It often feels like steakhouses exist in a sort of time warp, and for good reason—they are places where traditions stand still, rarely changing. You could easily imagine yourself walking into a steakhouse in 1960 or 2016, in Dallas or Detroit, and eyeing those same, eternally familiar sites: rich wooden walls and countertops, starchy white tablecloths, aging servers in crisp aprons, and, of course, gargantuan cuts of meat on plates as big manhole covers.

This form of entertainment stands in stark contrast to today's culinary cutting edge, which leans towards tasting menus and small bites, molecular gastronomy and farm-to-table, and anything that will elicit likes on Instagram. Yet old-school steakhouses somehow persevere, despite their refusal to hop on any bandwagon. They long ago cemented their legacy as the quintessential place to celebrate a special occasion, to fete a friend or family member, or to blow through your company’s expense account. Steakhouses are an especially comforting respite in these trying times when many restaurants have become so oblique that they necessitate their servers start a meal by asking the table, “Can I explain our menu to you?”

A steakhouse menu would appear to be straightforward enough—it's a temple of meat, plain and simple. Still, veterans of the trade are fully aware of the insider lingo, humorous shorthand, and technical terms that act as a verbal secret handshake. To enter that carnivorous club requires speaking the language—do you want a “tommy” or a “tender”?  Should the chef “kill it” or keep it “alive”? And would you prefer some “aspa,” or a little “mootz and tom” on the side?

If steakhouses are dedicated to preserving their own timeless pedigree, then it’s no surprise that their peculiar jargon continues to prosper as well. To understand the slang of the steakhouse, we reached out to a handful of pros for help:

  • Chef David Garcelon, executive director of food and beverage at the Waldorf Astoria, which includes the Bull and Bear Prime Steakhouse
  • Chef Antonio Mora, executive chef at Quality Meats
  • Jack Sinanaj, former server at Peter Luger, now co-owner of Empire Steak House
  • Chef Aksel Theilkuhl, former chef BLT Steak, current executive chef for Uncle Jack’s Steakhouses

30 seconds

“I’m about to plate.”—Mora

 1 minute

“I’m still cooking."—Mora

 2 minutes

“I haven’t even started cooking yet…”—Mora

A5

The highest grade of Japanese Wagyu striploin steak. Only legal in this country since 2012, very few steakhouses serve “true A5.”

Aspa

A side of asparagus.—Theilkuhl

Black and blue

A steak cooked at such a high heat and so quickly that it gets charred on the outside (thus “black”) while remaining nearly raw on the inside (thus “blue”).—Garcelon

Bone

Bone-in filet. 

Boracho

Spanish slang for a drunk; in a kitchen it means an order of burrata, a popular steakhouse appetizer.—Mora

Char meats

Charcuterie.—Mora

From your neighborhood

When a guest requests to have their steak well done.—Mora

Hammered

Another term for when a guest requests to have their steak well-done.—Mora

Huesos

Spanish for “bones,” used for any dish which includes bone marrow.—Mora

In my hand

What a cook says when he is literally saucing or plating a steak at that very moment.—Mora

Kill it

When a guest requests to have their steak served extra well-done.—Sinanaj

Love

Term for putting extra butter on a steak.—Mora

Mootz and Tom

An order of fresh mozzarella and beefsteak tomatoes, a common appetizer at many steakhouses.—Sinanaj

Novios

Means “boyfriends” in Spanish. “When any two cooks talk amongst themselves in the kitchen, someone will scream, novios!” as a term of affection.—Mora

Pittsburgh Rare

Another term for a black-and-blue steak. This method of steak preparation purportedly began in steel mills around Pittsburgh, where workers would throw their steaks on the extremely hot blast furnaces during their brief lunch breaks.—Theilkuhl

PPX

A VIP table.—Theilkuhl

One and one

When a table has ordered two steaks, one of them medium rare, one medium.

Rack ’em up

“Refers to our domestic rack of lamb entrée, and the way they are arranged on the plate in a unique zig-zag."—Sinanaj.

Sancho

Said when someone sneezes in the kitchen. “Everyone immediately screams out sancho!” explains Mora, “which means ‘Call home, some one is sleeping with your wife/girlfriend.’”

Sea, land, and garden

Empire’s in-house name for your standard surf-and-turf entrée.—Sinanaj

Shoemaker

Someone who takes dumb shortcuts in the kitchen. Also said to be “shoeing it.”—Mora

Shorty

Short rib.—Mora

Sizzle

“When our servers want an order of our Canadian bacon appetizer to come out sizzling and cooked at a high temperature."—Sinanaj

Stack

“Refers to our tuna tartare dish, which is served with tuna and avocado in a layered stack."—Sinanaj

Still alive

When a guest requests to have their steak served very rare.—Sinanaj

Soigne

A server’s call to make a dish look particularly beautiful.—Mora

Tender

An order of beef tenderloin.—Sinanaj

Tommy

A Tomahawk steak, which is an on-the bone ribeye with the entire rib left attached. The long bone is french-trimmed, causing it to resemble a tomahawk axe, which makes for an impressive presentation.—Sinanaj

Vieja

Means “old lady” in Spanish. “Older cooks refer to each other affectionately as old lady,” explains Mora. “‘Yo, vieja, grab me a double rib from the walk in!’”