You’re all ready to fire up the grill, but then you take a look at your ingredients. Much to your dismay, the steak turned brown in the refrigerator.
Maybe it’s not brown all over. It could be that there are just a few dark spots here and there. Still, it’s enough to make you question the safety of what you’re about to cook and eat. Do brown spots on steak mean you should throw it away? Let’s take a look.
Brown Spots On Steak
If your steak turned brown, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s spoiled. Brown patches will sometimes appear on meat as a result of oxidization. Unless the steak smells foul, feels sticky or slimy, or shows other obvious signs of spoilage, it should be safe to consume.
Why Is Steak Red?
Raw beef is a deep burgundy, almost purple color. If you’ve ever purchased a steak or beef brisket that’s been sealed in vacuum packaging, you’ll understand what we mean.
When you see steaks on supermarket shelves, though, the meat is usually bright cherry-red. What’s the reasoning behind the change?
As the raw beef is exposed to oxygen, the myoglobin that’s naturally present in the meat will turn red, giving the steaks a rosy hue. Myoglobin is the same protein that’s responsible for giving raw chicken and pork a pinkish color, though the hue is less pronounced in those cases.
After several days, the myoglobin will oxidize, meaning it undergoes chemical changes that can cause brown spots to appear on the meat. It’s a normal phenomenon, and one that’s to be expected if the meat has been stored in the fridge for a certain length of time.
How Long Can You Keep Steak In The Refrigerator?
After you purchase fresh steaks, they should keep in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. The total length of time depends on how the meat was packaged and how long the steaks were on the shelf before you bought them.
Steak that’s been vacuum-sealed should keep for 5 days without showing any signs of discoloration or spoilage (see below). You might even be able to store it for 7 days or more, though we would cook it off sooner if possible.
On the other hand, if the steak you purchased from the grocery store has been wrapped in plastic wrap or butcher paper, it might start to turn brown just 3 days later. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s still a good idea to cook it as soon as you notice the discoloration.
For best results, buy steaks the day you plan to cook them. If you need to store them for longer than 3 days, consider transferring them to the freezer instead. For tips on freezing and defrosting steaks, see the separate section below.
Signs of Spoilage
Color alone may not be an indicator of freshness. However, if the darker meat is accompanied by any of the following warning signs, it’s better to throw it out.
- Sliminess or stickiness
- A foul odor (like rotten eggs)
- White, yellow, or green patches (these could indicate mold)
- An overly dry texture
Can You Cut Off The Brown Spots?
If you see brown spots on steak and you want to get rid of them, is it permissible to trim them away before cooking? The answer is yes, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
As we pointed out, there’s no need to discard meat just because it’s turned brown. As long as it smells fine and has a firm, slightly moist texture, the steak should still be safe to eat.
Cutting away the brown patches will give the steak an uneven thickness. That means you may have a hard time cooking it to the desired temperature. It may also make it look lopsided, which would negate any positive effects you were trying to achieve in the first place.
Remember: Once the meat is cooked, the exterior will turn dark brown anyway. You won’t even be able to tell where the brown spots were. Unless the steak has suffered from freezer burn, it’s better to keep it intact.
How To Freeze and Thaw Steaks
In theory, you can store raw steaks in the freezer indefinitely. As long as the freezer temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the meat won’t go bad.
That said, it’s better to defrost and enjoy the steaks within 4 to 12 months. After a year, the prolonged exposure to cold temperatures could cause the texture of the meat to deteriorate. This is true especially if it suffers from the moisture loss that’s commonly known as freezer burn.
For optimum flavor and texture, thaw steaks on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. They should be ready to cook the day after you pull them from the freezer. Make sure to wrap them well and set them on a plate to thaw, or the juices might run all over the fridge.
To save time, you can thaw the steaks in a cold water bath instead. Put them in a zip-top bag or another leak-proof container, making sure to seal the package well. Set the sealed meat in a large bowl, then fill the bowl with cold water.
The meat should thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound in the cold water bath. Larger, thicker cuts might take a bit longer. At any rate, you should swap out the cold water every 30 minutes to make sure it doesn’t get too warm.
Avoid using the microwave to thaw steaks—or any cut of meat. It can work in a pinch, but you’ll run the risk of partially cooking the meat while other sections remain frozen solid.
The Bottom Line
Brown spots on steak aren’t dangerous, but they can serve as a useful warning sign. Once they start to appear, you should fire up the grill as soon as possible. If you aren’t planning to cook the steaks right away, consider freezing them instead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!