When you’re preparing steak, are you supposed to rinse it off first or not? And either way, what’s the reasoning behind the technique? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
Do You Wash Steak Before Cooking It?
It’s not necessary to wash steak before cooking it, because any potential bacteria should be eradicated through the cooking process. In fact, rinsing raw meat under running water could spread dangerous bacteria around your kitchen, which could lead to food-borne illness.
Why Would You Wash Steak Before Cooking?
You might be wondering if you’re supposed to rinse steak off prior to cooking it because it can be kind of messy when you first take it out of the package.
Often, when you unwrap a steak that’s been packaged for sale, there will be excess moisture in the package. Since the liquid is red, most people assume that it’s blood, but it’s actually a different substance known as myoglobin.
Myoglobin is a protein that transports oxygen through the muscles. You may have heard of hemoglobin, which is similar in that it carries oxygen through the blood. Both contain red pigments that darken when they’re exposed to heat.
The presence of myoglobin and hemoglobin is the reason why rare steak stays red, while well done steak turns a grayish color. Smoked or cured meats, on the other hand, will stay red or pink because they’ve been exposed to either carbon monoxide or nitric oxide, which prevents the myoglobin from darkening.
Since the excess myoglobin in the package can make a mess, it’s understandable to think that you should wash steak before cooking it. However, there are other ways of clearing this hurdle.
Do You Wash Steak Before Cooking It?
In truth, it’s not a good idea to wash steak—or any cut of meat—before you cook it.
Raw meat can harbor hazardous bacteria, the type that can cause food-borne illness when consumed. If you were to run the steak under water, those bacteria could be spread around your sink and work station.
Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat. Any utensils or surfaces that have come into contact with the meat should be washed thoroughly as well. By taking these precautions, you can cut way back on the risk of food-borne illness.
Instead of rinsing the meat, pat it dry with paper towels. This should remove any excess myoglobin and prepare the steak for seasoning. Be sure to discard the paper towels immediately afterward.
Do Professional Chefs Wash Steak?
We would guess that no, they don’t. Professional chefs know what they’re doing and understand that rinsing the steak would increase the risk of cross-contamination.
What’s more, commercial kitchens are routinely inspected by health officials. If the chefs are caught doing anything that might pose a health risk, the establishment would be shut down in a hurry.
Another reason why chefs probably don’t rinse their steaks is that it might remove some of the natural beef flavor. True, any difference would be a slight one, but no professional chef would do anything to minimize the flavor of their star ingredient.
Should You Use Hot or Cold Water to Wash Steak?
For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve decided to forgo our advice and rinse off your steak anyway. Should you use hot water or cold water for the job?
If you insist on rinsing the steak, at least be sure to use cold water. If you use hot water, it will heat the surface of the meat, potentially bringing it into the “danger zone.”
Here’s what that means. When meat is stored at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the growth rate of spoilage bacteria slows dramatically. That’s why you can keep meat in the freezer for several days before cooking it.
On the other end of the spectrum, when meat cooks to 140 degrees, any potential bacteria that might be contaminating the surface will be eradicated. It’s that “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees that you need to watch out for.
Within this window, bacteria multiply at a rapid pace. Using hot water would send the meat into this danger zone, where it should never remain for longer than 2 hours. This is especially problematic if you want to wait a while before cooking the steak.
On a related note, you should use cold water when washing vegetables as well, even though you don’t have to worry about the same types of bacteria. Cold water will keep the veggies vibrant and fresh until you’re ready to cook them.
What About Rare Steak?
You might wonder why it’s permissible to cook steak to a lower temperature than 140 if that won’t eradicate all the bacteria. After all, a steak is considered rare if it’s cooked to just 120 degrees, and people do it all the time. So is that practice safe?
In fact, it should be safe to consume beef that’s been seared for just a minute or two per side—what’s known as “blue rare” or “Pittsburg rare.” That’s because the bacteria that cause food poisoning can’t penetrate too far beneath the surface of the meat.
Red meat like beef and pork is denser than white meat such as chicken, which is why you can get away with cooking these meats to lower temperatures. The bacteria can burrow deeper into chicken meat, so you need to cook it thoroughly just to be safe.
One caveat: Ground meat, even pork and beef, needs to cook to at least 160 degrees in order to be safe to eat. When the meat is all ground together, you have no way of knowing which portions might have come from the surface, so thorough cooking is the only way to go.
How To Prepare a Steak
We’ve determined that you shouldn’t rinse a steak before cooking it. But what is the best way to prepare a steak?
Your first step is to start with a quality product. The steak you buy in the supermarket might be fine, but we prefer to go to a smaller butcher shop or meat market for steak. They might even be able to provide details about where and how the cows were raised.
Once you’ve brought the steak home, try to cook it off within a day. It should keep in the fridge for 4 to 5 days, but you’ll get better results if the meat is fresher.
Bring the steak to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you cook it. That will help the meat cook more evenly, so every bite will have the desired texture. As we discussed, however, don’t leave steak sitting out at room temp for longer than 2 hours.
Pat the meat dry using paper towels before applying the seasoning of your choice. A really good steak doesn’t need any more than kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, but a bit of garlic powder or minced fresh herbs can be nice, too.
If you’re putting your steak directly on the cooking grate, apply a thin layer of cooking spray or neutral oil before you add the seasonings. When pan-searing steak, you can skip this step as long as there will be oil or butter in the hot skillet.
Cook the steak to your desired doneness. Most steaks are best when served rare to medium, though some can handle higher temperatures better than others. It’s important to understand the properties of the cut you’re using so you can bring out its best qualities.
The Bottom Line
Do you wash steak before cooking it? If so, we would recommend that you halt this practice. It doesn’t provide any benefit, and may even be harmful. You can remove any excess moisture from the meat by drying it thoroughly with paper towels instead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!