Red Juice in Steak: What Is It and Can I Eat the Steak?

November 3, 2022

Some meat lovers can’t resist rare steaks. However, some may not be comfortable with the red blood-like liquid dripping from the raw meat during cooking or right out from the package. However, this darker red liquid is not blood. 

What is it exactly? I see this daily at the steak stand, grocery store and almost every time I unpack and grill meat. So in this article, I’ll tell you what red juice in steak is, whether it’s safe, and debunk some silly myths.

red juice in steak

Is the Red Juice in Steak Blood?

No, the red liquid from the steak is not blood!

Okay, it’s hard to believe, but that red liquid is a combination of oxygen, water, and what is called myoglobin

The three elements mix to make a red hue. So there is no such thing as a bloody steak in general. 

So what about the liquid red colored juice found in the meat’s fibers when we cut it?

Well, it’s not blood. It’s myoglobin!

It is a protein found in muscle tissues. Its chemical structure is similar (but not the same) to hemoglobin. 

Myoglobin stores and transports oxygen in the muscle and “inserts” it between the animal’s cells, where it will be consumed by aerobic activity. 

And the blood? It will also be somewhere in the animal, right? Actually, no, the blood is drained immediately after the killing of the animal (the slaughtering). It is almost always one of the very first stages of slaughter. 

The fact is that the blood does not arrive on our plates together with the steak. Some waiters and steak eaters who love rare steaks are fond of referring to rare steaks as undercooked steak dishes with “blood” still in it. 

So, if you want to answer the question “How rare do you like your meat?”, there are those who want it well done and not “very rare,”. There are others who would like their steak to cook as little as possible: “rare for me, thank you.” 

What we call more or less “rare” steak is, in reality, the degree of cooking and on which the color of the myoglobin, which ranges from very light pink to dark brown, depends.

So you could tell your friend who works in the restaurant about this. However, we can still talk about a rare, medium rare steak or well-done steak. It would be a bit weird to order a “myoglobin” or “medium myoglobin” steak but rare, medium rare or well-done steak.

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Why Is Red Juice Only Seen in Steaks From Red Meat?

Meat from cows and pigs, which are categorized as red meat, require more oxygen supply in their muscle tissue. So they contain more myoglobin.

The more active or “in shape” an animal is, the more myoglobin (for transporting oxygen) it needs. The more myoglobin an animal has, the redder or darker their meat are when exposed to air. 

Sliced Tenderloin Steak

Different Levels of Myoglobin According to Ages and Species

Animals with more active muscle tissues, as well as older animals, have more myoglobin. This is the reason why veal (calf) meat has a much lighter color than beef because its muscles have not been used as much. 

However, white meat contains much less myoglobin in general. However, you will notice darker meat on turkey thighs compared to that found in the breast. 

This is a no-brainer. The thighs on a turkey are where muscle tissue is more active. That’s why turkeys are sometimes said to have dark and white meat.  

Finally, note that after a few days, the myoglobin molecules oxidize naturally and the meat browns out. The same air that turns myoglobin to red, turns it to brown after a couple of days due to oxidation and the meat getting drier. 

Also, when meat is exposed to heat, it turns brown. As meat cooks, the myoglobin darkens. Moreover, as meat ages, the tissues break down and the red pigment disappears and turns dark brown.

Is It Safe to Eat Meat With Red Juice?

These meats are safe to eat when cooked to at least medium rare. I even see this as the perfect steak because it’s a sign that the animal is mature before slaughter and that’s how you get a tasty steak.

That red juice is even the source of the steak’s flavor. Remember, I mentioned that red liquid indicates active elements like oxygen, water, and iron. 

In Conclusion

That red liquid leaking from your meat is nothing but protein called myoglobin. It binds iron and oxygen. It’s not blood. The myth is now debunked. Most of the blood is removed during meat processing, and the remaining blood is usually contained in the muscle tissue.

In cooked steak, myoglobin turns from red to brown when cooked. So now you know that when you cook a hamburger, the juice that comes out is not blood.

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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