This brief synopsis is a basic outline addressing some misconceptions many Muslims have on the topic of eating minimally cooked red meat (mainly beef) and its acceptability in Islam, and at minimum, its palatability.
The basis for this misconception lies in two fundamental issues. These two further stem to several sub topics. The first is a misapplication of the Quranic texts which cite a prohibition on eating blood. The second is a cultural difference which must be elucidated in order to arrive at a more balanced approach to viewing one side or another’s arguments towards this matter.
What is prohibited!
The consumption of blood is what is prohibited!
Allah says what could be translated as
“He has only forbidden you carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and any food over which the name of other than Allah has been invoked…”
[Sûrah al-Nahl: 115]
Based on this ayah, Muslims who have come across the American culture specifically with regards to the custom of eating medium rare or medium cooked beef has been erroneously construed to be the living application of this verse relayed in the Qur’an.
The fiqh outline of this matter is as follows, all of which refute this misconception.
The ayah is prohibiting the consumption of blood specifically as its own source of consumption. In other words, it is not talking about residue of blood on meats that are consumed.
EVERYONE under the sky. Whether one goes to salafi inclined madhabis or la madhabis, all the way to sufi based madhabis, ALL concede that raw meats are HALAL (permissible). Yes halal. And yes, you did read correctly, RAW. I will end with this point concluding this section further below. There is no one under the sky who has said it was haram. Even as I was checking through the matter, I have found that even the mainstream shia sources also concur with us in this ijm’a. One can find this in their source reference work “al-Kafi”. The only condition that was put on its prohibition was if there was an eminent threat to a person’s health. Besides this rather obvious condition, the only other person who points towards its dislike is Ibnul-Muflih al-Hanbali in his “Adab ash-Shariah”. AGAIN, this is with regards to RAW meat consumption. This is not talking about slightly cooked meat like the stages of rare, medium rare, medium, medium well; in which the matter is even more clear.
Furthermore, the context of ibnul-Muflih’s declaration was that it is makruh (disliked) and not “haram” (prohibited). There is a misconception that medium rare beef induces this threat to the human health. That will be utterly refuted further as we progress.
The blood still within the meat CAN BE CONSUMED. Another ijma here, just like the previous, is that whatever “blood” is inside the meat that has been prepared and/or cooked can be consumed by agreement of all. No one under the sky has interpreted that the blood found in a cooked piece of meat matches the living application of the ayah above.
Lastly, before moving ahead, as we’ve clarified above, if all of the madhahib and ulema have conceded to the eating of actual raw meat, meaning uncooked, then this is clear proof that any form of juices from the meat, does not coincide with the ayah on the prohibition of consuming blood!
Misconceptions about beef consumed within the American manner
Claim 1: “If its not well done, its not cooked”
This claim has no basis in reality. Once it leaves the “raw” stage, it is in fact cooked. Raw meat is uncooked. It has a very red and shiny look to it. Rare meat is cooked. It has a more pink, opaque tone to it. Temperature processing is an important part of the science in cooking beef. However, this is not part of the discussion so we’ll leave this in the back burner.
Claim 2: “If its not well done, it still has blood”
This claim, is even worse in its lack of basis with reality. Most people mistake myoglobin in cooked meat (i.e. the juices in a steak) for blood. Blood, when it is cooked, curdles and is usually black in color. Moreover, the blood has been drained from the animal during slaughter. The juices that people see in the supermarkets is what is called myoglobin. Thus someone identifying a steak as “a bloody steak” is scientifically incorrect. So while culturally, people on the pro rare side and the anti rare side get carried away with saying “bloody steak”, it is technically, in reality not true. And Islam is concerned with the reality.
Claim 3: “Its unsafe, you can get an illness”
This claim, like the other two, is equally unfounded. If people are prone to cite the USDA as a standard of reference to cite “what is safe”, then the USDA declares the safe meat temperature of meat at 160F FOR GROUND BEEF. In other words, NOT for steaks. Ground beefs have more bacteria and require a higher temperature to kill off such bacteria. The USDA has a different standard for prime cut beefs. Their standard is at 145F which puts the meat at a medium cooked level just prior to medium well. However, with most regulatory declarations, most of such threats are overrated. The USDA, like all governmental regulatory bodies, always maximize their concerns in the form of security to ensure a lack of legal retort against them. Due to this, from a cultural practice standpoint, there is literally no need to worry even for these USDA standard methods.
Further complications towards the unfounded Medium-rarephobia Muslims have over the consumption of rare meats
The “juice” called myoglobin that is mistakenly perceived as “blood”, you wind up eating anyway!! In short, the steakphobia Muslims typically have is mainly with regards to the color of the meat itself, mistakenly believed to be the result of “blood”. What further exacerbates the mistaken conventional wisdom of this, is in its opposite. A principle used by Islamic scholars is
“the reality of a thing can only be truly understood by its opposite”.
In this regard, we can look for well done meats with redness to them. A classic example of this is the pastrami or roast beef cuts used as deli meats. These meats, are prepared and cooked in the oven for hours until they are completely well done. Once cut, the insides are traditionally “red”. And if anyone has ever cut a large roast beef open, you will see drippings of myoglobin typically called “blood” seeping out of the meat. This is “well done” meat mind you.
So what is more flavorful? Which meat tastes better? Rare and medium cooked meats or well done?
This question is easy to answer but it is complex. And it is rooted in cultural practices. Allow me to explain if you will. This is actually the second aspect of this issue highlighted in the beginning.
The issue of beef itself lies in that it has typically two methods of cooking. The first method is the stew based method. And the second method is the steak based method. Culturally, the predominantly Muslim cultures, particularly of the sub-continent, is mainly rooted in the stew based method. For example, the prime beef dishes within a place like Pakistan is for example, Nihari or Keema curry. And there are other beef preparations but most of them are rooted in the stew based method. Under the stew based method, its almost impossible to cook the meat in any other way except for the well done method. Secondly, the rich taste of these cultures rooted in the stew based method is rooted mainly in the spices. The seasonings used in the sauce.
Even for non stew based methods, like for example, preparations like stir fry or gyros typical to the mediterranean cuisine, these forms of meat’s best taste are rooted under the stew method with regards to cooking them to well done. These dishes typically would not look or taste right under the prime steak method.
In the American culture, prime steaks is part of the fine dining delicacy of the culture. The process of cooking prime steaks is rooted in the steak method, which is based on several methods. Seared and grilled is one method, or just simply grilled is another form. Also seared and baked or grilled and baked is another set of cooking preparations. The steak based method tastes and produce a better product than if one were to treat the prime steak within the stew based method just as it would be inappropriate to treat stew based cuisines under the steak based method. The hallmark of meat’s flavor, especially red meat, is in its fat. At temperatures of around 140 °F, fat just begins to melt and soften. Continue cooking to well done at 160 °F, however, and much of that fat render out of the meat leading to even more moisture loss and what was soft and delicious at 140 °F will become rubbery and tough. Cooking meat to only medium rare or medium at the most means juicier most flavorful meat. The steak based method preferred by Americans for prime meat lies in its source of flavor being found intrinsically within the meat itself, which is why not much spiced forms of seasoning is given towards putting on the meat. At most is pepper and salt. Olive oil and some herbs are considered the maximum use of spices used. And garlic would be the greatest extent used overall. Rather we tend to use vinaigrette/acidic based seasoning to ensure that the meat absorbed the flavor prior to its cooking. This is opposed to the stew based method where the spices are thrown into the concoction and where the tastes lies outside of the actual meat itself. So the precision to great steak is in the intrinsic taste of the meat ALONG WITH the intrinsic juices of the meat. This is because the juices is what provides the great taste to the steak. And with the fat cooked to perfection at most in medium temperature, it makes for a truly delicate experience.
Dry meat in the American prime steak arena is considered blasphemy. And since the prime steak cuisine is based on its intrinsic quality alone, it does not make sense to judge the preparation of prime steak upon the stew based method. For cuisines rooted in the stew based method, like beef curry for example, there is no need to worry about “dryness” in the meat because its within a sauce or stew.
American Traditional Steak Preparations
The dry aged process is a consolidation of flavors through the aging. As the meat comes to be decomposed, there is a concentration of fat that grows through a typical process of 14, 21, 28, 31, or 49 days. As Pat LaFreida, the top purveyor in NY/NJ said, “fat equals flavor.”
Since there are prime USDA organic steaks, the flavor is enhanced. The cuts produce some of the best marbling which is essential in the cooking process. The fat melts within the meat thus adding flavor. Anyone who says they don’t enjoy that beefy fatty flavor obviously doesn’t enjoy good taste. This is what all people desire in steak cuts, even including the higher valued lamb cuts like lamb chops for example.
Now imagine, you’ve bought a prime USDA organic dry aged steak. You cook it well done. By doing so, you’ve just rendered the 3–5 week process of dry aging completely pointless and have also wasted your money. Another interesting thing about the aging process is that it concentrates the flavor. It adds richness to the meat. There is a lot of care that goes into prime USDA organic steaks like the black Angus, which was originally bred in the UK. These cows are purely grass fed. They graze in the open and are not mass produced. Then there is the Japanese Wagyu and Kobe, which are specially cared for.
So for a person to come along and just do well done, is actually offensive to the discipline of culinary arts. In this vein, both culinary chefs and waiters take serious offense towards the ordering of fine steak that destroys the very premise of steak eating i.e. from rare to medium. Medium well is tolerated, but to say well done is considered blasphemy. Its like a great commodity being thrown in the trash or degrading the commodity from first class prime meat into 3rd class ground or stew meats.
I write this as a small feeble student of learning, who loves the cuisines of both methods. I love both of the styles and cherish the cuisines produced. I, likewise, am skilled in the culinary arts, as a chef for a four star hotel for over four years. So I also have first hand experience in both cooking methods.