There’s a lot of debate these days about how well a steak should be cooked, especially when it’s a prime cut of beef. There are even steakhouses out there who refuse to cook a steak well-done. Most places will ask for your preference, but some will not. And when that happens, you know your steak is going to be pink in the middle.

So what is it with this ongoing debate between people who insists steak should be pink in the middle and those who prefer it well done? Who is right? Are there any objective reasons or even scientific facts to back up either of these preferences, or is it purely a matter of taste and texture.

First off, let’s examine a few common reasons why some people prefer their steak well done. Some folks have an aversion to the presence of pink coloration in the meat. This is fair enough, and a matter of taste. Another common reason why people want their steaks cooked longer is fear of catching some sort of an illness as a result of consuming undercooked meat.

Indeed, there are possible health complications related to eating beef that is completely uncooked (as in certain “beef tartar” recipes seen often in France) or barely cooked at all. But keep in mind that steakhouses, at least in this country, have to abide by strict food safety regulations. They simply aren’t going to serve you something that presents a clear present danger to your health.

So essentially there’re two main reasons for ordering a steak well-done. The first is an aversion to red or pink coloration in the steak. The second involves health concerns.

Now let’s look at why so many aficionados and chefs have an aversion to overcooked steak. The biggest reason is that tenderness and juiciness are considered an integral part of a quality steak experience. Overcooking meat inevitably results in a dryer, tougher steak. It detracts from the sensory experience and can even make it painstaking and laborious to cut and chew.

Believe it or not, there are also health reasons involved in the preference for steak that is not overcooked. It has been suggested that overcooking meat may damage some of its nutrients; some even claim that when meat is cooked much too long, harmful carcinogens are formed. These are known as HCAs and PAHs, and if you ask your doctor about them, they’ll almost certainly know what you’re talking about.

So what’s the bottom line?

If you’re a steak lover, it’s important to weight the facts. But it’s also important to realize that high-end steakhouses used cooking methods that are not available in ordinary kitchens. For example, steaks are often broiled for short amounts of time at very high temperatures. An expert chef will be well aware of the nutritional and flavor related aspects of cooking the perfect steak. It’s almost certain that severely overcooking or undercooking steak will compromise the quality, nutritional value, and sensory experience of a steak. That’s why it’s so unforgettable when someone gets it just right.