How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out At Room Temperature

How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out At Room Temperature

I love using relatable anecdotes in my articles, so picture this: you’re in the kitchen, you just got back from the store with a juicy steak for tonight’s dinner.

Suddenly, your friend calls you up, inviting you to a surprise game of soccer down the street. You leave the steak on the counter, figuring, “It’ll be okay for a few hours,” and off you go.

Now, here’s where things get interesting.

When we leave raw steak at room temperature, it’s like we’re rolling out the red carpet for bacteria. Gross, I know, but true.

So, you may be thinking, “But what’s the big deal? It’s only a couple of hours, right?” Well, unfortunately, things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Let’s dive into this sizzling topic!

The main question I often get is this: How long can you leave raw steak out at room temperature? 

Well, raw steak should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. After this time, the risk of bacterial growth increases significantly, leading to potential foodborne illnesses. It is essential to refrigerate raw steak promptly to ensure food safety and maintain its quality.

Before we go on, please note that this article is researched based on the USDA food safety guidelines.

The thing with raw meats, like our steak, is that they’re perishable, which is just a fancy way of saying that they can spoil or go bad pretty quickly.

Imagine a banana left on your kitchen counter. After a few days, it turns all brown and mushy, right?

Raw meats are the same, but the timeline for them is much quicker, and the consequences are much more severe.

You won’t just get a bad taste in your mouth, but you could end up sick in bed, and no one wants that!

Our kitchens, believe it or not, are like playgrounds for bacteria.

When we leave our steak out at room temperature, it’s like we’re inviting bacteria to a party where they can multiply like crazy.

And remember, unlike us, bacteria don’t need an invite to start their party – they’ll start as soon as they get a comfy spot.

How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out At Room Temperature

Here’s a table showing raw steak left out for 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours, and 8 hours.

[table id=47 /]


Here’s What Happens when Raw Steak is Left Out

Alright, now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s dive a little deeper into what happens when our juicy steak is left sitting out, enjoying the room temperature.

First off, let’s chat about this thing called the “Danger Zone.” Now, it’s not a place where you’d find superheroes or villains.

Rather, it’s a term used in the food world to talk about temperatures between 40°F and 140°F (4°C to 60°C). Now, you might be thinking, “What’s so dangerous about that?”

Well, let’s just say, if bacteria could talk, they’d say it’s their favorite hangout spot.

When raw steak finds itself in the “Danger Zone”, it’s like throwing the doors open to bacteria and saying, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

And boy, do they come in. Bacteria multiply faster than you can say “medium-rare”, doubling every 20 minutes or so.

It’s a bit like when you see ants swarm over a dropped piece of candy. Before you know it, there’s a full-blown party going on.

Now, you might be wondering why room temperature is such a big deal. Well, picture this: you’re looking for the perfect place to throw a pool party.

Would you choose a spot where the pool is freezing cold or a place where the water is just right? Bacteria are the same way.

They love room temperature because it’s the perfect environment for them to reproduce. It’s like their dream vacation spot, and raw steak left out is their all-you-can-eat buffet.

How long can you leave raw steak out before cooking?

This is kind of like asking, “How long can you leave ice cream out before it melts?” It’s all about timing and temperature.

So here’s the scoop: You really shouldn’t leave raw steak out for too long before cooking it.


Well, it’s like leaving your bike out in the rain.

It might seem okay at first, but over time, it can start to rust. In the case of steak, leaving it out too long can allow harmful bacteria to grow, and you definitely don’t want that!

If you’re planning on cooking your steak soon, you can leave it out for a little while to let it come to room temperature.

This is like letting your bath water warm up before you hop in – it helps ensure the steak cooks evenly. This process, called tempering, usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

But remember, this isn’t like doing your homework – you can’t leave it until the last minute!

Now, if your steak has been sitting out for more than 2 hours, that’s when things start to get dicey. It’s like leaving your phone in the sun.

Over time, it can overheat and stop working properly. In the case of the steak, harmful bacteria can start to grow, which could potentially make you sick if you eat it.

So if your steak has been out for more than 2 hours, it’s usually best to play it safe and throw it out.

In-Depth Timeline: Steak at Room Temperature

Let’s say the clock just struck one, and you’ve left your steak on the counter. In the first hour, the steak seems chill, right?

Looks can be deceiving! Unseen to the naked eye, bacteria are throwing a small get-together. They’re just warming up, but even in this hour, they’re doubling in numbers.

It’s kind of like when you first arrive at a party – things are just getting started.

Now we move on to the second hour. The steak still seems okay to you and me, but the bacteria? They’re now having a full-on fiesta!

They’re multiplying like crazy, remember their numbers double every 20 minutes. Imagine this: you started with just one bacteria.

By the end of the second hour, you’ve got more than 60 of these invisible party animals!

Alright, it’s been 3 hours now.

The steak? Still seems the same. 

But our bacterial buddies have grown to an army. We’re talking thousands of them, all having the time of their lives.

If you were to take a microscope and look, you’d see a bustling metropolis of bacteria.

The 4-hour mark, ah, this is the big one! You know how in movies there’s always that moment that changes everything? This is it.

By now, the bacteria have not just multiplied, they’ve dominated. It’s their turf now. They’ve set up camp and claimed the steak as their own.

Six hours in, and it’s a risky bet, like playing with a firecracker hoping it won’t go off. We’re way past the safe time limit, and that steak is now a thriving city of bacteria.

It’s about as safe to eat as a rotten egg. Yuck!

Finally, we reach the 8-hour mark. The steak is now a hazardous zone, crawling with millions of bacteria. It’s a dangerous game to even think about cooking it now.

It’s a bit like trying to clean up after a wild party – the damage has already been done.

The Science Behind Bacteria Growth

So now that we’ve seen what happens when our steak plays host to a bacteria bash, you might be wondering, “How exactly do these invisible invaders grow and multiply?”

Well, hold onto your hats, because we’re about to dive into the nitty-gritty world of bacteria growth. And I promise, it’s more fun than it sounds!

First, let’s talk about something called the bacteria growth curve. No, it’s not about how bacteria keep in shape, but about how they grow and multiply over time.

It’s a bit like watching a roller coaster, with ups and downs, twists and turns. There are four stages to this bacteria joyride: the lag phase, the log phase, the stationary phase, and the death phase.

Here’s an illustration of the bacteria growth curve:

How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out At Room Temperature
The bacteria growth curve


During the lag phase, the bacteria are like guests arriving at a party. They’re not doing much yet, just checking out the scene and deciding what to do. They aren’t growing much, but they’re getting ready to party.

The log phase is when things really start to kick into gear. This is the bacteria’s happy hour!

They’re doubling in numbers every 20 minutes, which is like if a room full of people suddenly turned into two rooms full of people, then four, then eight, and so on.

Next comes the stationary phase, where things start to cool down. The bacteria have run out of room and food (yup, they’ve been munching on that steak), so they stop growing.

It’s like when a party gets too crowded and people stop coming in because there’s no more space.

Finally, the death phase. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But it’s just when the bacteria start to die off because there’s no more food left and waste products have built up.

It’s kind of like the end of the party when people start heading home.

Now, you may be thinking, “What does the room temperature have to do with all this?” Well, let me tell you, it plays a huge role! Bacteria are picky guests; they like their surroundings just so.

Too cold, and they can’t party. Too hot, and they start leaving. But room temperature? It’s like the Goldilocks of conditions – just right!

Remember this, the next time you’re thinking of leaving that steak out on the counter. You’re not just leaving it out; you’re setting the stage for a bacteria rollercoaster ride!

Keep that steak cool and safe in the fridge and let the bacteria find somewhere else to party. 

Food Safety Standards and Regulatory Guidelines

Now that we’ve taken a rollercoaster ride through the world of bacteria growth, let’s talk a bit about safety.

After all, we’re not just here for the thrill; we want to keep our tummies happy and healthy, too!

So, let’s take a moment to chat about food safety standards and guidelines, especially when it comes to our juicy steak.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the folks who help us make sure our food is safe, have something to say about raw steak.

They’ve set guidelines, kind of like rules, to ensure we handle our steak properly so that it doesn’t become a bacteria theme park.

One of the biggies is the Two-Hour Rule“. Now, this isn’t like a rule in a game of tag or soccer. This is a serious rule, and breaking it could mean a rough time in the bathroom.

The Two-Hour Rule is pretty straightforward: don’t leave perishable foods, like our raw steak, out at room temperature for more than two hours. Seems simple enough, right?

The USDA and other food safety experts came up with this rule based on how quickly bacteria can grow.

Remember that rollercoaster ride? Bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes. So, after two hours at room temperature, your steak could have a whole lot of uninvited bacterial guests.

But what happens if it’s a really hot day, let’s say over 90°F? Well, things get a bit trickier then. The USDA says to cut that time down to just one hour.

It’s like the bacteria get superpowers in the heat and multiply even faster.

Preventing Foodborne Illness: Safety Measures

How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out At Room Temperature


Alright, we’ve gone on quite a ride so far, haven’t we? Now that we’re aware of the ruckus bacteria can stir up on our raw steak, let’s learn how to keep that steak safe and sound.

Just like a superhero with a plan, we can take measures to prevent foodborne illnesses and keep our stomachs free from pesky bacteria.

The first step to becoming a food safety superhero is proper handling and storage. Think of raw steak as a delicate piece of art. You wouldn’t leave a priceless painting out in the sun, would you?

The same goes for our steak. As soon as you bring it home from the store, into the fridge it goes. Don’t let it sit around. Bacteria are always on the lookout for a good party venue, so don’t give them one!

Now, what if you’ve forgotten about your steak and left it out for a while? It happens, even to the best of us. You might be wondering, “Is it still safe to eat?”

This is where you put on your detective hat and look for signs of spoilage.

First off, does it smell? Not the usual meaty smell, but something off and pungent?

If your steak smells like a stinky sock, that’s a sign the bacteria have had a good party. What about the color? If your steak is turning green or grey, then sorry, it’s time to say goodbye.

And finally, is it slimy or sticky? If yes, then that’s a no-no. Steak should feel wet but not slimy.

Remember, when in doubt, throw it out. It’s better to be safe than sorry. After all, no one likes a foodborne illness. Trust me, it’s like having the flu, but way worse.

Myths and Misconceptions about Raw Steak

Alright, we’re nearing the end of our food safety adventure, but before we wrap things up, let’s take a detour into the land of myths and misconceptions about raw steak.

It’s a bit like stepping into a world of food safety fairy tales, but don’t worry, we’re here to separate fact from fiction.

Now, you’ve probably heard this one before: “If it looks fine, it’s safe.” It’s a common belief, but let me tell you, it’s as misleading as a mirage in a desert.

Remember our journey through the life of bacteria on steak? Those pesky party animals are invisible to the naked eye.

So even if that steak looks as good as the day you bought it, it could be teeming with bacteria if it’s been out for too long.

Next up is the infamous “smell test“. Now, don’t get me wrong, your nose is a powerful tool.

It can detect bad odors and help you decide whether that milk has turned sour or if those leftovers are past their prime. But when it comes to raw steak, it might not be as reliable as you think.

Remember, bacteria are tiny, and they start their party as soon as your steak hits room temperature. They might not make the steak smell bad right away, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

By the time you detect an off smell, there could be millions of bacteria having a blast on your steak.

Watch this:


What If Scenarios: Risk Evaluation

Okay, let’s take a breath, because we’re about to dive into some “what if” scenarios. You know, those questions that pop into your head as you’re about to bite into that steak you’ve left out a bit too long?

Don’t fret; we’ve got you covered!

So, let’s start with the big question: What happens if you eat steak that’s been out for more than two hours?

Well, it’s kind of like walking into a lion’s den wearing a meat suit. You’re likely to run into some serious trouble. The bacteria party we talked about earlier?

Yeah, they’ve had enough time to multiply into millions, and they’re not the kind of guests you want in your body.

Eating steak that’s been out for over two hours could lead to foodborne illnesses like food poisoning, and trust me, it’s not a party you want to attend.

Symptoms can range from stomach cramps and diarrhea to fever and vomiting. Sounds like a nightmare, right?

But let’s not end on a scary note. There are also best-case scenarios, like when is it safe to eat your steak?

Well, the golden rule is the Two-Hour Rule we discussed earlier. If your steak has been out for less than two hours and it’s not a scorching hot day, you’re in the safe zone.

It’s kind of like scoring a goal in the last minute of a game – a victory for your taste buds and your tummy!

Remember, it’s all about time and temperature. Keep your steak in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it and don’t leave it out for more than two hours.

If you stick to these rules, you’ll be dining on delicious, bacteria-free steak in no time.

How Long Can You Leave Raw Steak Out At Room Temperature (Bottom Line)

Alright, folks, we’ve traveled quite a distance, from the depths of bacteria growth to the lofty heights of food safety. It’s been a journey, hasn’t it?

But all good things must come to an end. So let’s take a moment to glance back at the path we’ve tread and wrap things up.

Our journey began with the dynamics of raw steak at room temperature. We found out that raw steak is a bit like a posh club for bacteria.

The moment it hits room temperature, bacteria start multiplying like crazy, turning our steak into their personal dance floor.

Next, we dove deep into the timelines. We learned that the first two hours are like a ticking time bomb. After that, you’re rolling the dice with foodborne illness.

Remember the scary guests we don’t want in our bodies? Yeah, they start getting out of control after this point.

We also became scientists for a while, exploring the life cycle of bacteria, the unseen critters that could cause so much havoc.

And we stepped into the shoes of food safety superheroes, learning how to handle and store steak to prevent bacteria from having a field day.

We busted some myths too. Remember, a steak looking and smelling fine doesn’t mean it’s safe.

And we peeked into some ‘what if’ scenarios, discovering the consequences of breaking the two-hour rule and the joy of when it’s safe to enjoy our steak.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that food safety is no joke. It’s important, folks, really important.

As much fun as we’ve had learning about all this, the key takeaway is simple: respect the two-hour rule and keep that steak in the fridge until it’s time to cook.

Remember, food safety isn’t just about keeping our meals tasty; it’s about keeping us healthy. And that’s a goal worth shooting for.

That concludes this article on how long you can leave raw steak out at room temperature. 

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Can You Cook and Eat Steak That’s Been Left Out Overnight?

Alright, the million-dollar question! Unfortunately, the answer isn’t one you might like. If a steak’s been left out overnight, it’s ventured far beyond the safe two-hour window we discussed. It’s kind of like falling asleep in the sun. Sure, a little sun is great, but too much and you’re in sunburn territory. Except with steak, instead of sunburn, we’re talking about a full-blown bacterial invasion.

Even if you cook it the next day, it won’t erase all the bacteria that have set up camp. High heat can kill bacteria, sure, but some bacteria produce toxins that aren’t destroyed by heat. So, if you eat the steak, you’re running the risk of food poisoning. Long story short, it’s best to play it safe. If you’ve left steak out overnight, it’s better to say goodbye to it.

How Can You Tell If Steak is Bad?

Great question! First off, you can’t always tell steak is bad just by looking. Remember, invisible bacteria can start a party long before your steak starts to look or smell off. However, if your steak has been refrigerated and it’s past its ‘use-by’ date, or if it shows visible signs of spoilage, that’s a different story.

Spoiled steak might change color, turning a greyish brown, or even green. It can develop a slimy or sticky surface and it might smell sour, rancid, or downright disgusting. When you see these signs, it’s a no-brainer; that steak belongs in the trash, not your tummy.

What Happens If You Eat Bad Steak?

Well, it’s not pretty. If you eat bad steak, you’re inviting all those bacteria and their toxins to a party in your digestive system. And trust me, it’s not the kind of party you’d want to host.

Eating bad steak can lead to foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning. You might start feeling sick within hours, or it might take a couple of days. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, including upset stomach, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. In severe cases, you might need to see a doctor or even go to the hospital.

Remember, the best way to avoid food poisoning is to handle and store your food safely. When it comes to steak, follow the two-hour rule and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. Stick to these rules, and you’ll be a food safety superstar!

As a passionate enthusiast of smoking, grilling, and BBQ, Mark has dedicated his life to perfecting the art of outdoor cooking. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has honed his expertise and authority on all things related to meat smoking, grilling, and BBQ. From mastering the perfect cut of meat to choosing the right wood for the smoker, Mark has the knowledge and experience to help you become a pro at outdoor cooking.

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