Like coffee orders, the way you have your eggs, or your opinion on coriander, everyone has a preference for how they like their steak. For every diner who prefers theirs cooked rare to the point of bloody, others enjoy a tougher cook; some prefer bony cuts, while others flock to fillets. When it comes to chefs and butchers, those preferences are even more complicated.
We grilled some of Australia's top steak masters to find out whether they like their meat well-done, or done well.
Andrew McConnell, Cutler & Co., Melbourne
Favourite cut? "The rib-eye. I like all the different elements; the muscles, the flavours, the marbling… and I always cook it on the bone. I like that it's a great cut to carve and share with others."
What do you look for at the butcher? "When selecting a cut, provenance is so important. I always make sure rib-eyes have been dried for up to four weeks minimum as it improves the flavour and texture. And the other thing I'm looking at is breed. I love Angus, but I recently cooked a dried Murray Grey rib-eye and it was amazing."
How do you prepare and cook it? "First I clean the cut and pat it dry, then season it heavily with coarse sea salt. I always cook it over wood and coals. I light a fire, let the coals die down and then put it on. I turn it frequently as it cooks, so it develops a good golden crust. If I have company, I'll get a standing rib roast, which is a large piece with three or four ribs, which I'll cook over a more gentle heat with the barbecue lid down. Depending on the cut and how thick it is, it can take up to 20 to 25 minutes.
"I cook my steaks medium-rare; I think the cut eats a lot better like that with a better texture. After cooking, I rest my steaks for as long as I cook it for – so if I cook it for 20 minutes, I rest it for 20 minutes."
How do you serve it up? "I cut it, following the line of the bone, and serve it with Dijon mustard, some fresh horseradish and a gratin, with layered potatoes and anchovies. As a healthy concession, I'll do a salad with cos-berg lettuce with a good vinegar and oil. I'm a purist!"
Anthony Puharich, Victor Churchill, Sydney
Favourite cut? "This is about the most difficult question you could ask a butcher, so I have to say two. A thick-cut T-bone – what the Italians call bistecca, nothing that's cut less than a kilo or a kilo-and-a-half in thickness – and the inside skirt.
What do you look for at the butcher? "Marbling and meat colour are important – they're visual cues for determining the quality of that particular piece – but the most important thing for me is provenance and animal husbandry. Where the meat came from, how it was grown, is it grass-fed or grain-fed, the breed… it's the ultimate way of guaranteeing a good piece of meat."
How do you prepare and cook it? "I make sure the cut is room temperature then I season it with good-quality sea-salt flakes – I'm not a big pepper person. There's only one cooking method for me, which is a cast-iron grill over charcoal or wood. I haven't cooked anything on anything else in 12 years."
"I start with a high heat – if it's too low, it'll stew – you want it to sear and caramelise and get a great crust. I don't turn it or prod it too many times because it releases all the juices, then I rest it for half the cooking time.
"In my opinion, medium-rare is the only way to enjoy a piece of meat its optimum – the levels of juiciness, tenderness and flavour are at their ideal.
How do you serve it up? "If I'm cooking a bigger cut I prefer the feasting style, so I'll serve roasted potatoes in duck fat, steamed vegetables, a salad, with mustards, horseradish and chimichurri on the side."
Elvis Abrahanowicz, Porteño, Sydney
Favourite cut? "Beef short ribs. It's the way I grew up; ribs are a classic for the grill in Argentina. The meat's got texture, a nice amount of fat and a lot of bones!"
What do you look for at the butcher? "I don't worry too much over colour or marbling, it's usually the size and thickness I'm focused on. Sometimes butchers will remove the top layer so it's just the bones and meat, but I prefer the fat layer and belly flap attached."
How do you prepare and cook it? "I take the meat out of the fridge and season it with a bit of salt straight away - any salt will do - and cover it with a tea towel. Then I barbecue it over charcoal. My dad has always done it this way and it's the way I do it – there's no other method for me. I prefer it medium, maybe medium-well. With ribs, you have to cook them a bit more, otherwise they're too chewy.
How do you serve it up? "I like mine hot – straight off the barbecue – so I don't rest it at all. In my eyes, the fat's best when it's hot. I serve it with an onion and tomato salad – ripe tomatoes, white onions, olive oil and red-wine vinegar – and homemade chimichurri."
Ben Milgate, Porteño Restaurant, Sydney
Favourite cut? "Beef short ribs; you can braise it, grill it, and it has the perfect amount of fat so it stays juicy – and the texture is incredible. It's not like a fillet which is an 'easy steak', you have to work to get the most out of this cut."
What do you look for at the butcher? "Bright red colour and lots of marbling. Beef short rib has a real fat layer, so that's also what I'm looking for."
How do you prepare and cook it? "I pull it out of the fridge a couple of hours before I cook it so it cools to room temperature. Then I'll sprinkle some sea salt flakes over it. About half an hour before I start cooking, I get a thin layer of charcoal going. Because of the fat content of this cut, you get fat dripping onto the charcoal so there's smoke – this creates a nice, slow heat.
"With ribs I veer towards medium-well with just a little blush-pink in the centre. If you cook it a bit longer, it helps all that fat break down and become nice and juicy. After it comes off the barbecue, I'll rest it for 10 to 15 minutes.
How do you serve it up? "With chimichurri, and potatoes on the side. I'll parboil them in really salty water, then put them in a heavy tray with olive oil and bake."
Jacques Reymond, Bistro Gitan, Melbourne
Favourite cut? "Bavette; I was born in Cuiseaux where France's largest abattoir is and bavette was the most sought-after cut as it was cheap and readily available."
What do you look for at the butcher? "A thick, odourless cut that's bright and still has the thin membranes surrounding it intact."
How do you prepare and cook it? "I make sure the meat is at room temperature and massaged gently before cooking – I don't add any seasoning – then I cook it on a churrascaria."
How do you serve it up? "Because of the particular texture of the bavette it can be thinly sliced horizontally or vertically. When I plate it up, I serve it with a compound butter, anchovies, olives, capers and parsley."
Lennox Hastie, Firedoor, Sydney
Favourite cut? "The rib-eye cap – or deckle – it's essentially taking a rib-eye and taking the best bit out of it. It's amazing in terms of flavour profiles, it's super-tender like a meat butter.
What do you look for at the butcher? "Breed and producer. Some of the breeds that have a dairy background, like a Jersey or a Dexter, I find have a better flavour profile."
How do you prepare and cook it? "I'm straight up – I bring it up to room temperature, make sure it's nice and dry so it caramelises, then I salt it with fleur de sel when it hits the grill. I prefer to use a wood-fire grill with grapevine or grape shoots. When you cook with a wood fire you get this amazing crunchy crust, and then the meat melts in the mouth. It's that change in texture I'm looking for.
"I'll have steak more on the rare side – more rare-medium, over medium-rare!"
How do you serve it up? "With a simple salad – crisp lettuce and sweet onion. No sauces or relishes on the meat. It's rich enough with the fat complex that you don't need anything else with it."
Shannon Kellam, Montrachet, Brisbane
Favourite cut? "My preference is the rib fillet."
How do you prepare and cook it? "I season it with salt and cracked pepper using a good-quality table salt, no fancy stuff. Sea-salt flakes don't coat the meat evenly so I like to use a fine salt. I cook it in a very good-quality cast-iron pan using a minimal amount of olive oil.
When the steak is really nicely caramelised on both sides and medium-rare, I'll then rest it in a clarified butter bath which sits on top of an induction at 48 degrees. This keeps the meat warm but doesn't cook it anymore. After this, I'll take the steak out and caramelise it again.
How do you serve it up? "I add sprigs of thyme and a little bit of foaming butter to the meat. As for sides, I like homemade French fries or aligot potatoes, a green salad, and sautéed green beans with tarragon butter. I like to serve it in a béarnaise or a Roquefort sauce."