There's a reason steaks are one of the priciest things on the menu at most restaurants: They are known for being incredibly tender, juicy and mouth-watering, but only if cooked right, that is. A badly cooked steak is a disservice to this very popular meat. When trying your hand at preparing the perfect steak at home, it's best to store steak in the refrigerator until it's time to cook it. Life happens, though, so if a few days go by since you first bought your steak, it's vital that you know not only how long steaks are good for, but also the signs that indicate the meat has spoiled.

To discover how to tell if a steak is bad, rely on the senses you already have: sight, smell and touch.

How Long Can Steak Stay in the Fridge?

It's no surprise that steaks are best cooked fresh; there's just no getting around this fact. However, refrigerating this popular meat to cook at a later date is still a good option. When going this route, steaks can last for three to five days in the fridge. Just be sure that they are properly covered – plastic wrap is best – to prevent any air from getting in and oxidizing the meat.

How to Tell if Beef Is Bad

  1. Sight: Use your sense of sight to determine bad steak color. For example, if steak has changed from the bright red color it originally was when first purchased to a black or green color, this is a sign that the beef is bad. The color change is due to the formation of mold.

    If you notice that your steak has turned brown after being stored in the freezer, it hasn't gone bad; it's simply the result of freezer burn. It may also be gray in color and accompanied with a tough texture. It's still safe to eat, but it won't be as flavorful.

  2. Smell: Rotten steak smell is pretty easy to distinguish. You will know if the beef is ready to be tossed if the smell is unpleasant and rancid enough that it causes your face to scrunch up.

  3. Touch: If you touch your finger to the meat and it's sticky, this is a sign that it's gone bad. A more obvious sign is if you feel or see slime on the meat. Slime is caused by bacteria buildup and means that the meat should be tossed right away.

Why Ground Beef Turns Brown

When ground beef is meant to be browned for different recipes, this is a good thing since you're browning it intentionally. However, you may also notice that the meat sometimes turns brown even before it touches a pan or grill. When this happens, it’s the result of an absence of oxygen around the meat. It should still be safe to eat, so long as it's not past the number of days that ground meat can be safely stored in the fridge, about one to two days.

Steak Smells Like Cheese

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

As long as it’s cooked to the right temperature, 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and without too much clarified butter, the bacteria should be killed off, making your steak safe to eat.

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Sarah is a writer, editor and cat mom. Lover of wine, rom-coms, and all things self-care, she’s inspired by mindfulness and helping others feel balanced in their lives through meditation, self-love and self-care. After all, what's balance without Saturday morning yoga and green juice and a glass of rosé later that evening? She has written for The Greatest, Elite Daily, YourTango, Vital Proteins, among others. To learn more, you can find her at her website sarahkester.com.