How Long Can Meat Sit Out Before Cooking? Food Safety Precautions You Should Know

How long can meat sit out before cooking?

This is a question many people wonder about – after all, the last thing you want is to have bacteria growing into your raw meat.

Perhaps you have frozen chicken, and you would like to marinate it but not sure how long you should leave it on the counter. Naturally, you want to thaw it first prior to cooking and marinating. But then you may get caught up in other things at home, and then forget about that chicken on your counter.

So, we are here to share with you essential tips when it comes to leaving meat out on your counter and how long is too long. Let’s jump right into it.

how long can meat sit out before cooking

How Long Can Meat Sit Out Before Cooking

Here are super quick details you need to keep in mind when leaving meat to sit out before cooking. First, raw meat should never sit out for over two hours. When left at room temperature, the meat can quickly have bacteria growing in it in just a matter of 20 minutes.

Moreover, you may have to deal with the foul smell and an odd color of your raw meat. This means that your meat has gotten rancid, which renders it unsafe to eat. And of course, consuming spoiled meat is bad as it can lead to food poisoning.

When you want to marinate meat that you are thawing, we recommend choosing marinades that are acidic such as vinegar. This slows down the growth and development of bacteria, which prevents you from getting food poisoning. Keep in mind that even frozen meat left on the counter for more than a couple of hours can have pathogenic bacteria growing quickly.

This is the reason why defrosting meat in the refrigerator instead of on the counter is best. It is safer than leaving it at room temperature to prevent germs from getting into your food. Otherwise, going past the limit of two hours is bad news for your meat and your health. 

Signs That Meat Has Gotten Bad

There are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your meat is still safe to eat. Here they are:

1. Smell

If you have left your meat to sit out before cooking, be sure to smell it first. You want to make sure that it is not spoiled. Otherwise, you run the risk of eating bad meat that can cause food poisoning and various health issues.

Generally, ground meats when raw do not at all smell good. However, you should be able to tell the difference between a fresh and delicate smell and one that smells like rotten garbage. When you have smoked meat that has gone bad, the odor is typically pungent. It does not smell like raw meat at all but more like the smell of ammonia. 

There is no way to miss the nasty smell of meat that has gone bad as it will really stand out. 

2. Texture

Another way to confirm if the meat is still safe to cook and eat or not is the texture. Typically the coating should be free from stickiness – instead it should be nice and smooth. However, if your meat is rotten or spoiled, then the color is not only yellowish but the texture is sticky. It can also be slippery, and this is due to some mildew starting to grow.

Moreover, you should be on the lookout for some molds growing on your raw meat once it has gone bad. When your raw steak has become bad, the mold has contaminated it and is no longer suitable for consumption.

3. Color

When meat is rotten, there is a change in its color. Instead of the normal pink hue, it is now yellow or bluish-white. With pork, the normal color is pinkish gray and with beef, it should be a brilliant red color or slightly brownish red. 

However, you may want to stay away from meat that has turned green or even greenish brown. This means it is already spoiled and is not safe to cook or eat.

You should also think about the length of time you have the meat in the freezer. If it has been there for months, then it is best to toss it out when you are uncertain about how long you have been keeping it.

Typically, steak kept in the refrigerator needs to be consumed after two or three days once thawed. 

When you leave meat out to sit for long before cooking, there are many dangers that can come along. For instance, there is the risk of bacteria growth. Some bacteria such as salmonella tend to multiply rapidly in raw meat when left out at room temperature. The most desirable temperature for these meats to start developing bacteria is between 40 up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In fact, in a span of 20 minutes, this is already considered as the danger zone when left at room temperature. 

Additionally, there are risks of food poisoning when you leave meat at room temperature. Among the symptoms of food poisoning from eating spoiled meat include diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, vomiting, and headache. 

It is also best to check with a food thermometer when you have left your cooked meat at room temperature for over two hours. Once it is confirmed that the meat is in the danger zone, then you should just toss it. 


Leaving meat to sit out before cooking is never a good idea. There are so many dangers involved, and you run the risk of getting food poisoning by doing this. If you plan on thawing frozen meat before cooking, be sure to place it in the refrigerator instead of leaving it at room temperature for hours to prevent health issues.

Leave a Comment