How Long Can Grilled Steak Sit Out?

Grilled steak can only sit out for so long before the bacteria inside it grows to dangerous levels (and it becomes unsafe to eat).

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Thick-cut steak grilled to juicy, tender perfection is one of America’s favorite summer meals, no doubt about it. Hey, I know it’s one of mine!

If it happens to be one of yours, too, then I’m about to tell you why you should work up your appetite and eat that steak right up shortly after it comes off the grill.

Like all other meats, grilled steak doesn’t stay safe to eat for all that long, especially when left to sit out in the heat of summer.

Make a note of the golden, two-hour rule below and stick to it when you’re eating on the patio with family and friends.

The USDA recommends eating your grilled steak within 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hot outside and the temperature is above 90° F). To prevent foodborne illness, refrigerate any leftovers as soon as you’re done eating.

The reason behind that is simple, and it has to do with the fact that bacteria—those little, microscopic creatures that feed on dead meat and shit toxins—love warmth.

Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureusSalmonella EnteritidisEscherichia coli, and Campylobacter, feed and multiply at their quickest in the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F, which the USDA fittingly calls “the danger zone.”

Leaving grilled steak out too long, particularly when it’s 90 in the shade and the steak itself is exposed to direct sunlight, can cause the bacteria inside it to grow to dangerous levels, giving you food poisoning.

Food poisoning is nothing to joke about, I’ll tell you that. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 get hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illness every year.

If you left that steak out for too long and you can’t be sure about its safety, err on the safe side and throw it in the bin (don’t give it to your dog; it can get sick from eating it, too).

How Long Grilled Steak Lasts in the Fridge

Grilled more steak than you all can eat? Happens to the best of us. Refrigerate it and use it up to make steak salad, Philly cheesesteak, or steak and eggs hash.

Properly stored and continually refrigerated, grilled steak lasts for 3-4 days in your fridge. Refrigeration slows down the growth of pathogenic bacteria but doesn’t stop it, so steak kept for longer than that becomes unsafe to heat.

To refrigerate grilled steak, pat the meat dry with a paper towel or lint-free cloth to soak up the juices, transfer it to a food storage container with the lid shut, and store it on your fridge’s lowest shelf where it’s coldest.

If the steak is too big to fit in that food storage container, debone it, cut it up into halves or thirds, layer them one on top of the other, and separate them with pieces of parchment paper (to keep the juices from the top chunks from making those that are underneath them soggy).

How Long Grilled Steak Lasts in the Freezer

Kept continually frozen, grilled steak stays safe to eat indefinitely. However, it will only retain its best qualities for 4 months. After that time, it will dry out and won’t smell as meaty or taste as savory as it did in its prime.

To freeze leftover grilled steak, seal it in a freezer bag, write down the freezing date, store it in your freezer, and use it within a few months. Cut the meat up into thin strips for easy thawing and no-frills reheating.

The best way to thaw frozen steak leftovers is to transfer them to your fridge the night before you plan to eat them. The next day, reheat them as you’d normally do.

Reheating Grilled Steak

The key to reheating grilled steak is to do it low and slow.

Otherwise, that browned, flavorsome crust on the outside will dry out (or even burn and blacken), coming out about as chewable as a pair of old leather shoes.

For the same reasons, avoid the microwave. It’s great for reheating soups and stews, since they consist mostly of water. Less so for steak (or any other meat, poultry, or seafood for that matter).

In the Oven

The laziest—but also the slowest—way to reheat grilled steak is in the range. Place the steak on a sheet pan with a wire rack. Preheat your oven 250°F for 30 minutes, then pop the steak right in and keep it there for 15-20 minutes.

Why do you need a wire rack, some of you may be asking?

The rack has two functions here. First, it lifts the meat, distributing the heat evenly, so you don’t have to flip it to the other side. Second, it keeps it from soaking in any juices that drip down, so it doesn’t get soggy.

On the Stove

My go-to way to reheat grilled steak, which requires you to lean over the stove, is in melted butter, over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed, well-seasoned cast iron skillet.

Place your skillet on an appropriately-sized burner, set the heat on your stove to medium, and let the metal heat up for 4-5 minutes. Add a lump of butter, as much as your heart desires, and put the steak right in.

Every 15 seconds or so, tilt the pan to one side, scoop that melted butter right up with a spoon, and baste the top of the steak with it. You can also throw in a crushed clove of garlic or two and/or some thyme to infuse a high-end restaurant-like smell and taste to your steak.

Do this for 2-3 minutes on both sides, and you should be done. (Keeping in mind that thicker, bulkier cuts of steak may take a minute or two longer to reheat than this.)

In Summary

DishStorage MethodShelf Life
Grilled steakRoom temperature1-2 hours
Grilled steakRefrigerated3-4 days
Grilled steakFrozen4 months
How long is grilled chicken steak good for?

There you have it, folks. Grilled steak stays safe to eat for 1-2 hours when left out, for 3-4 days in your fridge, and keeps its best quality for 4 months in your freezer before it gets stiff and loses flavor.

And yet there ain’t nothing like a steak right off the grill. So I try to only make as much steak as I—along with the wife, munchkins, and occasionally the next-door neighbors—can eat.

It takes a few tries to get the sizing of the portions right, it sure does. But for best results, I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same.

By Sammy Steen

Sammy, Barbehow's editor, is a die-hard carnivore, barbecue whisperer, and self-proclaimed master of the grill.

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