Why Does Steak Turn Gray? [Causes & Solutions]

Steak is a delicious protein that comes in all shapes and cuts. One universal sign of a good quality steak is a deep red color. However, you may sometimes find your steak grey before or after cooking it. So, why does steak turn grey?

Raw steak turns grey when the iron particles of the steak’s myoglobin react with oxygen. As a result, the myoglobin turns to metmyoglobin, and the steak develops a greyish color. Cooked steak is also sometimes gray, resulting from improper cooking practices, such as using low heat for cooking.

why does steak turn gray

Is grey-colored steak safe to eat? This article will discuss why raw and cooked steak is sometimes gray. We will also discuss whether a gray steak is safe to eat and how to prevent your steak from turning gray. While gray steak isn’t necessarily bad, it doesn’t look as delicious as a beautiful red steak. 

Why Does Steak Turn Gray?

We’ve all been led to believe that a bright red steak is a sign of quality. However, this isn’t always true. Some cuts of steak, such as flank steak, naturally have more myoglobin (the compound that gives the steak a bright red color when exposed to oxygen) than other cuts. 

Although bright red steak doesn’t mean good quality steak, gray steak never looks appetizing, whether raw or cooked. So, what causes the gray color?

Why Does Raw Steak Turn Grey?

Most steak has a deep purple or red color before it is exposed to oxygen and then develops a brighter red color in the presence of oxygen. 

However, some steak cuts don’t have as much myoglobin and won’t be as bright red. In addition, steak vacuum-packed steak isn’t exposed to oxygen and has a deeper reddish-brown color. 

But what you also might notice is a slightly gray-looking steak. This is because steak turns gray when exposed to oxygen for longer. 

Myoglobin contains high amounts of iron, which reacts to oxygen over time. In this case, the myoglobin turns to metmyoglobin, which has a gray color. 

Therefore, gray steak isn’t necessarily an indicator that the steak is of poor quality. Instead, it simply means that the steak has been exposed to oxygen for a while. 

This is also why frozen steak sometimes turns gray, especially if left in the store packaging.

Store packaging has micro holes in the plastic wrap to allow for airflow. This gives the steak the signature bright red color when packaged, making buyers keener to purchase it. 

However, because the plastic wrap isn’t airtight, it can also cause the steak to become freezer burned and turn gray along the edges. 

Why Does Cooked Steak Turn Gray?

Regardless of the color of the raw steak, the steak can also turn gray once cooked. This is unfortunate, as gray steak doesn’t look as appetizing as charred steak. However, cooked gray steak is the result of improper cooking techniques. 

The steak turns gray when the cooking temperature is too low or when the steak’s surface is wet when it enters the pan. 

When this happens, the steak steams rather than grills. In this case, the steak will have a gray surface and won’t be charred on the outside. 

In addition, overcooking your steak can also cause it to develop a grayish color on the inside. 

This is a real shame as overcooked steak becomes tough and tasteless. Fortunately, following the proper cooking practices can prevent your cooked steak from turning gray. We will discuss these further later in the article. 

However, before discussing how to prevent your steak from turning gray, there is a more important question to answer. Is gray steak safe to eat?

Is It Safe To Eat Gray Steak?

Based on the text above, you have probably assumed that steak that has turned gray due to cooking is safe to eat. That would be correct, as the grey color of cooked steak doesn’t indicate spoiled meat. 

However, when raw steak turns gray, you might be slightly worried. 

Fortunately, raw gray steak doesn’t necessarily mean that the steak is spoiled. Instead, it can simply show that it has been a few days since the steak was packaged. 

However, since gray steak means it was exposed to oxygen for a lengthy period, it’s best to check for signs of spoilage. 

For example, if the steak has a foul smell or you notice a slimy or sticky layer on the steak, you shouldn’t cook or eat it. In this case, the steak has started to spoil, and it isn’t safe to eat. 

In some cases, you may purchase an air-dried steak. This steak might also have a grey color because it has been exposed to oxygen for a particular time. 

But air-dried or hanged steak shouldn’t show any other signs of spoilage. 

Air-dried steak develops more intense beefy flavors and has a delicious taste despite the grayish color. 

To be safe, always inspect a gray steak for signs of spoilage. Don’t eat if you suspect the steak has started to spoil. 

Now, you might have one more question regarding gray steak: how to prevent the steak from turning gray.

How To Prevent Steak From Turning Gray

You can’t do much to prevent the uncooked steak from turning gray. Raw steak will eventually turn gray when exposed to oxygen. Therefore, the only way to prevent raw steak from turning grey is to package it in airtight packaging, such as a vacuum-sealed bag. 

In addition, we would advise you to cook the steak soon after purchasing it to ensure the freshest steak still has a beautiful red color. 

Although there isn’t much you can do to prevent a raw steak from turning gray; you can do plenty to prevent your steak from turning gray when cooked. 

Because gray steak results from improper cooking techniques, you can avoid a gray steak by cooking it correctly. These are some tips for preventing grey steak. 

Steak turns gray when cooked because the grill’s temperature is too low. This causes the steak to steam rather than grill, and the steaming process causes your steak to turn gray. 

Therefore, the tips below will help to ensure your grill is hot and the steak chars rather than steams. 

  • Don’t cook your steak straight out of the fridge. A cold steak will lower the grill’s temperature, resulting in a longer cooking time and an unevenly cooked steak. To prevent this, remove your steak from the fridge before cooking it and allow it to come to room temperature. 
  • Ensure the steak’s surface is dry before cooking it. Excess moisture on the steak’s surface will result in the steak steaming rather than grilling. This will cause the steak to turn grey as it cooks and prevent it from having grill marks. 
  • Use a red-hot grill for cooking steak. You don’t want to cook your steak on low heat as this will cause it to steam or cook unevenly. Therefore, ensure your grill is red hot before placing your steak on it for a beautifully charred steak. 
  • Don’t overcook the steak. Another reason cooked steak turns gray is that the steak is overcooked. Never cook a steak to more than medium, or the steak will be grey and tough in the center. The internal temperature for steak is: rare (120 – 125°F); medium-rare (130°F); medium (140°F); medium-well (150°F). 

Following these steps will ensure your steak doesn’t turn gray when cooked, and you will have a beautifully charred and deliciously juicy steak. 

Final Word

Raw steak turns gray when exposed to oxygen for a longer period, such as a couple of days. Gray steak is safe to eat if there aren’t any other symptoms of spoilage, such as an unpleasant smell. 

However, you cannot prevent a raw steak from turning gray, and you should cook it soon after purchasing it.

Cooked steak turns gray when the grill’s temperature is too low, and the steak steams rather than grills. Gray cooked steak is perfectly safe to eat but doesn’t look as appealing or taste as good. 

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent your steak from turning grey as it cooks. 

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