How To Tell If Your Steak Has Gone Bad

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How to know when steak is bad.
Yup, this steak is bad. Abby can’t stand the smell.

There’s nothing more disappointing than going into your fridge and finding that your steak has gone bad, so you need to know how to tell when it is no longer safe to cook. You’ll be looking at the sell-by date on the packaging, checking for that sour smell, looking at the meat itself, and even checking how it feels.

You might have an idea something is wrong with your steak as soon as you pull it out of your fridge based on how it looks. However, it’s good to remind yourself that just because your steak might be a bit brown or even gray doesn’t mean it’s ruined, but you do want to investigate further.

If you want to make sure you don’t serve bad steak, read on to find out how to know steak is bad!

How To Tell If Steak Is Bad

When you want to know if steak is bad, there are a few general indicators to check for using your senses. You can check how the steak looks, how it smells, and how it feels. You should always check the sell-by date on your steak packaging as well. 

Check The Dates

Food Expiration Date

The first thing to do when you pull your steak out of the fridge is to check the dates printed on the packaging. There’s the sell-by date which determines when the grocery store has to sell the package by. Now you don’t have to necessarily cook the steak by the day on the package. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that the sell-by date is not a safety issue, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule for your steak going bad.

If the sell-by date has passed on your steak package, you’ll want to carefully pay attention to how it looks, smells, and feels once you open the wrap. You should have a couple of days according to the USDA, especially if the steak is vacuum-sealed, but you want to get it into the freezer or cooked as soon as possible.

What Does The Steak Look Like?

Your eyes may be drawn to any signs of discoloring as an indicator of a spoiled steak, and you might find yourself asking “is brown steak bad?” However, the look isn’t necessarily the best way to tell if a steak is bad. While the package of steak is usually a vibrant shade of red when you purchase it, some browning or graying isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s a bad steak.

Steak turns color simply from oxygen exposure, so color changes like that by themselves aren’t a perfect sign that something’s gone wrong. A better visual sign of something going wrong is if you can see a slimy surface of the steak. That slime is caused by bacteria growing on the steak which is a sign of spoiled steak.

The Smell Of Spoilage

Smelly steak.

If you’ve been smoking or cooking meat for enough time, you’ve encountered the smell of spoiled meat. If you open a package of steak and smell sour notes, spoiled eggs, or ammonia, you know that you’ve got bad steak. 

Reach Out And Touch The Steak

You’ve handled good steak and you’re familiar with how it feels. It’s got moisture without being slimy. One of the ways you can tell it’s spoiled steak is if it’s slimy or dry. The slimy steak, as discussed before, is a sign of bacteria growth that will make the steak unsafe.

A dry steak (not dry aged) doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a spoiled steak, however. It is almost guaranteed that your end result of a steak won’t be the texture or flavor that you want, though.

You are more likely to encounter dry steaks with ones that you’ve put in the freezer that were improperly packaged. Moisture can leak out during the freezing process if your steaks aren’t wrapped tightly and are directly exposed to the cold air of the freezer.

Is Dry Aged Steak Actually Bad?

There is a difference between dry aging steak and letting it sit in the fridge for 3 weeks. Dry aging requires a specific environment that maintains a specific temperature and humidity. A standard kitchen refrigerator does not create this environment. When dry aging steak in the proper device with the correct temps and humidity, you can control the protein breakdown in the meat. You need to know what you are doing and you need the correct gear.

The photo below is dry aged bison by Mikes friend Dr. Jeremy Reed. Jeremy dry aged the bison for over 3 weeks in a controlled temperature and humidity state. The exterior is essentially mold, but when you cut in and remove the rot, you are left with extremely tender meat.

Dry Aged Bison

How Can I Keep My Steak From Spoiling?

There are two major ways to prevent spoiled steak. The first is by cooking it within a couple of days of purchase. You can keep your steak in the fridge for three to five days in most cases without leading to any issues. However, if you’re purchasing it on the sell-by date (or around the use-by date if your steak has that printed,) you’ll want to make sure you take care of it quickly.

You can also prolong the life of your steak by properly freezing it. Properly freezing any type of meat, steak included, will prevent problems like freezer burn and extend how long the meat is good for. If your steak is vacuum-sealed, that will help prevent freezer burn. 

Vacuum Sealed Steak

If it isn’t, one of the best ways to prepare it is by wrapping the package tightly with aluminum foil so there aren’t any air gaps between the foil and the package. Then put the wrapped package in a gallon freezer bag if it will fit. If not, wrap the package with another layer of foil or with plastic wrap. This will prevent most instances of freezer burn.

Quick Refresher: What Is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is when meat (or any frozen food for that matter) is damaged in some way by rapid evaporation of moisture due to problems with how the food was packaged and stored in the freezer. This can be discolorations, texture problems, or you might see ice crystals in the package. 

Freezer Burn Meat
This is what freezer burnt meat looks like. Lots of frost over a long period of time.

While this doesn’t technically spoil the food as bacteria would, freezer-burned food typically has texture issues and even taste issues. 

When freezing steaks, take care to freeze them before they start to go bad and package them up properly. You’ll save yourself and your steak issues down the road.

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered the main ways how to tell if a steak is bad, but here’s a quick rundown of the major indicators:

  • Your steak looks slimy
  • Your steak feels slimy
  • Your steak smells like ammonia or rotten eggs
  • A gray or dried steak is not necessarily an indicator of spoilage, but definitely pay attention for any other indicators

If you’re looking for some tips or thoughts, here at Angry BBQ we’ve got how to cook ribeyes and how to grill the perfect steak

What’s your favorite steak and how do you prepare it? Let us know in the comments!

Spoiled Steak FAQs:

Q: Is brown steak bad?

A: Just because your steak is turning a bit brown or gray doesn’t mean you’ve got a bad steak. If your steak isn’t vacuum-sealed and has been sitting in your fridge for a few days, it’s oxidizing. As long as there isn’t a slimy coating or a bad smell, you should be good to go.

Q: What’s the best way to tell if your steak is bad?

A: The most surefire ways to tell if you have a bad steak are the texture of the surface and the smell. A slimy steak is a bad steak. A sour-smelling steak is a spoiled steak. And as always, when it comes to keeping you and your family safe, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If you’re not sure if it’s a spoiled steak, throw it away and get some new steak. 

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