Brown spots on steak do not automatically mean your steak has gone bad – they are a sign of oxidation, which happens to meat proteins are exposed to air. These spots are a sign that the steak should be frozen or cooked and consumed as soon as possible to prevent any further chemical changes from taking place.
For years, I threw out any meats that had changed color however slightly. I only realized I was wrong after joining culinary school. My instructors in school clued me in on the truth that oxidized steak is okay to eat. They also armed me with the intel on what spoiled steak looks like – which I’ll cover!
Let’s take a deeper look at what those spots mean, what to do about them, how to store steak, and more!
When oxygen reacts with myoglobin (a protein in meat), the meat will slowly turn red and then brown. This process is called oxidation. The color change indicates that your meat is oxidizing.
All cuts of beef contain myoglobin. It’s a natural protein found in meats. Myoglobin is responsible for the near-purple color of freshly processed meat.
When you look at the meat on supermarket shelves, the color is usually a deep red hue – vacuum packaging and very low storage temperatures give the meat this color. The longer the meat remains refrigerated and not frozen, the more it is exposed to oxygen.
Raw meat that is rancid is fairly easy to detect. The fact that it has turned brown is not a good reason to discard it. There are other signs of spoilage. Check the texture and smell to be sure.
Your steak is bad if:
Sell-by dates are also helpful indicators of meat freshness. Steak that’s past its sell-by date isn’t necessarily bad – if it passes the smell and texture test, it should be okay to eat. But it’s best to cook and consume it immediately.
When in doubt, throw it out. Don’t risk getting food poisoning over sketchy meat.
Oxidation that has already occurred cannot be reversed. It can be prevented by ensuring you store your raw steak correctly. Follow the recommended USDA food safety guidelines.
For starters, freeze vacuum-packaged steak if you do not intend to cook it within 3 to 5 days after buying it. At 0°F, oxygen will not react with myoglobin to form brown spots.
Refrigerating raw meat can maintain the normal color of beef for up to 5 days, but it may begin to turn brown earlier.
The best way to avoid brown spots is to cook steak shortly after purchasing. They’ll taste better fresh!
The best way to store raw steaks is to refrigerate or freeze them.
The recommended refrigeration temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. At this temperature, steak can stay safe in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Remember, fresh is best. A steak cooked the day you bring it home from the store will taste better than one that’s cooked 5 days after purchasing.
Freezing meat brings the meat temperature down to 0°F. At this temperature, meat can remain safe to eat indefinitely. But I’d cook it within 6 months for best results. If you cook a steak that’s been frozen for 3 years, I won’t be having any – the taste and texture suffer significantly thanks to freezer burn.
Ensure the steaks are tightly sealed to prevent freezer burn if you store them in the freezer.
Sure, if you find these brown spots unappetizing, feel free to trim them before or after cooking the steak. You can also eat them if you’d like!
Meat that has turned brown only indicates that oxidation has occurred in those discolored areas. Oxidation is not the same as contamination.
But, when steaks turn brown, those brown patches indicate that the meat will begin to spoil soon if it is not cooked. Brown patches mean oxygen is present. Certain bacteria grow and reproduce in the presence of oxygen. The meat is getting long in the tooth and is susceptible to bacterial growth.
As soon as the brown patches appear, grill the meat. It is still safe to eat.
Salt and curing spices can cause oxidation.
Refrigerating raw steaks for longer than the recommended five days can foster brown spots.
Leaving steak for hours on the counter may cause brown patches to form. Don’t leave steak (or any meat) out of the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if it’s about 90°F.
Raw steaks are deep red because of myoglobin. It is a protein found in fresh meat such as beef, pork, veal, and chicken.
The protein is less prevalent in white meats like chicken and pork, but it’s what gives the meat the lovely pink color we associate with freshness.
There you have it – everything you wanted to know about brown spots on steak. They’re caused by meat proteins that are exposed to oxygen. The meat is still safe to eat if it’s not obviously spoiled (smelly, sticky, slimy, etc.). But it’s best to cook and consume it soon.
Steak is expensive, and it’s best when it’s fresh. Even though it may keep for 5 days in the fridge, I try to cook it soon after purchasing. Use any frozen steak within 6 months for best results. Happy grilling!