You should keep all meat products refrigerated in order to keep them fresh. It’s permissible to take them out of the fridge for a while before cooking, but the question is, how long? And what happens if you leave them at room temperature for too long?
How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out?
Two hours is the maximum amount of time you can leave steak out at room temperature. When the temperature outside exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the steak shouldn’t be out for any longer than one hour. We prefer to stick with the one-hour window in any case, just to be certain.
Why It Matters
The reason why steak—and all meat products—need to be kept cold is because dangerous bacteria will start to spread at room temperature. To clarify, let’s take a closer look at what “cold” and “room temperature” mean in this case.
When meat is stored at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bacterial growth slows down. The meat will still spoil if you keep it around long enough (more on that later), but as long as you cook it off within a few days, it should still be safe to consume.
At temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees, though, the bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are able to multiply quickly. That’s why this temperature range is known as the “danger zone.”
Make sure to put steak in the fridge as soon as possible after bringing it home. Also, check your refrigerator temperature to ensure that it’s set below 40 degrees. We would suggest keeping it between 34 and 36, just to be on the safe side.
One more tip: Keep all meat products stored in the rear of the fridge, on a lower shelf. This will keep it away from the blasts of warm air that enter the environment every time the door is opened.
Raw Steak Left Out Overnight
What if you’ve made a mistake and left your raw steak out on the counter overnight? Sadly, in this case, your only recourse is to throw the meat away.
If the steak was out at room temperature for several hours, there’s a better-than-average chance that it’s teeming with hazardous bacteria. Since these organisms are invisible to the naked eye, there’s no way to be certain. That’s why it’s best to throw it out.
Some people believe that as long as they cook the meat to a safe temperature, it doesn’t matter whether it was left unrefrigerated overnight. This is an unfortunate and dangerous rumor.
It’s true that some food-borne pathogens are destroyed through exposure to heat. This is why the USDA recommends cooking meat products to a certain temperature before they’re consumed.
When meat spends too long in the danger zone, though, the bacteria leave behind toxins that are impervious to heat. In other words, you can still get sick even when you cook the meat to a safe temperature afterward.
We understand—it’s disappointing to throw away a product you’ve spend good money on, especially when it’s potentially delicious. But in this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How Long to Leave Steak Out Before Cooking
Although it’s prudent to keep raw steak refrigerated as much as possible, you might want to take it out of the fridge for a while before you start to cook it. In fact, many recipes advocate this practice.
When steak is allowed to warm up slightly before cooking, it will cook through more evenly. This is particularly important with high-heat cooking applications like grilling, because the meat won’t be exposed to the heat for very long.
The question is, how long can you leave raw steak out without worrying about food poisoning? Two hours is the maximum, but only if the ambient temperature is lower than 80 degrees. In extremely hot weather, the window shortens to just one hour.
When it comes to food safety, we prefer to err on the side of caution. Take the steak out of the refrigerator no more than 1 hour before you plan to start cooking it. Again, this is especially critical on hot days.
Do Some Cuts of Meat Spoil Faster Than Others?
Ground meat, including beef, might go bad more quickly than whole muscle cuts. This is true even when the meat has been properly refrigerated. It’s because more surface area is exposed to the air, leaving it vulnerable to spoilage bacteria.
Processed meat products, on the other hand, have been treated with sodium and other preservatives that allow them to keep in the fridge longer. You can use the sell-by date on the package as a guideline, but it should be obvious when these products have spoiled.
When it comes to various whole muscle steak cuts, though, the average shelf life seems to be about the same. In other words, filet mignon should stay fresh for the same length of time as ribeye, flank steak, or tri tip.
How Long Does Raw Steak Keep in the Fridge?
Just how long will these cuts of meat keep in the fridge? On average, raw steak lasts 3 to 5 days before it starts to deteriorate. For optimal results, try to cook it off within this time frame.
Note that when beef has been sealed in cryovac packaging, it might give off a funky odor when you first open it. This is normal, as the beef has “aged” inside the wrapper. Most of the time, though, a strong odor is a sign that the meat has gone bad.
How Long Can You Store Raw Steak in the Freezer?
If you don’t think you’ll have a chance to cook your steak off within a few days, you’re better off putting it in the freezer. When stored at or below 0 degrees, the meat won’t spoil, since the freezing temperatures halt the growth of bacteria.
Once you’ve decided to freeze the steak, take it out of its original packaging. You’ll be able to create a more airtight seal if you re-wrap it yourself.
Discard the original wrapper and pat the meat dry. Use a double layer of plastic wrap to encase the steak, or a single layer of freezer paper followed by another layer of plastic. Then add a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, taking care to wrap it tightly.
Label the outside of the package with the date and the contents. Be specific—if you just write “steak,” you won’t know whether you’re thawing a ribeye or a sirloin.
Though the steak will keep in the freezer indefinitely, it will begin to lose moisture after a few months. Try to thaw and cook it off within 6 months.
How Long Can Thawed Steak Stay in the Fridge?
The shelf life of thawed steak depends on two factors: How long you held onto it before freezing, and your chosen defrosting method (see below).
As we pointed out, raw steak should keep in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. So if you were to freeze it immediately after bringing it home from the store, you’d have about that long to cook the meat off after it was fully defrosted.
On the other end of the spectrum, steak that’s been kept in the fridge for 3 to 4 days is already starting to lose its freshness. If you were to freeze it at that point, it would probably show signs of spoilage within a day or two of defrosting.
Our advice would be to freeze the steak as soon as you know you won’t have a chance to cook it off. Once it’s defrosted, cook it off within one or two days.
You have several options when it comes to defrosting steak. However, only one of them will permit you to wait more than a day before you start the cooking process, and that’s the refrigerator method.
Thawing steak in the fridge is the easiest and safest technique. All you have to do is take the meat out of the freezer, set it on a platter large enough to catch any juices, and put it in the fridge. The meat should be fully defrosted within 24 hours, though larger cuts might take a bit longer.
We prefer to thaw meat in the fridge because the process is hands-off and the meat stays at a safe temperature throughout the process. However, it does take time, which can be problematic if you’ve forgotten to plan ahead.
In this case, you can use the cold water method to defrost your steaks. Just submerge the well-wrapped meat in a cold water bath, swapping out the water every half hour, for about 30 minutes per pound of beef. You might need to put the wrapped steaks in a zip-top bag first.
The microwave is another possibility, but we consider it to be a last resort. The steak won’t thaw as evenly as you might like, and might even begin to cook through in places. When this happens, the meat will have an unpleasant texture.
If you must use the microwave, engage the defrost setting. For models that don’t offer this option, you can replicate it by setting the unit to run at 30 percent power. Unwrap the steak and set it on a microwave-safe plate.
Microwave the steak for 2 to 5 minutes per pound, rotating it every minute or so, until it’s fully thawed. It’s better to stop the process when the meat is still slightly frozen than to let it go on too long.
Be aware that when you defrost steak in the microwave or in cold water, you’ll need to season and cook it right away. If you have a day or two before you need to cook the steaks, it’s better to thaw them in the refrigerator.
We should also point out that you don’t have to defrost the meat at all if you’re pressed for time. It’s possible to cook steak from a frozen state. However, it will take about 50 percent longer to cook, and this technique will make it harder to achieve the temperature you want.
How Long Does Cooked Steak Keep in the Fridge?
Once the steak is cooked, any leftovers should stay fresh in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. This is excellent news if you have an abundance of leftover steak and want to use it to make salads or sandwiches.
Be sure to refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Even though the meat is cooked, it can still harbor bacteria when it’s left out at room temperature.
It’s possible to freeze leftovers, too. Since cooked meat has already lost a great deal of moisture, it won’t keep as long as raw steak does when stored in this manner. Try not to keep leftovers hanging around the freezer for longer than 3 months.
Leaving raw steak out for too long can have serious repercussions. If you want to bring the meat to room temperature before you cook it, keep a close eye on the clock.