How Long Can Raw Steak Sit Out: Know the Time

August 9, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

Raw steak can sit for up to two hours at room temperature unless the temperature is above 90°F – then, it can only be left out for an hour.

As a professional chef, I have been well-coached in food safety. If you want to know how long your meat is good for, I’m the person to ask! 

In this post, I will tackle how long raw steak can sit out at room temperature and offer other tips for keeping steak safe. No one wants to accidentally give someone food poisoning. I’ll walk you through best practices for handling meat. Let’s go!

How Long Can Raw Steak Sit Out

How Long Can Raw Steak Be Left Out on the Counter?

According to the USDA, you should not leave raw steak – or any raw meat – out for more than two hours at temperatures below 90°F.

If it’s a hot day and the temperature is above 90 °F, then the steak shouldn’t be kept out for longer than an hour.

This is the rule that you should follow for steak, and it applies to any raw meat. The best practice is to refrigerate the meat until you’re ready to cook it. Also, stick the meat in the fridge as soon as you bring it home from the store or butcher.

Can You Let Meat Sit Out at Room Temperature Overnight?

No, you definitely shouldn’t leave raw beef out for more than two hours.

Let me fill you in on what’s known as “the Danger Zone.” No, I’m not talking about the banger song from Top Gun. In cooking, the danger zone applies to meats at temperatures between 40 ° and 140 °F.

At this temperature range, harmful bacteria can double in the raw meat in as little as 20 minutes. If you leave raw meat in the danger zone overnight, then the steak will be riddled with bacteria. This will greatly increase your risk of food poisoning.

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How Long Can You Leave Cooked Steak Outside?

The same rules apply to cooked steak as raw meat – no cooked meat, including steaks, should be left out for more than two hours at room temperature.

Once again, if your kitchen, dining room, or wherever you’re serving the food is hot (above 90°F), then the cooked meat shouldn’t be kept out for longer than an hour.

raw steak on a kitchen counter

How Do You Know Steak Has Gone Bad?

There are a handful of indicators that tell you your steak has taken a turn for the worse.

One sign is that the steak will have a slimy texture to it. The raw beef may also feel slightly tacky to the touch.

Another indication that the meat should be tossed in the trash or compost pile is if it smells bad or off in any way

Here’s where things get tricky. Your meat might not smell or feel gross, but it can still be bad. The steak can still be dangerous for you to consume even if there doesn’t seem to be something wrong.

In this case, it is always best to err on the side of caution and to toss it out if it has spent more than two hours out of the refrigerator.

Does Cooking Kill the Bacteria Growing on Meat?

Yes, heat can kill bacteria, what it can’t do is kill the toxins produced by the bacteria. So, if your raw meat has been sitting out for too long and then you cook it, it can still be just as dangerous.

I know. I get it. I’m a cheapskate, too. The last thing that you want to do is to toss steaks you spent a pile of money on. If you have left the meat out for an extended period, you may be trying to figure out how to salvage it. Cooking meat may be the first thing that comes to mind.

But cooking the steak will not result in a food that’s safe to eat, and you risk giving yourself and whoever you’re feeding food poisoning. Don’t do that to your friends and family!

Cooking Steak Properly

Got some steak that hasn’t been sitting out for too long? Great, let’s get to cooking.

To reduce the risk of you getting sick, cooking your steak to 145°F is your best option for safety, according to the USDA.

Cooking your steak to 125°F medium-rare is your best option for taste, according to me. And pretty much every fine steakhouse, chef, and grill expert around.

Just make sure that you are cooking a fresh steak and that it has been stored in your refrigerator properly.

The reason that steak can be consumed relatively safely when cooked to medium rare is that bacteria live on the outside of the meat. This is the part of the steak that is cooked past the danger zone of 140°F. 

Note: once you grind meat, the outside and inside become mixed, and bacteria are present throughout the meat. So, ground meats need to be cooked to higher internal temperatures (160°F to 165°F for beef) to ensure food safety.

cooked steak on a white plate

What Can Happen If You Eat Meat Left Out at Room Temperature?

It depends on how long the meat was sitting out. For instance, if you kept meat out at room temperature only for an hour past the two-hour guideline, then the risk of food poisoning is fairly low. I still wouldn’t cook and serve meat that’s been sitting out for 3 hours – food poisoning is no fun!

If the steak or other meat has been left out overnight, then the risk of getting sick from it is considerably higher.

You should also be aware that foodborne illness is most likely to occur in young children or older adults. Anyone who has a compromised immune system is also at risk. And if these individuals do get sick, they may experience more severe symptoms that may even require them to be hospitalized.

Food poisoning isn’t something that you want to happen to either you or your loved ones. That’s why it’s a good idea to throw away meat if it has been kept at room temperature for too long.

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How to Store Raw Meat to Maintain Freshness?

Here are the top tips that you should follow to ensure that your steak and other perishable foods are safe as possible:

Refrigerate or Freeze Immediately

The moment that the meat is brought home from the grocery store or butcher, it goes in the fridge.

If you are planning on cooking the steak within the next couple of days, then you can refrigerate it in its original packaging. Otherwise, place the meat in an airtight container in the freezer. Unless it’s stored in Cryovac, the packaging from the grocery store is not airtight. Your meat will get freezer burn quickly. Best to store it in an airtight container.

How to Store Steak

Fresh steak can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days before it needs to be frozen or cooked.

While steak is still safe to eat for 3 to 5 days after purchasing, I would suggest using the meat no more than two days after you have brought it home. Fresh meat tastes, well, fresher. The sooner you cook that steak up after you buy it, the better it’ll taste.

What about freezing? Technically, you can store steak in the freezer indefinitely. But if you cook up a steak that’s been in the freezer for 2 years, I’m not eating it.

The longer that the steak is frozen, the more the texture and taste can change. For the best results, I would say that you should only keep the beef in the freezer for about a month and no longer than 6 months.

Pro tip: write the date that you refrigerated or froze the meat on the container. This way, you know when you will need to use it. Genius!

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Maintain Freezer and Refrigerator Temperature Properly

Your freezer should be set to 0°F, and your refrigerator should be between 35°F and 38°F.

A lot of people fail to realize that the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer can fluctuate quite a bit.

This is especially true if you keep the doors open for a long period or if you open and close them quite frequently. Try to avoid leaving the doors open and frequent opening and shutting. You’re letting warm air into the fridge, and you could be shortening the shelf life of your food.

The other mistake that you should avoid is putting hot food into the refrigerator or freezer. While warm food is fine, very hot food can raise the temperature inside the fridge and compromise the safety of other foods.

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two types of steak placed on a table

How to Refrigerate Cooked Meat Safely?

Once your steak is cooked, you’ll want to store any leftovers in the fridge. Again, don’t let cooked meat sit out for longer than 2 hours – I like to refrigerate leftover food as soon as people are done eating. Place the beef in an airtight container, wrap it in foil, or stick it in a baggie. Into the fridge it goes!

The cooked steak will stay good for 3 to 4 days in the fridge.

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Defrosting Raw Steak Safely

As with fresh steak, you can’t leave frozen steak out on the countertop for more than two hours.

It is best to thaw the steak in the refrigerator. This will take longer than other methods but thaws the meat evenly.

If you want to speed up the process, consider using a cold water bath.

This is where you place the meat in cold water. (I use my sink with the stopper.) The water has to be cold – never use lukewarm or warm water.

Also, make sure that the steak is in airtight wrapping. The meat shouldn’t make contact with the water.

Let the steak sit in the cold water bath for half an hour. Then throw out the water and refill the bath with more cold water. Continue to do this every half an hour until the steak is fully defrosted.

This should take up to 2 hours, depending on the size of the steak. One hour in the cold water bath per pound of meat is a general rule of thumb. 

If you defrost a steak using the cold water method, cook it once its thawed – you can’t store it overnight in the fridge or freeze it after this. Cooked leftovers that were defrosted with the cold water method can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Small cuts of steak can also be defrosted in the microwave, but I’d advise against it. Some spots may start cooking. Microwave defrosting is uneven, and steak is expensive. In my opinion, it’s better to defrost in the fridge or in water.

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it – you know how long steak can sit out at room temperature. Steak can sit out for 2 hours at normal temperatures and 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90°F. It’s best to refrigerate steaks (and all meats) until you’re ready to cook them.

Use this information wisely to ensure that you and your family will always be safe when eating steak!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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