The Hart of the Issue: What’s at Stake?

By John M. Hart, III, Esq.

Those of you who know me well, know that I work hard to keep my unique physique! It’s not easy to fluctuate numbers on a scale like a roller-coaster within any given week.  But why do I do it to myself? Because of my love for cooking. 

 There’s no doubt that I’ve been known to whip up a meal or two for friends and family alike.  My pallet of culinary cuisine knows no bounds either.  I love learning about different types of ingredients, different methods of cooking, and most importantly, the “why” of the cooking process.  

My wife reaps the benefit of my passion for preparing meals, as it’s one task she never has to worry about. I almost make it impossible for her to even try to make a meal without me butting in.  I was once banned from mentioning “AB” as I frequently provide unsolicited advice as to how “AB” suggests performing a certain kitchen task.  “AB”, of course, stands for Alton Brown.  

By far, Mr. Brown is my favorite chef because he doesn’t just tell you what ingredients to add to make a dish, but he tells you why you need to add them.

In Alton’s one book titled I’m Just Here for the Food, he uses a great analogy of how to cook.  He compares it to getting directions to someone’s house.  Of course, you could get there if following a precise route, but what if you’re on a rural country road, and a tree had fallen or a road had closed and you weren’t familiar with the area?  

Going by a handwritten turn-by-turn set of directions will not help you get to your destination with this unplanned detour, and even if you got there, you wouldn’t know where “there” was.  

Brown explains that cooking is the same way, and that is why we need to know the why when dealing with ingredients.  And once we know this, we can develop our own creations with substitutions or additions to any dish.

Sure, my wife sometimes gets annoyed with my obsession over AB, but I can tell that the annoyance is more geared toward me rather than Alton. I know this because she listens to his techniques and explanations.  For instance, she doesn’t buy brown sugar, now that she knows it’s just granulated sugar mixed with molasses (two ingredients we already keep in the cupboard), or she doesn’t give up when she sees a recipe call for buttermilk, because she knows she only needs regular milk and lemon, or simply some vinegar.

But what is my specialty?  What episodes of Alton Brown’s Good Eats do I watch and re-watch to make sure I absorb every ounce of advice AB can give me? The answer is simply… steaks.

There’s nothing I love more than trying a new steakhouse every time I visit a different city, though that’s not always a viable option–at least not at the frequency I prefer.  So, cooking a steak at home is a task worth learning.  There are so many different techniques, styles, and types of meat to consider when attempting to cook the perfect steak.  

There’s a reason why one protein has its own category of restaurants named after it.  Steakhouses–the good ones at least–should provide you with several varieties of cuts of steak from which to choose.  Whether you’re in the mood for a filet, a strip, a ribeye, a sirloin, a T-Bone, a porterhouse, or any one of the special cuts that butchers tend to keep for themselves, you’ll find that each type is different, both in appearance, preparation, and taste.

But even when you have determined which cut of beef you’d like to indulge in, there are several subcategories of your choice.  

Perhaps “choice” isn’t the best word to define your selection, as it isn’t the best cut of meat. The USDA has been providing a voluntary beef grading program since as early as 1917.  And when going to a restaurant to pick out a steak, you should know that the big three labels are prime, choice and select, and are ranked in that order.  These gradings mainly consider the marbling in the beef and the maturity of the animal.  

Even after you know what cut of beef you’d like, and the grade that you intend to order, some steakhouses offer additional options such as “dry-aged” and “bone-in.”  While I won’t go ahead and tell you the benefits of the flavor-enhancing technique of both options, I can point you, yet again, to Alton Brown.  He’s the expert and can explain the benefits of these steak enhancements.  

But what I can tell you may help alleviate some curiosity you may have with eating a steak that’s attached to a fibrous protein called collagen and carbonated hydroxyapatite, an inorganic compound mostly made of calcium and phosphate, or more commonly referred to as a bone. 

It’s common knowledge that a bone can be dangerous if ingested.  At the very least, it’s unpleasant to bite into a piece of meat only to experience an unexpected shard of bone get in the way of an otherwise enjoyable morsel of steak.  

As such, my office often gets calls with questions about an injury endured while eating out at a restaurant. Without exception, my first question is always whether or not the unexpected object found in their food was foreign or natural to the food.  This is a huge distinction when dealing with the implied warranty of merchantability for food, among other theories of law.  

If the item found in your meal is foreign, you have recourse against someone.  What this means is that if you order a burger and chomp down on a screw or piece of glass, it’s indisputable that those items should not have been in your meal.  

The analysis gets more involved when the object that just ruined your meal is a “natural” object.  And ordering steak on the bone certainly increases the risk of inadvertently biting into a natural, yet unanticipated object, i.e., the bone. Even though the likelihood of a robust and sturdy beef bone splintering is relatively rare, it can happen. And when it does, an injury can occur.  

But can you recover damages for this type of injury?  The age-old attorney answer is… it depends.  The truth is, there are a lot of variables that are taken into consideration when performing an analysis of “natural objects” found in food.  

Some factors taken into consideration are whether or not the object is foreseeable, as in, can the consumer reasonably expect to find that type of object in the dish they are eating.  While a beef bone is natural, you wouldn’t expect to find it in a peach.  And likewise, you wouldn’t expect to find a peach pit in your pit beef. 

Either way, if you find yourself in this disagreeable dining dilemma, and you are hurt as a result, it’s best to contact Hart Law to see what can be done as we’ve helped numerous people navigate through this legal issue, successfully advised them of what was at “steak,” and got them adequate compensation for their injuries.

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