that tastes good to YOU. I personally prefer grass fed corn finished top sirloin. But then again, I don't like to chew the fat so to speak!

      October 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  11. ribguy

    1) I have NO problem with a steakhouse painting the meat with rendered beef fat, especially the stuff cut from aged beef. Just like the wine, it enhances the experience. Flavor is flavor. This is clever culinary art.
    2) From reading the comments, it is clear that we have a LOT to learn about steak.
    3) Never eat at a place called Charhouse. They are warning you up front they will burn your meat.

    September 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Reply
    • Byrne

      The name of the restaurant you attempt to comically reference in #3 is actually Charthouse but it was a valiant effort

      September 17, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
      • zz

        Actually, there are places named for, or with variations of, "Charhouse". It's a real thing.

        September 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Reply
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