Why do Black People Like Their Meat Well-Done?

by Hagan on May 31, 2010

well-done-hand-456bb073009Last week, I wrote a post with a postulation a Black friend had proposed in conversation about why a large subset of Black and African-American people prefer their meat cooked well-done as opposed to the European/American way of cooking meat to medium/medium rare. It was a pretty controversial post, and to this effect, I’m naming this post in a bit more controversial manner (also for SEO – no one searches for “why do most,” “why do some,” or why do many black people like their meat well done”), even though it is obviously not a blanket statement that all people of any race like their meat prepared a certain way. That’s just ignorant.

I received two very well thought-out and intelligent comments, my favorite comments to date because of the care and elegance in which their sides were presented, and I wanted to showcase them in a more public forum, giving their sentiments the space they rightly deserve:

asiaFrom Asia @ The College Cooker:

It’s so funny that you said that about the steak, because I didn’t really think white people noticed. My dad is straight from Jamaica, and in my house, we grew up gawking at white people who ate their steak “raw” as he called it (anything less than well done). I can’t even tell him I eat my steak medium now (that’s still the furthest I can go, and I feel like a rule-breaking rebel just for that). He would faint just to hear the words.

Another reason for the “overcooking” though, is that in West Indian food, it’s ALL about low and slow. Any Jamaican restaurant you go to will start cooking at 6 am, but not serve food until 11. Everything has to simmer and stew down for hours before it’s “done.” That’s why most of the meats come in thick sauces. That goat sauce you ate probably took a good three or four hours to prepare. Jamaican food is an all day ordeal, and no self-respecting Jamaican will serve you anything without letting the spices meld in the sauce for at least a couple hours.

And about the beef patties … not a lot of places bake their own patties – it’s very time consuming. Most places will use Golden Krust patties or order them from a wholesale patty supplier in the area. If you want really good, fresh patties, you have to go to a Jamaican BAKERY. Usually they have the same foods you get at the restaurants too, sometimes it’s better. My favorite Jamaican restaurant I grew up going to in New York is Nakisaki. Also important, the best Jamaican restaurants are Jamaican-Chinese restaurants. That’s just how it is. There’s one of these in Queens and one in Hempstead in Long Island. Jean’s in Hollis is good too. Try the lemonade! They get a lot of Jamaican celebrities there.

And jerk chicken isn’t supposed to be dry by the way. That’s just code for “sorry but somebody burnt di food today.”

onya4From: Onya @ Macafouchette:

As a Jamaican-American this article definitely caught my eye.

You asked the question that I am sure many white people may have wondered in the back of their minds. I have been in many situations where I was the only Jamaican and people around me would seem to flock towards the jerk chicken and fried plantains. I thought it was because they were dishes that have gained the most popularity in the Caribbean diet and were the easiest to understand: plantains are bananas’ sweeter cousin (that take more naturally to being deep fried) and jerk chicken is a slow-cooked, barbecue-style chicken with a potent combination of Caribbean spices. I’ve never considered it to be overcooked.

I did find a lot of American food to be undercooked and under-seasoned. I can’t even tell you the amount of times I threw up in my mouth a bit when someone would take meat, put it into the pan, throw salt, pepper, and maybe some sort of sauce onto it and then serve. That sort of behavior goes against everything I know about cooking. My background in public health would have my mind swirling at the gastrointestinal possibilities.

Good jerk – like the jerk fish I’ve tasted at jerk’s birthplace of Boston City in Portland, Jamaica – is juicy, and the spices penetrate to the bones as the meat is seasoned for twelve hours and slow cooked for about the same duration. I have had a lot of bad jerk; far too much. Probably because of the simplistic translation that many have of the jerking process as it is interpreted by so many people. I have had jerk chicken that was basically barbecue chicken with a kick. I have had jerk whereby a commercial marinade is simply brushed onto grilled chicken. I have had jerk where all the flavor was in the skin, and quickly slipped off much to my frustration.

Good jerk is a labor of love, and like most other things in life, requires dedication to the craft and a good deal of patience. Even though I’ve had good jerk in restaurants, the best jerk is usually found on the sides of the street. Look for a guy with a barrel on its side propped up like a steelpan with beads of sweat on his brow (not in your food hopefully) and who probably serves little else other than hard dough bread, and you have a good chance of getting good, juicy, spicy, slow-cooked jerk. Even better, create your own blend of dry jerk seasoning to be used as a rub applied at least three hours before cooking and lower the flame in your own grill to create your own.

I am using everything in my body not to engage in a public argument with The College Cooker about the statement that “best Jamaican restaurants are Jamaican-Chinese restaurants.” I’ll just add it to the things to demystify through my own systematic assessment with the help of some friends – and maybe foes – to show how silly it is to say that a certain ethnic group has the stronghold on a type of cuisine. It’s like saying Dominicans are the only ones who straighten coarse hair well when it’s simply trending right now and may soon fall from favor. Ethnocentric foolishness that I’m occasionally guilty of, as well.

But, the jig is up. You’ve probably gathered that I’m Black. I don’t consider myself so much “Black” as I do “African-Caribbean American”. I feel like it’s the same as being Irish as opposed to German. To add to that, I straddle the fence on the meat issue. I did become more comfortable with eating medium to medium-rare meat when I broadened my palate, but that happened before I came back to America with any real cognitive memory.

A gourmand from the youngest age, my mother put a lot of effort into making vegetables one of my favorite food groups and showing me the wide varieties of cuisine out there in the world. I agree that Black people may overcook their meats, but I wouldn’t limit this to African-Americans as much as you could make a case for limiting it to people who come from tropical or hotter climates. You do have a point regarding the desire to make sure that the meat provided to their family is cooked all the way through and poses the least risk of getting them sick. I am going to skip the discussions of where people got their food from during slavery, classism, access, etc.

I will advance the position I currently hold, now that I am open to it; I will not eat medium or medium-rare meat just anywhere, I only eat meat at that temperature from establishments that demonstrate their dedication to quality and cleanliness from the time I get through the door. If the place is grungy, I’m going to want my meat well done. If a waiter at a steak house greets me with dirty hands and stale bread, I’ll order vegetables. I find myself favoring medium or medium-rare steaks from Middle Eastern restaurants, Indian restaurants, Korean restaurants, bistros that specify the cut of the meat, and restaurants with reputations for excellence.

To be honest, I think back to my many trips to casual or casually-elegant Caribbean or soul food establishments in the US, UK, Canada, and the Caribbean, and I don’t remember ever being asked how I want my meat done.

Touché.

Image taken from Asylum Article – Grilling Guidance: Knowing When Your Meat Is Done

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

marc alvira May 31, 2010 at 1:14 pm

It’s not really about black or white… it’s about rich or poor. The poor of ANY race were left with tough and sinewy cuts of meat. These they had to let sit in acidic and spicy marinades and/or braise for hours to tenderize. You’ll find that the Irish poor, English poor and the Jewish poor, also prefer their meat well-done… Even as they -excluding the Jewish, of course- enjoy blood puddings and blood sausage, so it’s no fear of blood, but a practical use of cheaper cuts of meat that call for it being cooked “well”…

Hagan May 31, 2010 at 1:18 pm

That’s a great point and would explain a lot. Yeah, I don’t understand the fear of blood, either. Except for the Maasai tribe and the blood and milk combo … I mean, I would try it if I was presented with it, but I can’t get over the idea of it right now. I added your URL to your comment.

Jason May 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm

It all comes down to class. And where that certain race falls into that class. Many of the foods eaten long ago were the left overs, tougher cuts, unwanted scraps. Non- refrigerated. The cooking of meat well done was to keep everyone from getting sick. And all the other meats are braised ( slow and low) this is still very popular. If u look inside and beyond the african americans there is allso a huge use of salting food to preserve it or to mask the taste of bad meat. I. E. Jerk wich is deff. Not always the case. If u look at any culture they all have the sMe kind of dishes all with mi or changes. Some just progressed more than others like french food. But look at indian food. They eat raw lamb all day long. Right on the side of the road. This isnt a white or black thing this is a regional thing and generational thing. Some dishes dont get passed on. But being where jamaica is. Why would they eat raw beef? They have so much fish. And chickens dont require allot of grain to live so they are great for families in the ghetto to breed.

Just some thoughts. Thx.

captainsnacktime June 1, 2010 at 7:54 am

Wow. SEO is one thing …. you are smart to optimize your website for search …. but it really seems wrong to use a deliberately inaccurate and misleading headline here when it has to do with race. Uncool. Bad karma…..

Hagan June 1, 2010 at 8:08 am

The headline is not inaccurate or misleading, and for that, I can feel safe in my karmatic integrity. The post addresses the issue of why it seems that black people in America like their meat well done.

Tonyzeb June 1, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I am disappointed in the article. When I saw the title why do ‘black(African-American, right?)’ people like their meat well done all I found was two Jamaican-Americans talking about why jerk Chicken is cooked for four hours. ‘Black’ isn’t a disapora, it’s lazy shorthand for the culturally uniformed, and about as useful as ‘white’.

I don’t know of any culinary practice in the western hemisphere that practices eating anything BUT fully cooked avian. So I went to the originating article about Carribean Jerk and didn’t find much information there, either. Trivia: Jerk isn’t a spice, it’s a method of cooking requiring pimento wood smoke that can’t be replaced with ‘jerk-in-a-bottle’ hogwash (literally).

In the original article, and both comments, there is this question of ‘class’ as if that has anything to do with anything. I find that pugnacious. Because, first of all, as a Caucasian-American (specifically, not generically), I grew up enjoying rare and medium rare foods on a regular basis. Rare and mid-rare food sometimes purchased with foodstamps. In perhaps a nod to the overly-p.c. notion that this is a ‘class’ thing I still had trouble getting my mom to eat medium pork chops, even though I’ve come to love them.

I have served in restaurants. And I never noticed much difference between African-American and Caucasian-American(in the general sense) habits. Now europeans and their refusal to participate in the american tipping pastime WAS hard to overlook. I’m sure my ‘white’ and ‘black’ patrons had an equal amount of ‘poorness’ in their backgrounds, yet apparently, only whites are capable of avoiding having cultural practices hold their palettes back? I think more than a few here would benefit from rechecking the definition of racism.

Too bad so sad for me, I thought I was going to be enlightened to a difference in cultural palette within a country, not be presented with a buffet of apologetic coastie jargon usually reserved to assuage (insert p.c. buzzword here) guilt. Other than indulging in an occasional guilty pleasure viewing of Chris Rock or Dave Chapelle’s early standup (What THE F%CK IS JUICE?!?!?!), I find the subject unpalatable.

But I’m going to keep reading this blog, it’s great and I’m hooked.

(…end soapbox transmissions :)… )

Nichelle June 6, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Take the matter of class out of the equation, it’s a matter of preference. I have White friends who prefer their meat to be well done, and I mostly prefer medium. Yes, you are juicing this post for traffic with the SEO-steroid producing title, but jerk meat has nothing to do with steak or burgers. Next time, conduct an actual survey -more than one or two people- not just a few token friends instead of making broad stereotypical generalizations.

Hagan June 6, 2010 at 1:06 pm

The discussion stemmed from a black lady insinuating that meat was supposed to be overcooked (and I really think I just caught the restaurant at a part of the day where the chicken was old and had dried out a bit, so that was her excuse). If we take class out of the equation, what’s the reason that a disproportionate amount of black and african-american people like steaks and burgers cooked well done? From my prior experience as a server, it’s been so much as to be quite noticeable. I worked in DC, so it may be regionally disparate, but from conversations with servers in NYC, they see a similar pattern.

Blacquelox June 14, 2010 at 1:47 am

I am still lookng for some answers that will satisfy my curiosity about this topic. I googled the question, “why do white people prefer rare, and blacks prefer well done” and this blog showed up. You see, I’ve never conducted a survey or anything to give an actual account or statistics…, but in speaking with people; dining with people of my own and other ethnicities, I’ve thought about this question in the past. The thing that made it re-surface in my mind was a recent episode of Hell’s Kitchen. The chefs were challenged to make the perfect egg. There was soft boiled…, which (to me) looked like it was just boiled long enough to cook the egg white. Then there was the poached, sunny side up, soft cooked, and scrambled (which is the only one that I could “do”).
I too have learned to request my steaks (oops! I forgot to mention that I’m no longer a meat eater at all)…, “medium well”. I found that “well-done” was equivalent to “char-broiled” and I didn’t like the flavor or usual dryness of the overcooked meat.
I grew up eating fully cooked meats…, not dried out, overcooked meat. So to use well done, overcooked, and dried out synonomously is to do so in error.
I’ve been served supposedly medium well meat that was still (again, too me) undercooked and RAW (yes…, that’s how I felt) in the center. But I was encouraged to enjoy it for it’s savoring juices that were still intact. Savory juices or bloody?
So please…, I’m hopeful that someone will give an answer because like my Caribbean sisters stated earlier, there is an appreciation for FLAVOR…, and there was nothing more flavorful about the rare done meat or its juices.
By the way, flavor, spices…, are not to be confused with salty.

Hagan September 21, 2010 at 10:02 pm

There is certainly more flavor in rare meat – there is more flavor in rare everything! Spicing things up from less flavorful would result in less flavor.

The animal is drained of its blood before it’s butchered, so there isn’t any blood in it.

Bill September 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm

true–tough meat needs to cook long and slow, which generally means liquid cooking which can take out the flavors from the meat and dilute them in the cooking liquid therefore add lots of seasoning etc and use the liquid as a medium to infuse the meat with extra added flavors.

Also poor ppl eat cheap and bad chop meat at fast food and cheap/bad restaurants therefore they get the trots alot therefore cook ur meat well to try to kill the bacteria etc. But it is safer to eat steaks undercooked bc the bacteria is on the surface which can contact the heated surface of the frying pan BUT , chop meat is all mixed in together and cannot not get the searing high heat of the pan/grill surface to the bacteria (ie: at the center of a burger patty). In fact you can tell which restaurants are serving you cheap meat and charging for ground chuck etc bc they wont even let you order it less than medium.

Hagan September 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

That last part about restaurants requiring meats cooked medium – good point.

Tapori October 21, 2010 at 1:23 am

Finally somewhere to discuss this! Never visited before so here my 2 cents…

The class issue, only applies some of the time, in certain situations, cultures, countries.

But…For example…

Indian cuisine is one of the most popular forms of food in the world.
The most prevalent is the Northern food you get i n curry houses.
Every dish is well-cooked; These are dishes that include cuisine the emperors of India enjoyed; Hardly low-class, what with all the bling-bling currently borrowed by the Queen of Great Britain…

Likewise, are you telling me that Caribbean islanders never had a social hierarchy? Ever? – Yet all Caribbean food is again based on well-cooked meat.

IMO its the product of environment and recipes and palattes.

Hagan – I think its to do with the availability of products.

Speaking from a South Asian Background:

The sheer numbers of spices, marinades and dishes in India, when meat is involved, are well cooked – This is probably due to not needing the rareness to offer extra flavour but more importantly…

1) Rare = Bad –

The Climates in non-European countries don’t really allow for people to enjoy rare-medium rare, without some illness. Hence why there is so little pork in the middle eastern desert regions.

2) Taste – With the spices and methods used in Jamaican/Indian cooking, it wouldn’t make sense to have those dishes with rare meat.

Beautiful lamb Pasanda’s, Lamb Tikkas, Seek Kebabs, Curry Goat, etc, taste abysmal if rare-medium rare – Like wise they taste awful if overcooked.

3) Well-Done shouldn’t = Over cooked.

As people have pointed out, Many well-done dishes are incredibly juicy because of how they have been carefully cooked. Some melt in the mouth! Some are tender and juicy.

Overcooked = Hard and chewy: Which no-one likes.

Its a minefield wen visiting places that ask “How you like your steak/meat”

Well-done might mean Extra dry
Medium might mean Rare.

Even to this day, people who enjoy rare European cuisine cannot fathom how well-done meat can be tender juicy and…not dry!

Its subjective; Lets all just eat well!

Hagan February 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Kudos to that!

Nywoman October 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

Many years ago my company, catered a large amount of company parties aboard the Andrew Fletcher. One of the standard dishes on the buffet was Filet of Beef , always cooked medium rare and usually devoured. One cruise which was basically for the support staff of a large bank, most of the meat was left on the platters.

My first encounter with the concept that black people like their meat well done. Also a great object lesson find out who the guests are, so you can tailor the menu.

Hagan November 10, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Aaron McCargo’s New book – Why would he name his book this if he cared about the stereotype? Is it even an negative stereotype? #imjustsayin

Tapori November 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Is it even an negative stereotype?

Not Per Se;

But in its use it unfortunately is.

“Oh, so uncivilized asking for such uneducated practices;
Meat? Well-Done?

Bah! Away with you dark savages!

The converse is true amongst non-Europeans, that they have “Undercooked Rare Meat”

“Ewww, Undercooked, Thats Nasty “White” people – No style or tatse – etc etc”

Snobs on both sides using stereotypes to belittle an entire swath of people. simply on subjective tastes.

Lets all have one big Feast !

Hagan November 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Cook it Medium?

Happy Thanksgiving ;-)

Michael Duke November 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I came upon this site when searching “why do people like rare meat?” I have always like my meat cooked well done. As I got older and saw many people ordering meat rare and bragging about how rare and uncooked they liked it, I decided to try some medium, medium rare, and rare cooked beef. I was abhorred at the lack of flavor rare beef has. In my experience beef and many other meats (and fish as well) only develop their flavors as they are cooked. The more they are cooked, the more flavor they develop. The height of beef flavor occurs when it gets cooked to an extremely well done state. Fish does not need as much cooking, but still follows the same rule (raw tuna has practically zero flavor). The only reason I can see for eating meat cooked rare is because your teeth can no longer chew properly. Rare meat is a lot softer, if not easier to chew. But the flavor is just not there. It is a tragedy that all the major cooking shows only show meat being cooked rare. Those foodies that like real flavor in their meat are being horrendously under served as their meat is being grossly under cooked. BTW, in reply to a post above, there is still blood in uncooked meat, chicken and fish. Some blood was drained from the carcass when dressed, but all of these flesh based foods still contain blood. I have no aversion to the blood, in fact it probably is a major factor in the flavor development as meat is cooked.

Hoopermazing December 18, 2011 at 6:21 am

The very idea of eating bloody half-done meat is horrifically disgusting. It’s appearance, texture and taste are uniformly off putting. It’s also more likely to be roiling in bacteria and parasites–especially near a bone. Since my ancestors–not the ones who count in any event–didn’t come from Europe, I have no cultural context for wanting to see blood dripping from something that I’m about to eat. I suspect that Europeans like raw meat because fire wood was probably at a premium at some point when European was even colder and darker than it is today. That, or they picked it up from Neanderthals when they first migrated into Europe toward the end of the last ice age.

Whatever the reasons, I find it utterly disgusting and I won’t be culturally bullied into adopting that abhorrent culinary preference.

Hoopermazing December 18, 2011 at 6:27 am

…its…

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