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What is Surf and Turf?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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”Surf and turf” is a restaurant term referring to an entree that includes a portion of meat and a portion of seafood. Some people argue that this type of meal is simply a showy extravagance, since it usually incorporates expensive ingredients and can be the most expensive thing on a menu. Steak houses and mid-range restaurants, especially along the American coastline, frequently offer it as a main course, usually indicating that it is a surf and turf plate on the menu.

The term appears to have originated along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The “surf” in the title clearly refers to seafood, usually lobster or another crustacean. “Turf” is any type of grass-fed land animal, but usually refers specifically to beef in the form of steak. In the late 1960s, restaurants along both coasts were using the term, often in advertisements designed to highlight the range of offerings at the restaurant. In Australia, the dish is better known as “beef and reef.”

The meat on a surf and turf plate is typically grilled and served with a rich sauce. The seafood may be boiled, grilled, fried, or baked, depending on the restaurant and the choice of seafood. Higher end restaurants may keep the portions of both relatively small, allowing the diner to have a small taste without being gluttonous, especially with lobster, which is a very rich meat. On the low end of the spectrum, restaurateurs serve larger portions of cheaper meat, which can lead to a decline in quality.

In seafood restaurants, the dish is often offered to appease meat eaters. People who prefer red meat to seafood often appreciate having this option, because they feel like their dining needs will be met. Steakhouses, on the other hand, offer the dish as a gourmet supplement for diners who do not think they will be satisfied with steak alone. Lobster or shrimp and steak are the two most common combinations, although other variations do sometimes show up on menus.

The primary setting for the dish is a restaurant, and food connoisseurs sometimes associate restaurants with “Surf'n'Turf” specials with low quality food and unseemly extravagance. Home cooks rarely make this dish, because of the additional labor required to cook two completely different meats, along with side vegetables. For large parties, an industrious cook may grill an assortment of meats, including steak and seafood, and guests can construct combination plates of their own, if they so desire.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Amphibious54 — On Dec 20, 2010

@ Submariner- The best sauce really depends on the taste you are going for and the combination of seafood used. Shrimp and lobster are pretty versatile so you can whip up sauces like beurre blanc, bernaise, teriyaki variants, or a simple butter garlic and herb sauce.

One of my favorite surf and turf recipes is Divers scallops and tenderloin medallions. I top the Scallops with an olive bruschetta, and sear them in an olive oil blend, once they are on the plate, I add butter and more bruschetta to the pan. Finally, I deglaze the pan with sweet vermouth and pour this sauce over the steak and scallops. This would also work well with mussels. All of these recipes are easy and will have your surf and turf tasting great.

By submariner — On Dec 17, 2010

What kinds of sauce can I make for a surf and turf meal? I like the combination of seafood and meat, but I have no idea what I should make for a sauce. Does anyone have any suggestions for a surf and turf sauce?

By Alchemy — On Dec 16, 2010

Surf and turf meals are not that expensive if you prepare them at home. I often do a surf and turf when I barbecue, simply because I grew up around the ocean and this was the norm. You can cook everything on the grill, and the flavors of red meat and sea food complement each other. I often cook grass fed bison or beef cuts on a cedar plank and serve this with jumbo shrimp with the shell on.

I devein the shrimp, but leave the shell on, rubbing them down with spices, sea salt, and olive oil. I let them chill in the refrigerator packed in the spices and olive oil. Just before grilling, I skewer them from tail to tip. I usually cook the steaks on cedar planks that have been soaking in my special mixture of spices, alcohol, and water. All of this goes on a hot grill until it is cooked to perfection. Grilled asparagus, zucchini, or carrots all make great sides for this surf and turf. I think it is one of the best surf and turf dishes, hardly snobbish at all.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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