Putting fire to a rare feast

This is my Sunday column for the May 26, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired on the May 25 episode of “Between You and Me” on Northern Community Radio.

Putting fire to a rare feast
By Aaron J. Brown

When I was a small child I saw my Grandpa Brown remove a plate of raw ground beef from the refrigerator. He began to form the beef into hamburger patties for the grill, each time removing a pinch of meat from the patty and dropping it into his mouth like a grape. This moment changed my life.

Like most, I was told from a young age that we must cook our meat thoroughly to avoid getting sick. A vast amount of scientific research shows the same, reflected in scads of health code laws on the books in all industrialized nations. I’m not here to argue this. I am here to tell you that my grandfather is still alive and I like my hamburgers and steaks as rare as possible.

A long time ago, humans ate raw meat because fire wasn’t available. Technology advanced and humans learned that cooked meat is better. But just like toilets with control panels or refrigerators with Twitter, technology often overshoots the mark.

Brown the outside. Leave the inside looking and tasting like actual meat.

My mother and father had this argument when I was young: my dad, like my grandpa, in the rare camp, my mom a “mediumist.” Thus my meals were generally cooked a little more medium than rare. Once, when I was in high school, I decided to camp out a night by myself, pedaling my bike up to the nearby state park with some clothes and the first steak I ever bought with my own money at the grocery store.

I didn’t bring enough firewood or tools, but I managed to raise a campfire and threw that steak on the fire grate. Was I a rare steak guy? Medium rare? Could I have really been a well done guy? I had no idea at the time. I had only a dinner fork and one steak knife. After my sad fire burned a while I pulled the steak off and threw it on a plate. I cut into it and it bled like the elevator on “The Shining.” One bite, and I knew that I was a rare meat guy for life, however shortened that life might become by my life choices.

I married into a medium well family. They’re great. But we have a lot of meat-based arguments. They think the inside should be a little pink when you take it off the grill. Then you should let it sizzle on the plate for a while until you chomp into meat-food as grey as a London afternoon. It tastes like taking a bite out of a forest fire, distinct and not altogether bad, but sometimes bland. This is the kind of meat that vegetarians can switch out for veggie burgers and say, “Ha! You didn’t even know you were eating tofu!”

We should never give them that pleasure.

Come to think of it, meat preparation is one of the biggest areas of contention between my father-and-law and I. When he does the grilling at his house I anxiously hover nearby with a fork, looking for a way to remove the meat before it’s overdone. Meanwhile, when I grill, I have a team of U.N. observers watching me, ensuring that every drop of grease is burned out of the meat designated for consumption by people other than myself.

Time goes by and we learn to deal with our differences. I stop talking about how rare meat tastes better and they stop talking about how sick I’m going to get someday, a day that has not yet come and that I believe is fictional, but whatever. We let all that go.

Another grill season begins this weekend. May you cook it how you like it. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio and other public stations.


  1. Growing up, I had a cousin who always had to have his steak extra well done. It was almost a moral imperative for him. When a waitress would ask him how he wanted his steak, he would get a really crabby look on his face and say, with grim finality, “Done.” As if everybody should know what he meant by that. I told him to just order it well done, to avoid confusion, but he seemed to think that buying into a foo-foo distinction like that would make him some kind of wussy.

    I don’t think he approved of me ordering my steak medium rare, but I was more liberal than him, so he probably expected it.

  2. I’m slow in commenting on this because my phone, where I was reading the post, would tease me with the comment box, but then it would disappear. I grew up in eastern Wisconsin and remember raw ground beef being served at wedding parties. I really don’t know if it was seasoned or what was done to make is safe. Maybe it was an ethnic thing. It was a German area. Since my father was a city restaurant and grocery store inspector, I heard all to many stories about dirty back rooms and kitchens in food facilities. Therefore, I’ve heeded any warnings about the possible contamination of meat grinders. However, I wouldn’t have the same qualms about a steak being somewhat rare. One time my husband and I were traveling across northern Wis to go visit the relatives at Christmas time. We stopped for lunch in the only restaurant open in winter in that town. The table was filthy, thick with dirt and grease. EEwww. But we needed to eat (two year old with us) and no grocery store open to just go buy crackers, or something. What to order in that filthy place? Hamburgers medium well done. I guess the germs were fried.

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