Brown Spots On Steak: Does This Mean It’s Spoiled?

November 3, 2022

Have you been throwing out meat that has developed brown spots? You may have been assuming the meat has gone stale but you could be wrong. For years, I threw out any meats that had changed color however slightly.

I only realized I was wrong after joining culinary school. Brown spots on steak do not automatically mean your steak has gone bad.

They may however be a good sign that the steak needs to be cooked and consumed as soon as possible or at least frozen to prevent any further chemical changes from taking place. Let’s take a deeper look at what those spots mean.

Brown spots on steak

Why Does My Steak Have Brown Spots?

Raw beef contains myoglobin, a natural protein found in meats that is responsible for the near purple coloration 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 temperatures at the point of packaging allow the meat to retain this color but the longer the meat remains refrigerated and not frozen, the more it is exposed to oxygen.

When oxygen reacts with myoglobin the meat will slowly turn red and then brown. This process is called oxidation. The color indicates that your meat is going through oxidation.

How Can I Prevent Brown Spots On Steak?

Oxidation that has already occurred cannot be reversed but it can be prevented by ensuring you preserve 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 5 days after buying it. At a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit, oxygen will not react with myoglobin to form metmyoglobin which appears as the brown patches you see on the meat.

Refrigerating raw meat can maintain the normal color of beef for up to 5 days but it may begin to turn brown earlier.

Raw meat packed in plastic wrap or butcher paper will begin to turn red and then progressively turn brown after just three days unless it is frozen.

To avoid this, cook raw steaks within three days. If oxidation continues, the meat will eventually spoil and you will have to throw it out.

Raw Marbled Ribeye Steak and Spices

Why Is Steak Red?

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 intense in chicken and pork but it’s what gives the meat the lovely pink color we associate with freshness.

What Is The Best Way To Store Raw Steak?

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 – 5 days. At times, raw steaks can last for up to 7 days but you should consider cooking them at this point.

Freezing meat cools the meat down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, meat can remain safe to eat for 6 – 12 months.

Ensure the steaks are tightly sealed to prevent freezer burn if you want to store them for a long time.

Related Reading

How Long Can I Keep Raw Steak In The Fridge?

Raw steaks can be kept in the fridge for 3 – 5 days.

Can I Cut Off The Brown Spots?

I would advise against it. You will only be wasting good steak if you cut off the areas of your steaks that have turned brown.

When you cook or grill steaks they will turn brown anyway so do not discard perfectly good steaks unless you are certain that they are unsafe to consume.

Is My Steak Spoiled If It Has Brown Spots?

Not necessarily.

Meat that has turned brown only indicates that oxidation has occurred on those discolored areas. Oxidation is not the same as contamination.

That said, 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, therefore, the meat is susceptible to bacterial growth.

As soon as the brown patches appear, grill the meat. It is still safe to eat.

Raw Beef Steaks

How Can I Tell If My Steak Is Spoiled?

Ground beef or raw meat that is rancid is incredibly 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.

Signs That My Steak Is Spoiled

Your steak is bad if:

  • It has a foul smell
  • Is slimy or sticky surface when you touch it
  • It has a dry texture
  • Has yellow, white, dark gray, or green patches. These indicate mold or yeasts are growing on the surface.

Are Brown Spots On Beef Bad?

No. Brown patches are not bad and your steaks are still safe to eat as long as there are no other signs of spoilage such as a pungent smell or a slimy texture.

The brown patches indicate that the myoglobin in your steaks is reacting with oxygen in the air to form metmyoglobin which is brown in color.

The oxygen will also facilitate bacterial growth as time passes which is why you should cook the meat once the brown color shows up. If you don’t, it will soon start to spoil and you will have to discard the entire chunk of meat.

Other Causes Of Oxidation

  • When you marinate steaks to add flavor you may trigger the oxidation of your steaks.
  • Salt and curing spices can cause oxidation.
  • Refrigerating raw steaks for longer than the recommended five days.
  • Bacterial growth can cause oxidation and change the color and flavor of the meat.
  • This problem can arise when meat is left at room temperature for too long before cooking it. Fresh meat may have been in the grocery store for a couple of days. If you keep it for hours on the counter, it may begin to oxidize forming brown patches.

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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