How Long to Leave Steaks Out Before Cooking? A Home Cook’s Guide

April 25, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Here’s the deal – leaving your steak out before cooking isn’t worth it. I know, this is controversial, as everyone says that this helps steaks brown and cook evenly. But this is just a myth.

I used to believe this myth until a friend challenged me to a cookoff. I was surprised when we compared steaks. The one that was fresh out of the fridge tasted identical to the one sitting out (and they had the same level of browning).

I’ve taken a closer look at this old wife’s tale below, as well as alternatives to this method.

how long to leave steaks out before cooking

How Long to Leave Steaks Out Before Cooking?

Steaks are big chunks of protein, so the inside is colder than the outside. With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that most people think that leaving them out at room temperature allows them to cook better.

However, leaving a steak out for an hour or two barely raises its internal temperature. You’ll have to leave your steak out for several hours if you want to make a difference, which is unsafe.

Also, there’s a misconception that a cold steak won’t brown that well. This isn’t true either. Cooking a steak immediately from the refrigerator has no impact on the Maillard reaction.

I’ve touched on the reaction in the section below, but it’s basically the browning stage that meat goes through when exposed to high heat.

So, why does everyone think that leaving steak to reach room temperature changes anything? Well, it’s a tip that professional chefs have been propagating.

Look at this Bobby Flay article on how to get a perfectly cooked steak. It mentions leaving your meat at room temperature as a top tip.

You don’t have to take my word for this – Max the Meat Guy (home cook YouTuber) posted a video on how a steak cooks the same way even if it’s cold.

You might be wondering whether the above is true regardless of whether you’re using a grill or skillet, or if you’re cooking other meats, like fish and chicken.

For How Long Should You Dry Brine Steak?

Although keeping your steaks out to rest before cooking won’t achieve anything, there is a technique called dry brining that actually works.

You need to pat your steak down with salt, then let it sit somewhere cool before hitting the cast iron skillet.

Follow these steps:

  • Thaw your steak
  • Pat it dry with paper towels
  • Season the steak’s surface generously with coarse kosher salt and pepper (do this on both sides and the corners)
  • Leave steak in the refrigerator
  • Climatize it on a rack before putting it in a pan on high heat

Ideally, you should let it rest with the salt for 2 days. If you’re in a hurry, an hour minimum is fine.

If you know anything about the Maillard reaction, you’ll be aware that this will leave you with a crispy exterior.

It takes some simple science to understand why.

The salt will pull out any water, which would tighten your steak and enable the proteins and sugars to brown at high temperatures. This will also create complex compounds called melanoidins, which will help with flavor.

That’s not all. The salt will seep into the protein fibers deep inside and trap moisture so that you end up with a juicier piece of meat.

How Long to Leave Steak Before Cutting?

Up until now, we were talking about leaving steaks out before cooking. What happens afterwards? You should definitely leave them out to rest. A professional chef would tell you to do this if you want a perfect steak.

Letting a steak rest gives it time to reabsorb its juices. If you were to cut it right after you took it out, you’ll be left with a dry piece of meat. As Anthony Bourdain once said, don’t poke or even be tempted to go near it!

Not only would you be left with a dry piece of meat, but the steak wouldn’t be very flavorful. This is far from the perfect medium rare steak that you probably wanted.

The bigger the steak, the longer you should let it rest.

Here’s a good rule of thumb – rest the meat for 5 minutes per inch of thickness.

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Answered below are some popular questions.

How Long Can Raw Steak Sit Out?

Raw steaks can only be left out for about 2 hours. If you’ve accidentally left your steak out for longer, immediately throw it out. This is not my advice, but the FDA’s.

On the flip side, you might be wondering how long you should leave steak in the fridge. You can leave raw steak in the refrigerator for around 5 days maximum.

No surprise, it will last longer in the freezer: for about 6-12 months.

To be on the safe side, there are a couple of things you can do when storing the meat.

The most important factor is the way your steak has been packaged. It needs to be wrapped securely enough so that it doesn’t leak. Use plastic – butchers’ paper tends to leak easily.

Another major point is where in your refrigerator your steak should be stored. Whatever you do, avoid the top shelf. If the juices do leak out, they’ll drip and contaminate everything that’s underneath it.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, leaving steak out at room temperature before cooking does nothing. The best thing you can do when cooking steak is actually dry brining (and making sure you add butter, seasoning or some olive oil into the pan).

The dry brine would cause the Maillard reaction to kick in, and help with the browning and evaporation stage.

Now you’ll be more aware about why you don’t need to let raw meat rest at room temperature, and even how risky it can be.

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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