June 11th, 2013
10:00 AM ET
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Details.com editor James Oliver Cury tackles controversial food-and-drink-themed etiquette issues every week.

Before you head out a steakhouse, there are some things you ought to know. First, you may see some terrific lesser-known cuts of beef on the menu, a growing trend according to steak experts. Chuck flap and sirloin flap are said to be on the rise.

Unfortunately, an experimental palate may bring you one step closer to the bane of the meat-eater’s existence. I am talking, of course, about the dreaded overly chewy piece of steak: that inedible morsel of gristle or fat that no amount of chewing will render swallow-worthy.

If you think there is a “right” way to handle this unfortunate culinary experience, you’re wrong. I consulted numerous sources - chefs, etiquette experts, and my dad - and they all offered different solutions for this very sorry scenario.

Some folks suggest spitting the offending piece of meat into a napkin. “Place the meat in a napkin and fold it,” says Shaun Hergatt, executive chef of Juni. “Kindly ask the server to take it away and [ask for] a fresh napkin.”

Michael  Psilakis, chef and owner of Kefi, FISHTAG, and MP Taverna believes it partially depends on who you’re dining with: “If I’m on a date and trying to be slick, I would point at something behind my wife’s back to distract her and quickly spit it out into a napkin.”

The problem with this technique is that diners may well forget they have a piece of meat in their laps, especially as time passes and more wine is consumed. This leads to one of two even more unfortunate situations: Either the piece of meat falls to the ground as the napkin is used for its intended purposes or the diner must leave the restaurant knowing he or she has deposited a little wrapped surprise for whoever clears the table.

To avoid this culpability, Ivan Cury (AKA dad) says he spits indelible food into a tissue (he brings his own) and tucks the soiled item into his jacket pocket for proper disposal later in the night. Yucky, but resourceful.

None of these solutions pass muster with Amy Vanderbilt, the legendary authority on manners. In her “Complete Book of Etiquette: 50th Anniversary Edition," she observes that:

“If you find there’s something in your mouth you cannot eat, like a piece of gristle, do not spit it into your napkin. Instead, put your fork up to your mouth and remove the inedible object; replace it on your plate where you can bury it under some food so it is not visible.”

Who knew good manners could be so sneaky? But there are a few challenges with this practice, too. First, it’s tricky to get a piece of steak back onto a fork, and wouldn’t that be seriously unsightly? More important, it’s not your fault the steak is chewy. Shouldn’t the establishment be notified of its subpar product?  

Chef Matt Lambert of the Musket Room in New York in New York, believes you need to tell your server, “Leave it on the plate as the plate should be promptly taken from the table, and a new dish - that isn’t chewy - should return," he says.  "It really is best to let people know so they can improve, and ultimately we are in the business of making people happy, not choking people!”

To some diners, however, these are all vile options. Emily Post, in her classic book "Etiquette," expresses horror at the mere idea of seeing something partially chewed. “If food has been taken into your mouth, no matter how you hate it,” she writes, “you have got to swallow it. It is unforgivable to take anything out of your mouth that has been put into it except dry bones and stones. To spit anything whatever into the corner of your napkin is too nauseating to comment on.”

Jesse Schenker, chef and owner of Recette in NYC’s West Village, puts it more succinctly: “Suck it up and swallow it!”

Got an etiquette question Cury can address? Share it in the comments below.

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soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Debbie

    some idiot is going to swallow a bite of fatty,chewy steak and choke to death because he doesn't want someone to notice him removing it from his mouth.
    His date will be the one who swallows a piece of bone that later cuts her stomach lining.
    Just spit it out in a napkin, fold it up, set the plate slightly on it so it doesn't open up and expose the food .

    June 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  2. Dave

    Honestly once it gets into her mouth I don't care what she does with it.

    June 12, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  3. weezer

    I usually spit it at the waiter as he walks by.

    June 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  4. Sal

    I eat everything on a steak whether it's fat, gristle or whatever. Crisp fat is delicious! 

    June 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  5. dabble53

    Sheesh...get a life people. Just spit the thing out, preferably onto your own plate and not on the table at large or the floor.
    The idea of spitting it into your napkin and then hiding the napkin on your lap for the rest of the night is ludicrous.

    June 12, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  6. KieranH

    Know the anatomy of the mammal or fowl you consume, and it isn't a problem. Eat around it. Example: bird leg, will have one long honkin' chunk of it, coming from the hamstring. Hack it off.

    June 12, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • dabble53

      That's how to avoid the problem, not what to do once you've arrived at the problem stage.

      June 12, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  7. floyd scrodinger

    I've had to remove an unpleasant piece of food from my mouth quickly so I did not gag. I simply put it in my fingers, wrapped it in my napkin, and went about my dinner. Which is better, a swift removal or gagging, coughing, or possibly worse, all in front of multiple people. If you make it look natural, no one will even notice.

    June 12, 2013 at 7:18 am |
  8. HA25

    As a First Responder, it's truly silly to see this even a question. Trust me, your embarrassment at choking to death trying to swallow it or stick it back on a fork will definitely kill you if the gristle doesn't.
    Pull it out with your fingers from the front of your mouth, put it on the corner of the plate, and continue on. I'm pretty sure your dining party won't vomit at the sight. Don't die over something this silly. If you want to die doing something silly – go skydiving or on a Carnival Cruise – something that's at least worth the risk.

    June 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
  9. Edwin

    This comment section is a goldmine of double entendres.

    June 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • BRB

      Like maybe "my girlfriend likes to swallow".

      June 12, 2013 at 3:06 am |
    • Dave

      I always knew I preferred Emily Post to Amy Vanderbilt.

      June 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  10. coughingrightnow

    I swallowed a tough bit and unfortunately I choked a little. Not cool! *sn, our meals were replaced and free*

    June 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  11. Jim Kirk

    A small bit of gristle may be swallowed; however, if you see it in your steak, notify your server and ask for another steak.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  12. Steve

    Raise your napkin to your mouth as if to wipe it in a normal fashion and discreatlly push the piece into the napkin with your tongue. Nobody knows what you've done. Place the folded napkin on your plate when you are finished so it leaves with your plate as the waiter takes it. No one sees the glob or you spitting.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  13. Steves

    From Philly.com: SPERM, the latest superfood. So don't spit.


    June 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  14. tamstarr

    I use a paper napkin, or if I have a cloth one, I use a tissue. Then acting like I am wiping my lips I spit it out into the napkin/tissue. Then I tuck the napkin under the edge of my plate. I do not usually complain unless there is an inordinate amount of gristle, because any steak might have a little bit.

    June 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  15. Cindy

    At a better restaurant, I'll already have a cocktail napkin on the table, that came with my pre-dinner drink. I use that and put it into my lap, and at a comfortable juncture, maybe right before dessert, I excuse myself to the ladies' room and toss it. At a so-so restaurant, I use the paper napkin they gave me, put it in my lap, and ask for new ones.

    June 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  16. kgt

    The right answer is swallow it. That 72oz steak isn't free unless you eat it all.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  17. Janet

    Dear Emily Post: I care not how unforgivable it is to spit out chewed food! No way is gristle going down my gullet! It is possible to be discreet, you know! There's no need to spew it across the table! Depending, of course, on who's sitting across from you. If it's a cheating ex, then . . . "OMG! I couldn't help it! I was choking! Seriously! My Bad! Oopsy Daisy!"

    June 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  18. Dave

    First world problem....period. Sorry I clicked on this

    June 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Loryncello

      Yep, this is for first world folks. The fact that it is eatocracy might have been the first clue. First world problems need to be discussed somewhere. :)

      June 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  19. gristle chewer

    Eat it – great for the nails and hair.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


      June 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  20. Piney

    Making subtle gagging noises causes everyone near you to instinctively look away from you. At this point you can bend over and spit the food under the table and then come up smiling because someone is going to look at you to see if you are okay.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  21. Steve

    Swallowing us a bad option, at least for stew meat. My father vainly tried to chew a piece of "gristle" in a beef stew during a business luch back in the '70s. After giving up and spitting it out, he found that it was a used Band-Aid. The rotten restaurant would not even comp the meal. Needless to say, no one we knew or anyone from his office ever went to that restaurant again after that day.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Holy ****. Gross. And dangerous. Blood-borne pathogens and all that

      June 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
      • Dave

        Nah, the heat would have killed anything.

        June 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  22. Dmitry

    I don't spit it, I deposit it into a Napkin while looking like I am simply wiping myself. A good steak will have some fat trimmings that are easy to identify and cut off in your plate. When the actual steak becomes inedible, or to many peaces of it are chewy, it's time to stop eating it. In rare occurrences when food is not edible, I don't send it back, I live a regular tip and them simply not eat at that place again.

    June 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      The first line of your comment is gold.

      June 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • auntieam

      You deposit it in a napkin while simply wiping yourself? Is this dinner or bathroom etiquette?

      June 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  23. lol

    Spit or Swallow? I guess this would be a question best answered by women. Ladies?

    P.S. Sorry if I offended any gay men out there by excluding them. Just don't picket my house please.

    June 11, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • auntieam

      depends on what you ate for dinner. onions, garlic? definitely spit. otherwise the result is bad breath.

      June 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  24. palintwit

    Gristle is the secret ingredient in Sarah Palin's s'mores.

    June 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Jerv

      LM AO!

      June 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Good ole palintwit and his one-liners XD

        June 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  25. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I vomit vehemently all over myself and my side of the table.

    June 11, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Weeds

      I've found gagging and throwing up in front of the kitchen door is more effective.

      June 11, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • Dave

      I scream, "What the hell!. Get me the fu@&ing manager NOW wench!" Then I throw it in his face when he's about 5 feet from the table and yell, "You eat it!". Works every time.

      June 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  26. Jerv

    “you have got to swallow it. " Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

    June 11, 2013 at 9:13 am |
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