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November 7, 2018
The /r/steak Generation

Some of the most earnest corners of Reddit are the small pockets of home cooks sharing their bubbling excitement over juicy steaks and jiggly eggs.

Pictures of onions are not banned on the Onion Hate subreddit. But they are obscured behind blurred walls—as if the blur were protecting viewers from violence or nudity. As if it wasn’t clear from the subreddit’s name, the people here hate onions, and a blurred photo is still too far. “I’ve been sayin this for a long time,” onion hater SoManyNinjas commented. “I fucking hate being part of this sub and every day having to see that shit. We hate onions. Why would we want to look at pictures of them?”

There is, of course, some tongue-in-cheek offense to all the photos of onions, but SoManyNinjas has a point. They’re there to hate onions, not look at them. Most posts follow the subreddit’s rules: Users bond over their shared—and earnest—disgust for onions.

The people convening in Onion Hate are like a lot of other people on Reddit—an online community and matrix of message boards founded in 2005. They’ve found their niche. In these living forums, people are finding space to learn about food and home cooking, even if it means scrolling through page after page of eggs, steak, or—controversially—onions. On Reddit, there’s truly a space for everyone: a community of avocado lovers who like to get lewd with their food, McNugget devotees, and folks who just want to know the best way to reverse-engineer fish sticks.

On a website known for its relentless trolling, hyperspecific subreddits offer quiet corners for earnest discussion, education, and validation. Here, that validation comes in the form of upvotes—commonly called Internet points—that are amassed and taken away by two arrows, one pointing up and the other pointing down. The more upvotes you get, the further your post rises on the page.

“Part of Reddit’s spirit is the antithesis to the Photoshopped and overly airbrushed Pinterest and Instagram Internet,” Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, the author of Hachette Books’ We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory, told me. “It’s a place where rather than influencers thriving, a scrappy, DIY aesthetic is more popular.”

Though there’s no real “ownership” of these pockets of the Internet; they each find ways to hold onto their ethos and identities, policed by posters, appointed moderators, and their own self-imposed rules for what gets downvoted.

“Reddit loves underdogs, and celebrating random individuals’ small life successes, such as mastering their 15th try at a soufflé or finding a kitchen hack to keep them from stabbing their thumb with a kebab skewer,” Lagorio-Chafkin said. “It’s a little anti-establishment, anarchist, and rough around the edges—real self-promotion is abhorred—and that’s why a lot of avid Redditors love it.”

Many of the users have funneled into Put an Egg On It, the hyperspecific egg subreddit, as an act of rebellion against the more general food subreddit. Some who I spoke to hate the general food subreddit because of its rules. Some hate it because it’s filled with polished, professional-quality photographs that are perpetually voted to the top. On the smaller subreddits, photo quality doesn’t matter as much. These smaller spaces are a little less competitive, a little weirder, and a little more intimate.

On Put an Egg On It, it’s just egg people—people who understand the not-too-expensive luxury of this ordinary staple. “[Eggs] raise the taste of common staple foods to another level of tastiness and bring them out of the boring ordinary,” a Put an Egg On It poster told me.

One of the more popular questions on the subreddit, upvoted multiple times to the top of the ranking: Why just one? Or two? How about four? A top-three video on Put an Egg On It bears the grainy caption: “Why put two eggs when you can put four?” In focus—albeit, a shaky focus—is a bowl of ramen, noodles up to the red bowl’s brim. The eater brings a frying pan of eggs into frame, four eggs fried together, and jiggles them onto the noodles. It’s a perfect fit. “You’re the kind of guy I would pledge loyalty and my eternal bloodline to,” one commenter wrote. Others make confessions: “I sometimes make noodles just as an excuse to eat eggs.”

The ramen video, and later, a video by the same user that escalated the concept by sliding eight eggs into a bowl of ramen, is the embodiment of everything on Put an Egg On It. The whys and hows and recipes behind these stunts don’t particularly matter. It’s just about a joyous, sometimes funny, sometimes confessional celebration of something everyone can agree on. Reddit’s food microcosms represent communities looking to bond over shared interests, a reprieve from a garbage outside world: no politics, no news, no “weird drama,” as one Put an Egg On It user put it.

“You are friends with everyone as long as you literally put an egg on something,” Tim, a Put an Egg On It user who prefers to be called T-Nasty, told me. “Almost anything. I think I’ve even seen a Bloody Mary here, which is amazing. It’s just a bunch of people super stoked to see eggs put on other items.”

The 37-year-old Tampa Bay native said his love of eggs isn’t anything special—he just wants to chill with folks who love eggs like he does, to put some positivity into the world. “I’ve been a fan of the sub for a while, but just started posting, although I’ve been putting an egg on ‘it’ for years,” Tim explained. “It’s just a really good place to get and give karma in this otherwise salty world.”

If yellow is the prominent color of Put an Egg On It, on the steak subreddit, it’s red…or pink. Lots of brown, too. Composition matters less, as long as the steak is prominent. If you can see the crust and shimmering fat across the pink inside, you’re good. Posters come here to learn, but they come to show off a little, too. The unassuming egg is replaced with expensive cuts of meat: wagyu, rib eyes, prime rib, some upwards of $200. There’s some bragging. There’s risk involved. A $200 steak will probably be good, but only if you cook it right. And if you don’t cook it well, the community will tell you.

It’s easy to see the criticism on r/steak as a collection of dudes trying to talk over each other about meat, but regular posters say the community is a place for earnest learning. “It’s an art gallery of steak,” a user called podfoto told me. Criticism is in good faith, more wholesome than trolling. Of course, there are always exceptions: Last week, a user posted an image of a hunk of steak boiling in milk and topped with jelly beans, a reference to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The post quickly skyrocketed to the top of the subreddit, with responses a mixture of horror and even more trolling.

The steak subreddit is heavy on the photos—bright red raw steaks, sears you can nearly hear the crunch of, and slabs that have been dry-aged to perfection. But beyond the photos, like in Put an Egg On It, folks are here to share information freely and openly. Posters discuss methods and ask questions: Why did you cook it like this? What’s the perfect cut for this meal? Trolls are pushed to the bottom in favor of earnest discussion. “There are people critiquing a method of cooking or seasoning,” podfoto told me. “But trolls? Not really.”

In the end, it’s about validation. We share because we want people to see our perfect egg yolk, our torched sear, even our milk-soaked steaks. The specificity of these communities makes it easy to find “your” people, the ones whose validation matters, even if it’s anonymous, like much of Reddit is. And you do what you have to do for validation. You take pictures of your steak. You put an egg not only on your hash, but on your dog, too. You share onion horror stories. These are your people. They get it.