How to tell if Steak is Bad? (6 Signs)

If you’ve kept your steak in the freezer for a few days, it’s important to check for spoilage signs before cooking.

There’s nothing like a juicy, perfectly grilled steak. The combination of texture, taste, and aroma is enough to entice anyone. That’s why the last thing you want is to open your freezer to take out your steak—only to find that it has spoiled. If you’re not sure how to tell if steak is bad, you can take a look at these helpful tips. Let’s dive in!

From stinky meat to slimy surfaces – the following troublesome characteristics are a must-know for grill masters.

Here’s a helpful video I found.

Table of Contents

Steak is slimy

Slime is grim in any situation, but it’s also a bad sign if it’s on your steak.

If your steak is bad, it will appear slimy and slippery to the touch. You’ll notice sheen on the meat surface, and the slime may have a yellow hue when it catches the light.             

This slimy sheen is a bacteria buildup and is a telltale sign that your steak has gone rancid. If you leave a slimy steak out, mold will form on its surface within a couple of days.

You should make sure to inspect your steak for slimy patches before cooking.

Steak is discolored

Discolored steak can be off-putting, but it doesn’t always mean that your steak is bad.

The color of steak is the result of two different proteins: myoglobin and hemoglobin. Myoglobin is in meat muscle and gives fresh steak its red color, whereas hemoglobin is found in the blood.

Once an animal is slaughtered and its meat is exposed to the air, chemical reactions occur between these two proteins and oxygen. During this process, the steak’s color goes through different stages until it reaches a state of chemical equilibrium.

The first stage occurs after your steak is sliced. This stage has a purple-red color and is the result of the reaction of myoglobin with oxygen.

The second stage has a cherry-red hue. You will notice this after 30-minutes of exposure to the air.

The third and final stage occurs three days later. At this stage, the myoglobin has oxidized completely and becomes “metmyoglobin”. This makes the steak appear brown and less appealing than a steak with a bright red color. However, the quality or safety of the meat at this stage is perfect.

This is a general timeline, but this process may occur faster or slower depending on different factors – such as the animal’s age, the species, and what it was fed. Exposure to light or freezing temperatures can also stimulate the darkening process.

So, color changes may not indicate a spoiled steak. It is a natural process caused by exposure to oxygen.

However, if your steak is significantly dark and displays other signs described in this guide – it’s time to throw it away.  

It’s past its expiration date

Most people get confused about the difference between “sell-by” and “use-by” dates – especially if they have stored the steaks in the freezer after purchase. 

The “use-by” date tells you how much time you have to cook or freeze the steak before it gets spoiled. So, if the use-by date is 1st March, you’ll need to throw the steak on your grill or chuck it in your freezer by that date to keep it from going bad.

On the other hand, the “sell-by” dates tell the butcher how long they can keep the steak on the shelf for sale. This provides you a reasonable amount of time to cook or freeze your steak after you bring it home before it becomes spoiled.

If you choose to freeze the steak, you should do that a day or two before its use-by date. This is because you need to give it some time to freeze and thaw without crossing the use-by-time window.

Here’s a good example:

If your raw steak has a use-by date of 1st March, it’s good practice to put it in the freezer by 28th February. This way, once you take your steak out of the freezer, you’ll have up to 48 hours to thaw it before it starts to spoil.

If the store packaging or your local butcher doesn’t give you a use-by date, you should keep your fridge your steak refrigerated for 2-5 days before use. If you decide to freeze your steak, be sure to write the date of freezing on the bag.

According to the FDA, you can freeze steak for 6-12 months before \itss quality begins to deteriorate.

Steak Smells like Cheese

If you want to learn how to know if steak is bad, rely mainly on your sense of smell. If it smells rancid and rotten, discard it right away. You may notice that steak smells like cheese when it’s cooking. This happens to dry-aged steaks from the lactic acid that is produced from the dry-aging process. This may cause a smell and taste that is similar to blue cheese.

As long as your steak is cooked to the right temperature, 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and without excessive clarified butter, your steak is safe to eat. The right temperature will also kill any harmful bacteria.

Steak is Juice-less and dry

Another indicator that your steak is bad is dryness. Does your steak feel dry or look shriveled and dehydrated?

If your steak is juiceless and dry, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get sick if you eat it. However, dry steaks have poor texture and flavor once cooked.

If you keep your steaks in the freezer, you can prevent them from drying by packing them in a vacuum-sealed bag. This will contain all the juices for natural moisture and eliminate exposure to any bacteria that may be present.

If you’re not freezing the steak but want to refrigerate it, you should wrap it in a cling-film or in a sealed container to preserve its moisture.

It smells bad

For most people, the smell of fresh raw meat isn’t exactly appealing – but it shouldn’t smell offensive.

Fresh red steaks have a light bloody or metallic smell. This scent isn’t overpowering, and you will have to place your nose very close to the steak to smell it.

On the other hand, if your steak has gone rancid, it will have a strong odor that smells sour, or like eggs or ammonia. This smell is unpleasant enough to make you recoil and may make you feel sick!

That said, some dry-aged steaks naturally have a cheese-like smell due to lactic acid that is released during the dry-aging process.

So, if you have a dry-aged steak, the odor isn’t the most effective way to determine if it has spoiled. You can check for other signs we have shared to gauge whether it is safe to eat.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know what to be wary of, you should feel confident that you can distinguish a good steak from a spoiled one.

If the steak is past its use-by date, dry, slimy, or has an offensive odor – it’s destined for the trash and not your grill.

The discolored steak looks unappetizing, but it isn’t necessarily a bad steak. If the meat is dark and combined with other signs of spoilage, then it’s likely past its best.

To keep your steak fresh, be sure to store it correctly. If you decide to freeze your steak, pack it in a vacuum wrapper and put it in the freezer for some time. Don’t forget to note the date on the vacuum wrapper for future reference.

So, What do you think? Have you had the misfortune to taste a spoiled steak? Let us know in the comments below, as we’d love to hear from you!

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you eat a spoiled steak?

If you eat contaminated meat, you’ll end up with food poisoning. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal issues. Certain strains of bacteria found on spoiled meat are known to cause bloody diarrhea. Consult a doctor if your health doesn’t improve in a day or two.

Is brown steak bad?

Brown steaks should be fine. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s normal for fresh meat to change color during storage. On the other hand, spoiled raw meat often has other spoilage signs present. These may include an off odor, a sticky or tacky feel, and a slimy appearance.

Is grey steak bad?

If the steak is not exposed to oxygen, it changes to a grey-brown hue. But that does not mean it has gone bad. Frozen ground beef may also turn gray, but it is safe to eat if stored properly.

Why does my fresh steak smell like cheese?

This can occur in the slow cooking of meat (pork, beef, and probably lamb) because the low temperature doesn’t kill off lactobacillus-type bacteria (the ones used in making buttermilk, yogurt, and cheese). This bacteria is harmless, but it may give your steak a ‘stinky cheese’ odor.

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