Steakhouses Are Overrated and You Know It

If you're going to go out for a celebration, why not go for something other than expensive steak?

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steak on plate
Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe (Getty Images)

Every now and then, I think we all need a fancy meal to celebrate our lives. Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, these are all good reasons to want to sit down to a fancy meal. But there’s one type of expensive restaurant that I think we can all skip: the steakhouse.

I know, I know. Steak’s a pretty popular celebration meal for a lot of people, especially here in The Takeout’s home base of Chicago. People love their steakhouses in the Midwest. But as much as I love sitting down to an enormous hunk of red meat, I just can’t justify the idea of going to one for so many reasons, so I’m here to throw down.

Steakhouses aren’t worth the price

Here’s the obvious start, and it’s that high-end steakhouses are exorbitantly expensive. You probably already know that.

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I just looked up prices for steaks at Gibson’s, which is a well-known Windy City steakhouse, and a seven ounce steak (a filet mignon) will run you a whopping $50, while on the most expensive side, you’ll drop $150 on a dramatic bone-in tomahawk (at another high-end chain steakhouse nearby, Mastro’s, a Wagyu tomahawk is $250). I’m sure a tomahawk steak is cool and all, you can keep the bone as a souvenir until it starts to smell stinky, but jeez, that’s grocery money all in one meal.

And the sides, wow. An order of grilled asparagus at Gibson’s will run you $12.50. Since it’s asparagus season now, my local grocery store is carrying it at $2.99 a pound, sometimes cheaper. I could get around four goddamn pounds of asparagus for the price they charge at Gibson’s. A baked potato is $8.50 at the steakhouse, while at the grocery store, a single potato will run you $0.76. Granted, the potatoes were on sale when I checked, but since restaurants buy in bulk, you know they’re probably paying less than that per potato.

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Trust me, you can make steakhouse sides at home

Some of you may not be entirely confident in your kitchen skills when it comes to salad, steak, fancy potatoes, and creamed spinach, but all of these classic steakhouse dishes are some of the easiest restaurant dishes you can recreate at home. No, really.

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For starters, a wedge salad is one of the most dramatic-looking, yet easiest salads to make at home. It’s a quarter wedge of a head of iceberg lettuce, dressed with blue cheese dressing, blue cheese crumbles, bacon bits, and diced tomato. What’s awesome is you don’t need to chop up the lettuce into small leaves, either, which means you barely have to slice anything at all. Okay, the tomatoes. But there’s not much more than a quarter-cup per salad.

I think you can handle a good old fashioned baked potato (we’ve done the research on cooking methods for you). Dress that thing in a mad amount of butter and sour cream, chives if you’re feeling wild, and you’re there. Grilled asparagus is pretty much just that; add a vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan if you’re feeling frisky.

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I know béarnaise sauce, which is an accompaniment for fancy steaks at restaurants, sounds fancy because it has an accent on one of the letters, but really, it’s not that hard to make. I mean our béarnaise recipe involves a microwave. I think you can handle pushing a few buttons.

Steak is quick and easy to make on your own

Sure, the quality of the beef you’re getting at a steakhouse is likely something you wouldn’t be able to get at your local grocery store. High-end steakhouses typically sell prime steaks, which are the highest grade you can get in the United States (“choice” and “select” are the other two grades). These steaks have a generous amount of marbling throughout, which means the end result will be juicy, rich, and tender.

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For a special occasion beef, visit your local butcher, because they’ll usually be carrying high quality versions of your favorite cuts. If you don’t have a nearby butcher, stores like Whole Foods and Costco carry some seriously fancy beef too, though admittedly, you will pay a premium for it. But still, you’re not going to be paying $50 for a half pound of beef (though with Wagyu, the sky’s the limit). If you do spring for the fancy dry aged stuff, which has a complex and slightly funky flavor, you will undoubtedly be dropping a pretty penny but this is nowhere near what a restaurant’ll charge you.

So now, of course, is the most important part: the cooking. I know that many of you are concerned that you’ll fuck up a gorgeous piece of red meat, but I believe in you. Not only are there a million resources online (including us) on how to cook steak just right, there are cooking devices like immersion circulators that will result in guaranteed doneness to your liking. If you don’t have a sous vide machine, you have a perfectly good cooking device called your conventional oven, where you can employ a method called a reverse sear, which doesn’t need any special stuff at all. Though I really, really, can’t recommend a thermometer nearly enough. If you follow the thermometer’s readings religiously, I promise, you won’t screw it up. After that, a quick sear at a blazing hot temperature on the stove, and you’re good to go.

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Oh, and don’t forget to dress your steak with copious amounts of melted butter and its own rendered cooking fat after you’re done cooking it.

Cheaper steakhouses are perfectly fine

Honestly, I think chain steakhouses like Outback, Texas Roadhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, to name a few, are totally worth the cheaper price than an institution like Gibson’s, though you may not run into celebrities or local politicians there. A 12 ounce ribeye is $25 at the Outback location closest to me, and though that’s not cheap, jeez, that price difference is worth it.

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And here’s the thing. Those line cooks crank out steaks all day long. They know what they’re doing. Plus, they have powerful cooking equipment that you don’t have access to at home, like high-powered broilers, industrial grills, salamanders, and more. If you feel like your steak isn’t cooked to your liking, seriously, say something. They’ll cook you a proper one. Plus you don’t have to wait for a once-a-year occasion to go to a chain steakhouse. They’re perfectly suited for date night.

So where should you be going for a fancy night out?

This is purely my opinion, but I really think you should go to a restaurant where you can’t replicate the food at home. I am not cooking myself an omakase sushi menu on my own, are you kidding? I asked my fiancée to take us out to Ethiopian food on my birthday, because I don’t have the first remote understanding of what’s involved with that type of culinary magic. That’s the sort of thing I think is worth the money. Plus there are ingredients involved that are likely pretty damn hard to source unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

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Are there any times where a fancy steakhouse is worth it?

Absolutely. If it’s not on your dime. When I worked in the tech industry and we had business meetings, almost none of my coworkers were willing to venture out past steak and potatoes. Hey, if they were fine shelling out $100 per person for an extravagant lunch, who was I to say no?

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Otherwise, I know you can handle a steak dinner at home. Not just any steak dinner, too. Fancy clothes are entirely optional.