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What does surf and turf mean at a restaurant?

Surf and turf is a popular dish that combines seafood and steak on the same plate. It originated in restaurants as a way to offer customers the best of both worlds – surf from the sea and turf from the land. The surf usually consists of lobster, shrimp, scallops or other seafood, while the turf is a cut of beef like a steak or filet mignon. When ordering surf and turf at a restaurant, you get to enjoy both a seafood dish and a steak entrée in one meal.

What are the origins of surf and turf?

The exact origins of surf and turf are unknown, but it became popular on restaurant menus in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. During this post-war era, beef and seafood emerged as upscale dining choices at steakhouses and seafood restaurants. Combining the two types of protein into one dish allowed restaurants to offer customers an indulgent mixed grill meal.

Some credit Ben Hogan’s Steak & Seafood in Chicago for inventing surf and turf in the 1950s. The restaurant was famous for its prime steaks and fresh seafood, making it a natural fit to start serving steak and lobster on the same plate. This novel combination then expanded to other restaurants around the country throughout the 1960s. Surf and turf became a signature dish at steakhouses and an iconic specialty meal of the era.

What are common surf and turf pairings?

There are endless combinations of surf and turf that restaurants can offer. Here are some of the most popular pairings:

  • Filet mignon and lobster tail
  • Ribeye steak and grilled shrimp
  • New York strip and crab cakes
  • Pork chops and scallops
  • Sirloin and grilled salmon

Filet mignon and lobster tail is considered the classic surf and turf pairing at upscale steakhouses. The tender filet pairs nicely with the sweet, succulent lobster meat. Ribeye steak and shrimp is also common for its contrasting textures.

Crab cakes make a nice lighter surf option compared to lobster or shrimp. And scallops are a delicate, mild seafood that complements heavier steaks like pork chops. Grilled salmon lends an elegant touch to sirloin in a surf and turf dinner.

How is surf and turf prepared and served?

At a restaurant, the surf and turf components are prepared separately before plating. The beef steak is grilled or broiled to the desired doneness, while the seafood is cooked using a complementary method like broiling, grilling, sautéing or baking.

The steak is often seasoned simply with salt, pepper and olive oil or herb butter. The seafood can be flavored with spices like Old Bay or served with a sauce like lemon butter or tartar sauce on the side.

To plate the dish, the steak is arranged on one side of the plate while the seafood takes up the other side. Acccompaniments like roasted vegetables or potatoes are strategically placed between them. Some chefs get creative by stacking the steak on top of the seafood or vice versa.

An elegant presentation involves placing the surf and turf components on top of the acccompaniments, like asparagus stalks or scalloped potatoes. This gives height and drama to the plated dish.

What are the best cuts of steak for surf and turf?

The most popular cuts of steak used in surf and turf dishes include:

  • Filet mignon – Very tender with a delicate beef flavor
  • Ribeye – Marbled with fat for richer flavor
  • New York strip – A classic steak with big beefy flavor
  • Sirloin – Leaner than ribeye but still tasty
  • Porterhouse/T-bone – Gives you filet and strip in one steak

Filet mignon is hands-down the most common steak paired with seafood. Its tenderness pairs well with the soft textures of lobster and shrimp. Ribeye is also popular for its marbling, and the fat helps balance the lean seafood.

New York strip and sirloin offer bolder beefiness to complement mild seafood choices. And porterhouse or T-bone gives you the best of both worlds with filet mignon on one side of the bone and New York strip on the other.

What are the best seafood choices for surf and turf?

The very best surf components for surf and turf are:

  • Lobster tail – Classic pairing with steak,Bring big flavor
  • Shrimp – Complement steak without overpowering
  • Scallops – Sweet and tender mild seafood
  • Crab cakes – Offer rich crab flavor in cakes
  • Salmon – Lean and elegant ocean fish

Lobster tail is hands down the most popular surf pairing thanks to its decadent flavor and texture. Shrimp is another common choice since it matches nicely with steak without dominating the dish. Sweet scallops and crab cakes make excellent lighter surf accompaniments to red meat.

For non-shellfish eaters, a grilled salmon fillet makes a refreshing surf option. Its oiliness contrasts with the steak while offering heart-healthy omega-3s.

How much does surf and turf cost at a restaurant?

Surf and turf is one of the most expensive items on a steakhouse menu. Here are some typical price ranges at restaurants in the United States:

  • Basic surf and turf with sirloin and shrimp – $25-$40
  • Filet and lobster tail – $40-$60
  • Ribeye and king crab legs – $50-$80
  • Wagyu beef and lobster surf and turf – $90-$150

The price goes up depending on the quality of steak and seafood used in the dish. At a casual steakhouse, a basic surf and turf with sirloin and shrimp or scallops may cost $25 to $40. An upscale surf and turf dinner with filet mignon and lobster tail will run from $40 to $60 per person.

For prime cuts like ribeye or wagyu beef paired with king crab legs or lobster, expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150+ per order. The sky’s the limit for surf and turf featuring ultra premium steak and seafood.

Do you get a choice of surf and turf components?

At most restaurants, you get a choice between a select number of steaks and seafood to build your custom surf and turf combo. Typical options include:

  • Steak: filet mignon, ribeye, New York strip, sirloin, T-bone
  • Seafood: lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, crab cakes, salmon

So you may be able to order something like a New York strip with crab cakes or a filet mignon with grilled shrimp. This allows you to sample different flavor and texture profiles.

Some upscale establishments only offer set surf and turf options, like filet and lobster. But most give you a choice of at least 2-3 steaks and 2-3 seafoods to mix and match.

How is surf and turf different from land and sea?

Land and sea is sometimes used interchangeably with surf and turf, but there are a few differences:

  • Surf and turf specifically combines steak with seafood.
  • Land and sea can use any meat with any seafood.
  • Surf and turf tends to be higher end steakhouse fare.
  • Land and sea is more casual and eclectic in style.

A land and sea dish may pair something like chicken breast with salmon or sausage with scallops. While surf and turf is limited to steakhouse cuts of beef paired with seafood.

Think of land and sea as the casual, freestyle cousin of the more refined, classic steakhouse surf and turf tradition.

What are the best wine pairings for surf and turf?

The richness of surf and turf makes it a versatile dish for wine pairings. Here are some of the best wines to consider:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Bold red that complements steak
  • Pinot Noir – Light bodied red that pairs with seafood
  • Chardonnay – Robust white wine that enhances buttery seafood
  • Sauvignon Blanc – Citrusy white that freshens surf and turf
  • Sparkling Wine – Bubbles cut through the dish nicely

Cabernet and Pinot Noir tend to be the most popular red wine choices. Cabernet has enough backbone to stand up to steak, while Pinot Noir is delicate enough for seafood. For white wines, creamy Chardonnay and crisp Sauvignon Blanc are both excellent pairings.

Don’t overlook sparkling wines either – a dry bubbly like Cava or Prosecco can complement surf and turf beautifully.

Popular Surf and Turf Variations

While the classic steak and lobster pairing dominates menus, creative chefs have come up with fun variations on surf and turf. Some popular examples include:

  • Filet mignon with crab stuffed shrimp – Elegant duo of filet and crab-filled shrimp
  • Ribeye with bacon wrapped scallops – Savory blend of flavors and textures
  • Sirloin with Cajun blackened salmon – Spicy Cajun twist on surf and turf
  • Skirt steak with grilled octopus – Adventurous with rich skirt steak and chewy octopus
  • Wagyu beef with lobster risotto – Indulgent surf integrated into the “turf”

The possibilities are endless! Chefs can get very creative with different cuts of steak, seafood choices and global flavor fusions.

Is surf and turf healthy?

Surf and turf provides a good balance of lean protein from steak and seafood, but it is a calorie and fat dense dish. A typical surf and turf plate offers:

  • 500-800 calories
  • 30-50g protein
  • 30-60g fat

The healthiness of surf and turf comes down to portion size and preparation. Going easy on butter and fatty sauces makes the dish lighter. Opting for leaner cuts of steak and seafood, like filet mignon and shrimp, reduces calories and saturated fat.

Eating a modest portion of 6-8oz of steak and seafood helps keep surf and turf as part of a balanced diet. But going overboard with giant steaks, piles of buttery lobster meat and creamy sauces turns this into an occasional indulgence meal.

Healthy Surf and Turf Tips

  • Choose leaner cuts of beef like filet mignon or flank steak
  • Opt for lower fat seafood like shrimp, tilapia or cod
  • Get steaks and seafood grilled, broiled or baked
  • Ask for sauces on the side to control drizzling
  • Fill up on low cal sides like salad and broccoli
  • Share one surf and one turf item if splitting the dish
  • Sip water and go easy on butter-drenched bread


Surf and turf brings together the best flavors of the land and sea into one indulgent steakhouse meal. While often pricey, it’s a special way to celebrate or splurge on a well-balanced protein feast. Just be mindful of portion sizes and preparation to keep the dish from going overboard. Surf and turf in moderation can absolutely be part of a healthy lifestyle.