When it comes to meat, some discoloration is normal. The trick lies in discerning whether the discoloration means that the product has spoiled. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide.
Why Is My Steak Grey?
Raw steak that’s turned grey has usually been kept in the fridge for a bit too long. It’s not necessarily bad, but if it smells funky or has a sticky or slimy texture, it’s better to throw it out. When cooked steak is grey, it’s usually because the meat wasn’t dry enough when it hit the grill or frying pan. It could also be overcooked.
Why Is My Steak Grey Before I Cook It?
Have you ever opened a package containing a raw steak and noticed that the meat had a grey tinge to it? There’s a good chance that you have. That’s because this is a natural process called metmyoglobin.
Metmyoglobin occurs when the myoglobin—a protein that delivers oxygen to muscles—interacts with the oxygen in the air. When the meat is exposed to oxygen for a few days, this reddish-tinged protein will turn gray instead.
You’ll find that some steaks are redder than others, even when they’re fresh. For example, flank steak comes in a darker red shade than, say, New York strip steak. So a grey steak isn’t necessarily unsafe to consume.
However, if the steak has been hanging around long enough, there’s a chance that it has spoiled. So how can you tell the difference?
Fortunately for all of us, spoiled meat often gives off more than one telltale sign. We’ll talk more about these in the section below.
How To Tell If Steak is Bad
If your raw steak is grey, that’s a sign that it’s past its prime. You may still be able to salvage it, though, as long as it isn’t showing any of these other signs of spoilage.
First, smell the steak. Is it giving off a foul odor reminiscent of rotten eggs? It may also smell like a strong cheese, or carry the scent of ammonia. These are all red flags that indicate the meat should be thrown out.
Inspect the surface of the steak. You’ve already spotted some grey areas, but are there any mold spots, or patches of yellow or green? If so, discard the meat without cooking it.
Assuming the meat passes these tests, you can run a finger along the surface. Spoiled steak is often either overly slimy or sticky as a result of the bacteria that’s set up camp there. The meat should be slightly damp and springy to the touch.
The bottom line here is to toss the meat if you suspect that it’s gone bad. Don’t second-guess yourself. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to food safety.
Why Is My Steak Grey After Cooking?
Sometimes, the steak looks perfectly fine when you start cooking it, but then it turns grey after its stint on the grill (or in the frying pan). What causes that?
In fact, there are several possibilities. Let’s take a look at the likeliest ones first.
Most of the time, steak turns grey during cooking because it was a little bit too damp when you began. That’s one of the reasons why you should pat meat dry with paper towels before you season it.
When cooking a good steak, your goal is to get a nice brown crust on the exterior. In addition to providing a textural contrast between the seared crust and the tender steak, this will help to lock in juices.
When there’s too much moisture on the meat, the liquid will cause the steak to steam instead of sear. That means it won’t brown up as well. Instead, it will turn dull and grey.
Those of you who have suffered the indignity of consuming a well-done steak will have noticed that the meat was a greyish brown instead of pink. That’s because most of the liquid has been cooked out of it.
Overcooked steak isn’t just unpleasant to look at. The loss of moisture results in meat that’s tough and dry. This translates into a significant lack of flavor—and the steak will be difficult to chew as well.
You can avoid overcooking by searing your steak quickly over medium-high heat. Some thinner cuts can achieve the ideal texture after cooking for just a few minutes per side.
Thick-cut steaks, such as filet mignon and ribeye, might take a bit longer. You can turn the heat down a bit when preparing these steaks so that the outside doesn’t become charred before the meat has cooked to a perfect medium rare.
For grilling and smoking enthusiasts, a reliable instant-read meat thermometer is an invaluable tool. It’s the only way you can tell for sure whether the meat has achieved the desired temperature.
For rare steak, remove the meat from the heat when the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should continue to climb a bit as the steak rests, giving you a final temp of about 125.
Steak is considered medium rare when it’s cooked to 130-135 degrees. For best results, take it off the heat at 125-130 degrees, then let it rest for 5 minutes before you serve it.
Improper Cooking Method
You can also avoid overcooking by using the correct cooking method. Reverse searing, which entails cooking a steak over low heat and then switching it to high heat toward the end of the process, is one way to pull this off.
When you reverse sear a steak, the juices stay locked inside, but you still get that all-important crust on the exterior. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so popular, especially for thinner cuts.
When preparing thick-cut steaks, try the sous vide method. That means you’ll be placing the meat in a vacuum-sealed bag before cooking it at a low temperature for a relatively long time. This results in steak that’s evenly cooked and very juicy.
Interestingly enough, improper seasoning can result in grey steak. You want your spice rub or marinade to contain enough salt to moisturize and tenderize the meat. Otherwise, it will turn out too dry, which leads to that greyish color.
Why Is My Steak Green?
As we discussed earlier, discoloration is sometimes a sign of spoilage. You should be able to tell whether this is the case by checking the meat for the other telltale signs we mentioned.
That said, steak can sometimes appear green and still be fresh—or at least, relatively so. The pigment in the meat can produce a greenish or iridescent sheen, especially when exposed to light, heat, or processing techniques.
To help prevent this from occurring, you can wrap the meat tightly in butcher paper and keep it properly stored. It’s also a good idea to cook raw steak off within 3 days of bringing it home.
Speaking of cooked beef, this “rainbow sheen” phenomenon is especially prevalent in deli-sliced roast beef. Deli meats are cured before they’re sold, which alters their chemical structure. That means they’re more prone to color changes than uncured meats.
Again, this greenish tinge alone doesn’t mean that the beef is spoiled. But if you suspect that the green patches are actually mold spots, or if the meat also smells funny or has a slimy texture, then it’s time to throw it out.
The Bottom Line
Fresh raw steak should be bright red to dark pink in color, with streaks of white or cream-colored fat. Once it’s cooked, the exterior should turn dark brown, while the inside retains a hint of pink.
When meat turns grey, it could indicate spoilage—or it could just mean that it’s time to cook it off before it has a chance to turn the corner. Once you’ve learned how to tell the difference, you’ll be able to cook with confidence.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!