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I have 3 porterhouse steaks sitting in my refrigerator that I need to cook up tonight. I've been told leaving them out for an hour and salting them a half hour before cooking is the way to do it. However scheduling conflicts dictate that I either leave my steaks sitting out for an hour and a half to two hours, or eat at 9 o'clock at night.

Will the steaks be ok being left out that long? or will I need to just suck it up and eat a late dinner?

Note: my apartment is usually kept at around 70-75 degrees.

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Another option would be to use the Cooks Illustrated method -- put the steaks in the oven, and let them warm up to 90 degrees. Then sear the outside. This requires only 15 minutes out of the refrigerator. tinyurbankitchen.com/2009/09/… –  Martha F. May 10 '11 at 11:59

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Even if you just pull them out for about 30 minutes once you get home that will be better than not letting sit out at all. The main benefit is that it will cook easier and you'll have a natural gradation from brown to pink on the inside rather than the gray color that often occurs. I myself don't typically pull meat out an hour before cooking it.

But

As long as they haven't previously been sitting out for an extended period of time, most likely you'll be ok for 1 1/2 hours since the steaks will be cold when set out. Make sure that they remain tightly wrapped/covered to minimize exposure to air.

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I suppose, in the end, this is more a question of how you like your steak cooked. If you like it rare, then you probably won't want it out very long in the first place. If you like it well done, then really you can leave it out for hours and it's not going to make much difference.

For the elusive medium, you have to have the steak around room temperature, or the inside is going to cook too slowly. That'll leave you with the involuntary medium-well, or a band of "under done" meat.

So judge based on the ambient temperature, not arbitrarily by time. Sitting beside the grill for 5 minutes in the summer in the south will bring your steak up to an acceptable temperature. On the other hand, if your house is 50 degrees year round though, it can probably sit on the counter for a while without danger.

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Good answer. Just a note that if you want that band of raw meat in the middle, like what's sometimes called a "black and blue" steak (black on the outside, raw on the inside), you should definitely throw it on the pan or grill while it's still cold! –  Harlan Aug 2 '10 at 20:09
    
@Harlan: That's pretty much how I like it, actually. Fridge to plate in 10 minutes or less. Why buy steak if you're going to cook it to death? Might as well have a hamburger, and save a buck. –  Satanicpuppy Aug 2 '10 at 20:14
    
50 degrees year round? That sounds miserable. I'd die. –  hobodave Aug 2 '10 at 20:37
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@hobodave: It's been 100+ here all week with 100% humidity. I feel like I could live in a walk-in freezer, no problem. –  Satanicpuppy Aug 2 '10 at 22:06

Two hours is pushing it. It should be ok, but I never recommend letting one sit for more than an hour. If you can lean towards 90 minutes, do that. Two hours is the absolute maximum.

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If I forget to get steaks out the freezer and am in a hurry, I microwave them in tightly sealed plastic for a minute on each side, and then broil/grill.

If the steaks are already at least thawed to fridge temperature, leave them out for a shorter time on the counter, or even put them in the oven at 150 before broiling/grilling.

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Microwave food in plastic??? And then grill it and Eat it?? I think that is one of the stupidest things I see people do. And than they wonder why they get cancer and other illnesses. –  user6057 May 9 '11 at 20:40
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@Eric: Microwaving warms the steak from the inside, so it's a very good way to warm something thoroughly -- thus practical, not stupid. And the microwave-plastic-cancer link is an urban legend. –  dancek May 9 '11 at 22:02
    
@dancek: Speaking of tall tales, microwaves heat from the outside. Sit down and think about it for a moment: last time you microwaved something a little too much, was it the outside that overcooked or the middle? When you defrost something, does the outside or the inside defrost first? –  derobert May 10 '11 at 22:51
    
@derobert: Microwaves heat both from the outside and the inside. Microwaves consist of photons. They travel until they hit a particle and transform their energy to the particle's kinetic energy, also called heat. Now, it's more probable to hit a particle near the surface than deep inside [cookable thing], but the microwaves do penetrate food (it's just a matter of probability distribution). The result is that thinnish objects, such as steaks, do cook rather uniformly -- not entirely uniformly, but more than otherwise. –  dancek May 11 '11 at 6:58
    
@dancek: Ovens heat (at least partially) with photons (in the infrared range) as well. So photons don't make a microwave special. But microwaves are at a very different wavelength, and quick Googling tells me the penetration depth is 10–20mm. So I suppose that for steaks, assuming proper alignment, you are indeed correct. –  derobert May 11 '11 at 22:37

The official time for food to be left out before it is considered unsafe to eat is 4 hours.

http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/fdd/fdd_fs_foodservice.htm

However like all government guidelines, this certainly takes into account a large margin of error. Your steaks will still be safe resting after an hour and a half outside the fridge. Personally I leave my thick steaks out for two hours to come to room temperature.

It is however preferable to salt your meat as far ahead of time if you can manage it.

http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/03/the-food-lab-more-tips-for-perfect-steaks.html

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This. Health regulations in most countries allow 4 hours as that's the amount of time it takes for bacteria to grow to dangerous levels. Note that freezing preserves bacteria and doesn't kill them, so this is the total time that steak can be safely left warm. –  Muz Nov 12 '13 at 13:33

I have never had a problem leaving steaks out for 2 hrs. Nice room temp steak before the BBQ makes nice juicy perfectly done medium rare steaks. People worry WAY too much about bacteria. Wash hands before touching them. If your steak goes bad in 2 hrs then it was bad to begin with.

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