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Let me tell you guys a story – the first time I tried steak, it was made out of chicken. I was young, I was naive, and I did not know the joys of a medium-rare steak until much later. Chicken steaks just do not compare, even if they come with pineapples (yes, I like pineapples not just on pizza but in a lot of other savory meat dishes, but please keep reading, I’m not the enemy).
That said, let’s talk about what steaks are and then move on to learning about ways to tell if it’s bad without eating it.
What is a Steak?
Steak is high-quality beef taken from the animal’s hind legs, usually cut in thick slices that are either grilled or fried. They’re then served with sauces, sauteed vegetables, mashed or boiled potatoes, and a whole range of other side dishes depending on what recipe the steaks are made by.
Sometimes the steak itself is marinated in spices and juices for a while before being cooked, and it can also be served as part of other dishes. This cut of meat is often used to make hamburgers and cooked in other dishes because of its high quality and texture.
You can also expect it to make an appearance in barbeques.
How to Tell If a Steak is Good Quality or Not?
Figuring out what kind of steak to buy can be hard, especially if you’re not a fan and are trying out steaks for the first time. Good thing is I’m here to help you make up your mind – first we’re going to talk about the best cuts of steaks out there, and then we’re going to talk about how you judge steak quality. You won’t go wrong with steak shopping after you’re done reading this section!
Checking for Good Quality Steak
You can tell if a steak’s quality is good or bad just by looking at it. The basic thing you need to look out for is whether the meat you’re buying is fresh or not. A few markers on the packaging and on the meat itself can clue you in, and we’re going to talk about them.
- The Packaging: One of the most basic things you need to check is whether the packaging of the meat is high quality or not. No good meat is going to be packed in low-quality materials, with barely legible instructions printed on the cover. Check to see how the meat is packaged if you buy it in the supermarket, and check how the meat is displayed if you’re buying it straight from the butcher. The display shelves need to be clean and sanitary, at least. Let’s see what the steak itself is supposed to look like.
- The Color: Fresh meat, and hence steak, is supposed to look bright red or reddish-brown – if you’re holding meat that’s slightly brown, it might be a few days old and needs to be cooked immediately. On the other hand, meat that’s any other color – like dark brown, green, with grey patches, etc. is supposed to be avoided at all cost – it’s starting to spoil.
- The Marbling: Most steaks have a certain percentage of fat too that looks pale white to pale yellow. White and creamy marbling is ideal, and never buy anything with brown spots on the white. If you notice pale white marbling on the meat, check with the butcher what diet the animal was fed – cattle fed an all-grass diet can have pale yellow marbling. If you have no way of checking what the color is from, avoid meat with pale yellow marbling too.
- Connective Tissue: You can feel the connective tissue on the surface of the meat, and sometimes even see it. It feels rough to the touch, and looks like someone cut the meat with untrained hands or a dull knife – what’s to say they did it in good conditions, then? A good-cut steak will have little to none, and steak with a lot of connective tissue won’t be very juicy or tender.
- The Smell: I’m not telling you that fresh meat is supposed to smell like the meadows the cows grazed on, but it’s certainly not going to smell like how rancid, stinky meat does. Knowing what fresh meat smells like and then knowing the difference between that and old meat can really help you steer clear of any steaks you don’t want to eat!
- Packaging, Use-by, or Sell-by Date: One of the clearest indicators of how fresh the meat you’re holding is, is the date written on the package. The use-by date is simple – you buy the steak with the furthest use-by date since it’ll be the freshest. If you’re looking at packaging with a sell-by date, still go with the furthest date. The sell-by date tells sellers when to sell the meat by so customers still have enough time to cook it later. The packaging date is an indicator of when the steak was packaged, and you should buy one that was packaged as close to the date you’re making your purchase as possible.
The Best Steak Cuts
Some of the best steak cuts are the t-bone, the filet mignon, ribeye, and porterhouse. Different food blogs will tell you one is better than the other, or try to rank them from worst to best – I don’t believe in any of those things.
The simple reason is that all these lists are highly subjective, and in the end, it’s up to you to decide which cut of steak you prefer. What I will do here, however, is to give you a rundown of what some of the best steak cuts are like, so you can decide on your own which one you want to try first.
- Ribeye Steak: One of the most popular kinds of steak, ribeye is taken from the rub section and has a lot of rich marbling. Scotch fillet is the bone-free version of this same cut, but the meat with the bone tastes better. This cut is firm but tender and full of flavor, and a really great option if you want something full of flavor. Porterhouse steak, too, is a thicker version of the ribeye steak.
- Tenderloin or Filet Mignon: This cut of steak is particularly tender because of how little connective tissue there is inside – if you want tender meat, make sure it has as little connective tissue inside as possible. It’s taken from the loin area of a cow and is a great option if you want meat that will melt in your mouth.
- Rump: The rump steak is taken from the backside of the cow and is actually slept on pretty often. This is because it’s not as tender as some of the finer steak cuts, but it makes up for it by being full of flavor and being more substantial than other steaks.
Why is it Important to Know if a Steak is Bad?
A lot of different kinds of food change visibly when they spoil. Milk curdles, rice dishes get this weird smell, bread develops molds and can get hard, but it’s not so easy to tell between spoiled meat or meat that is simply oxidized.
But the thing is, drinking spoiled milk isn’t nearly as dangerous as eating bad steak, even if it’s cooked, and you might end up in the hospital for it. Here are just some of the things that can happen if you accidentally eat bad steak.
You Risk Food Poisoning
Like I said before, you risk food poisoning if you eat bad steak. It might not sound very scary, but food poisoning can either manifest in the form of diarrhea and stomach aches or more extreme things like weakened muscles, dizziness, and blurry vision.
What’s worse is that the bacteria or viruses causing the food poisoning can vary in how dangerous they are. This means that there’s no telling if eating bad meat will end with a stomach ache or with you in the hospital with a saline drip in an effort to get some liquids in your system after severe vomiting.
Here are some of the symptoms of food poisoning according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Bloody vomit and stools
- You can’t keep your liquids down.
- Dehydration – signs include dizziness, dry mouth, extreme thirst, low energy levels, reduced or no urination, and lightheadedness
- High fever
- Extreme pain or cramping in your abdomen
- Frequent vomiting
The Food Will Taste Bad
Not only is the food going to make people really sick, but cooking bad steak isn’t really going to give you the same taste and texture as a steak in its prime – obviously.
The steak will be dry, tasteless, or it can even taste really, really bad. The worst part is that if the steak is just beginning to spoil, the taste might even be masked by all the spices and sauces you eat with it, which is worse than putting a steak in your mouth and immediately knowing something is wrong with it.
It Would be Embarrassing
Let’s not forget how embarrassing it would be for you to talk about how you’re cooking steaks on the weekend and then to put forward bad steak. You’ll look even worse if it’s a family barbecue, and I doubt anyone will want to try anything you eat again – especially if they end up with food poisoning.
You Risk Hurting People
I remember one time I got food poisoning from street food back in 11th grade – the stomach cramps were so bad I didn’t even remember I was scared of injections and didn’t object when they connected me to an IV to ease the pain and get some fluids in me. I had to stay in the hospital for hours, and I didn’t eat that particular dish for well over a year. Even today, I wouldn’t eat it unless it was made in my own kitchen!
I imagine you don’t want to put any of your close friends or family through this ordeal, which is why you need to be educated about not only the best ways to cook steak and all the great recipes but also about all the safety precautions you need to take to make sure the food is safe.
What Causes Steak to Go Bad?
Steak and any other cuts of meat usually go bad because of the airborne fungi and bacteria that land on them and start eating away on the meat. This causes a breakdown of the sugars, proteins, and other components in the meat, as well as releases toxic chemicals in the meat itself.
These toxins give bad meat the slimy, smelly, discolored, and dry appearance that we’ve come to associate with bad steak.
Exposure to these bad bacteria and molds happens when the meat comes into contact with anything carrying these things – even the air. It’s also important that you buy steak from a reputable shop that takes care of cleanliness because these fungi and bacteria can also get to the meat through utensils and handling equipment that was previously exposed to contaminants.
How to Tell if Steak is Bad
Bad steak has a couple of telltale signs that can help you avoid it. Let’s take a look at the kind of steak you should all avoid.
The rancid or bad steak will have a slimy look or feel on the surface. Even if you don’t see any discoloration, running your hands over the meat like this should tell you clearly that something’s wrong with it.
If your steak feels sticky and gooey on the outside and is not the normal, meaty texture, the chances are that it has gone bad and is no longer safe for consumption.
Expiration dates on meat are there for a reason. If your steak is past its use-by date, avoid using it even if you feel like it would be fine. Going to the hospital is not an acceptable price to pay for steak, especially if it tastes a little funny. Because, you know, it’s past its prime.
Now, here I need to make a distinction between the “use by” and “sell by” dates on steaks.
- The use by date gives you an estimate of how long the steak is supposed to last. Make sure you buy steak with a use-by date past the date you intend to cook it. If you must, you can risk eating steak a day or two past its use-by date, but anything past that is off-limits if you want to avoid an expensive visit to the hospital.
- The sell-by date is more of a guideline for the sellers, and it tells them when they need to sell the meat to give the users enough of a window between the purchase and when the steak goes bad. The amount of time the steak will last after that date depends on whether you properly store it or not. Even if you do, I don’t recommend keeping it in your freezer for more than a week.
It’s Dry and Coarse
If steak is starting to go bad, it will dry out and change texture before it starts to get slimy. If you take it out of the freezer and it feels too dry, or if you think something is wrong with the steak, check for other signs of spoilage like discoloration or a bad smell.
In addition to smelling bad, bad steak might be discolored. If your meat is brown, green, yellow, or even a wrong shade of red, you might need to be careful eating it. Bad steak can also have patches of this suspicious coloring, and it won’t become safe to eat if you cut those parts off – the microbes are all over this thing even if you can’t see them.
Some of the color changes in steak are safe, though. For example, the steak will turn from a purplish red color to a cherry red color about half an hour after cutting, and it will turn slightly brown almost three days later. It’s still safe to eat at this point, but if you keep it stored for a long time and see any further color changes, beware.
It Smells Bad
Bad steak is going to smell sour and rancid, to put it short. You might be tempted to argue that even uncooked steak doesn’t smell awesome, but trust me, that’s nothing compared to how awful it smells when it starts going bad.
You will be able to tell immediately if steak is bad or not, but if you’re still skeptical, here’s a litmus test – if it doesn’t smell like how meat is supposed to, and if it makes you grimace, or if the smell outright disgusts you, it’s not going to get any better after you cook it either. Throw that steak away.
How to Tell if Ground Beef is Bad
In case you took steak and turned it into ground beef, don’t panic. But maybe panic a little f you have ground beef sitting in the freezer – it has more surface area and it spoils way more quickly than whole steak does.
Much of the same markers that indicate steak has gone bad also apply to ground beef, so let’s get into it.
Most ground beef is going to be bright red or slightly brown, just like whole meat. But if you see it turning grey, dark brown, or greenish, you need to throw it out immediately. These are the early warning signs of spoilage.
I know, I know, I keep telling you to smell raw meat. It’s evil, but it’s also pretty smart. Besides, if you don’t think a dish is safe to eat, the first thing you do is smell it to check anyway – so why not do the same before you go buy it or cook it?
Spoiled, rotten, or old ground beef is going to have a bad smell. Yes, even worse than raw meat.
The Use-by or Sell-by Date
Check the use-by or sell-by date for ground beef, and keep track of it when you put it in the freezer at home. Never store ground beef for more than two or three days, or make sure it’s thoroughly frozen if you have to.
Fresh ground beef is going to have a firm texture, and it’s supposed to break down the moment you touch it. This isn’t the case with old ground beef that might feel slimy and rancid, either before or after cooking. Anything like that is a major red flag, and that meat is not safe for consumption.
How to Store Steak so it Doesn’t Go Bad
Vacuum Seal It
The best way to store steak in your freezer is to vacuum seal it in a ziplock bag before you do. It’s better than storing it in an airtight container because even the air inside the container can have a lot of contaminants in it, and it might also carry just enough oxygen to let the bacteria on the steak’s surface to claim it before you can.
Vacuum sealing steak in a Ziploc bag effectively removes all the air from the bag, giving little to no opportunity for the steak to go bad.
Don’t Store It For Too Long
Let’s face it – steak or any other kind of food going bad is inevitable, and we can only do so much to delay the process. If you can’t remember when you even put the steak in your freezer, be careful when you eat it.
You can keep track of what’s in your freezer, when it’s supposed to expire, and when you put it in there with the help of a simple three-column list. Even better, stick that list on your freezer door with the help of some magnets, and now you’ll never lose track of the stuff in there.
Can I Dry Age Beef Without it Going Bad?
With all this talk about how to store steaks properly and how easy they are to spoil, you might be wondering how you can dry age beef at home, and if it’s even possible. Well, I’m not going to say that it’s impossible, and you might even know someone who does it.
Be warned though – it’s not really something you can do to individual steaks. You’ll need a much bigger cut, most commonly a rib section. This is because when you dry age beef properly, the outside parts of the meat become completely desiccated and dry and need to be cut off. If you try to dry age an individual steak, you’ll hardly get a single strip of beef left after you cut off the dessicated bits.
Now, let’s talk about the dry aging itself. Once you have your cut of meat, you’ll need to place it in the fridge or a mini-fridge for a few weeks. You can dry age it for a few days too, but there’s really no point since the taste really isn’t that different yet. The real difference happens beyond a month, but it depends on how cheesy and funky you want your beef. There are people who would even say they love beef dry aged for about two months!
So the main point is to properly wash your beef, dry it, and place it in the fridge on a rack after wrapping it in paper. Make sure it stays dry and clean, and keep the air inside the fridge circulating. If you have a mini-fridge that you can dedicate to this process, you can place a small fan inside. It can either be battery charged or you can cut a hole in the insulation on the fridge door to allow the wire to pass through.
The whole point of dry aging meat is to let it sit there to develop flavor through enzymatic reactions, and to let all the moisture drain from it. If you wash the meat thoroughly, don’t let it sit in stagnant air, and make sure that it’s elevated on a rack while it ages and not sitting on a plate, you should be able to get some good quality dry aged beef from the whole project.
How to Cook Steak Properly
Even when it’s not spoiled, eating uncooked or improperly cooked meat is dangerous and harmful. It’s common knowledge that steak isn’t supposed to be well done – overcook a steak, and you’ll be struggling to chew it and ruin its taste and juiciness at the same time.
On the other hand, undercooked steak might feel a little too juicy, which – again – is not a good thing. It’ll also not have the right flavor, but what’s the best way to cook steak then?
Well, the easiest way is to look up the recipe online and follow the instructions precisely. If they tell you to cook a steak for eight minutes on medium flame, make sure it’s not a minute more. This isn’t possible for everyone, though, since every stove is different, and yours might have its own strange measure for what medium means.
I remember the first oven I used in my mom’s house. It was a gas oven that didn’t have any temperature dial, and with time I had to just go by my own gut when setting the right heat levels for cakes and cookies. If you have old cooking equipment like that, here are some signs you’re overcooking or undercooking your steak:
- If you overcook the steak, it will be dry and hard. This makes it hard to chew, and the steak is likely to lose all its texture. If you press down on this steak, it’ll hold and feel hard. Even though this doesn’t make for a good culinary experience, overcooked steak won’t give you food poisoning, at least.
- Undercooked steak, on the other hand, will feel too soft when you press down on it and will be bright red in the center when you cut it. An easy solution to fix undercooked steak is to simply cook it a little more, and eating it is unsafe for you. At the very least, you’ll get an upset stomach, and I can’t imagine it tasting good either.
- A steak that’s cooked just right is supposed to be 75 degrees celsius on the inside. You can check this with a meat thermometer or by following the cooking instructions and simply trusting that you did it right. You can also try pressing down on the steak – it should have some give but should retain its shape when you lift your finger.
FAQs About Steak
Answer: Most people consider the rib-eye steak to be the most flavorful cut of steak, though it also depends on the way you cook it and what you serve on the side.
Answer: Filet mignon is one of the most tender cuts of steak. Even though it’s lean, it’ll still melt in your mouth!
Answer: You can cook a steak in countless ways, but the most popular is to fry it, grill it, and broil it in the oven. A lot of people like to cook it in butter or in stock, and I prefer to grill steaks if I ever want to make the effort of cooking one. The reason is that I tend to overseason my food – I need to constantly be careful not to put too much salt in stuff – and extra seasonings just fall off the steak when you grill it. It’s impossible to get it wrong that way.
Answer: Eating bad steak is likely to give you food poisoning, symptoms of which include extreme stomach aches or cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, dehydration, muscle spasms, dizziness, and high fever. The last thing anyone needs is to end up in the hospital because they ate their favorite food, which is why you need to always be careful about where you eat your steak from, and the state of your steak before you cook it.
Answer: Overcooked steak tends to be a bit firm and not as juicy as steak that’s less cooked. Though it might sound safer to just cook it a bit more so you don’t end up eating raw meat, those kinds of precautions only work in curries, etc. Cooking steak requires precision, accuracy, attention to detail, and quite a bit of science, in fact.
Answer: The most popular thing to have with steak is red wine, though beer is a good choice as well. I wouldn’t know, since I like to eat halal food. In my case, I like to eat steak with cola or with pomegranate juice.
Who doesn’t love steak? Of course, I recommend that you try it if you haven’t yet, and if you’re making it at home, be careful about storage, so it doesn’t go bad.
Make sure to store it in an airtight container or vacuum seal it in a Ziploc bag, and keep track of its use by or expiration date. It would be best to avoid eating it after the date has passed.
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