Why You Should Never Marinate Steak At Room Temperature

Steak without a marinade is like a salad without dressing — not nearly as good. While marinating steak takes longer than just throwing it straight on the grill, which is tempting when you're starving, it is definitely worth the wait. Not only does a good marinade flavor the meat from within, but it completely transforms the texture to a much more tender protein (via Chicago Steak Company). 

One rule of thumb when cooking any type of meat, but especially steak, according to Bon Appétit is to first let it come to room temperature. At room temperature, the meat cooks more evenly and the cooking time is more predictable when trying to achieve a specific level of doneness. Ideally, meat should reach an internal temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit before cooking, but setting it out even for just a small amount of time before cooking will still make a difference. However, marinating at room temperature can have some repercussions.

Room temperature marinade fosters bacteria growth and food borne illness

While you'll want to cook your steak at room temperature, you'll want to refrigerate it while it marinates. According to Boss The Kitchen, marinating meat at a warmer temperature essentially opens up the protein, compared to colder temperatures causing restriction. This allows the flavors to infuse and penetrate into the protein at a faster rate, but The Spruce Eats states that marinating your meat in the refrigerator is still the way to go. Marinating at room temperature creates a higher risk of bacterial growth that can cause foodborne illness, so if you want to be extra cautious the safest route is to marinate your steak while it chills. 

If you do forego the fridge, monitoring the time the meat has been sitting out at room temperature is a must. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that meat only be left at room temperature to marinate for under two hours. If it sits out longer, the department says the meat should be thrown away, even if it looks and smells fine. Room temperature lies within the USDA's so-called "Danger Zone," the temperature range between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in which bacteria grows rapidly. 

Overall, marinating meat in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours is your safest bet for a delicious, and bacteria-free steak.