How to Reheat Leftover Steak-- Advice from Experts

SteakIn an upscale restaurant, my husband ordered a prime steak that was about the size of a full-grown cow.  Of course, he couldn't eat it all in one sitting, so he brought it home and labeled it "leftovers." He was looking forward to having 2 great meals for the price of one.  The next evening, he challenged me to warm up the remaining steak, duplicating the delicious flavor and texture of the restaurant version. Now, some wives might have responded by threatening said husband with a steak knife, but not I.  Instead, I consulted that world-famous authority on everything that matters--Google.  But I didn't stop there.  Not sure if all online food writers are as obsessed with food safety as I am, I also consulted some food scientists that serve on the Shelf Life Advice Advisory Board. The results of my semi-exhaustive research are published below.


[Editor's admission: The cooked steak in the photo accompanying this article is NOT the prime meat we brought home but another inferior, thinner choice steak that I overcooked.  The prime steak got devoured before I had a chance to photograph it.]


Did my site's scientists and the online writers I consulted agree?  Pretty much.  But, as with so many complex issues, the devil is in the details.  In general, the advice is to 1) Let the steak sit on the counter for a short time until it reaches room temperature (about 72°F).  2) Then reheat the steak slowly at a low temperature. 3) Next, sear the outside in a very hot, oiled pan. Finally, let it rest for a short time before serving.


Now let's look as some of the devilish details.




One online site says to let your steak sit out for 30-45 minutes until it reaches around 72°F. I  worried about the risk of pathogens inviting themselves to dine on our meal until food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter (one of this site's Advisory Board members) reminded me that the inside of the steak was muscle and  was, therefore, essentially sterile inside. The outside could grow pathogens, but these would be killed by Step 3 (high temperature searing).  Food process engineer Dr. Timothy Bowser (another member of our Advisory Board) shared my concern about leaving perishable food out at room temperature for 45 minutes, but, after all, that's well within the usual statement about how long perishables can safely sit at room temperature, which is a maximum of 2 hours. Dr. Cutter  says 30 minutes should get the steak to room temperature, and she was comfortable with that time span.  (I gave my steak 5 minutes.) Why do this warm-up step at all? says, in "6 Easy Ways to Reheat Steak," "Leftover steak tastes better when heated from room temperature."




What temperature should the oven be set to (if that's the method of heating you've chosen)? What temperature should your goal be for the interior of the meat?  (Of course, to test the temperature, you must have a food thermometer.) How long should you heat it?  That depends mostly upon the thickness of the steak.


The usual advice (for safety's sake) is to reheat leftovers to 160-165°F.  That's what most precooked frozen meals and pizzas advise.  That much heat should kill germs that latched onto precooked food while it traveled through the "danger zone" (40-140°F).   When cooking steaks originally, 145°F is sufficient for medium-rare.  For reheating steak, (prior to searing), here's the scoop: "Heat the oven or toaster oven to 250°F.  Cook the steak until the interior temperature is 110 degrees."  This advice from is in the article "The Best Way  to Reheat Steak."  However, Dr. Cutter suggested 140°F.  She then asked a colleague of hers at Penn State University, Dr. Edward Mills, a specialist in meat science, to weigh in.  He advises the following: "If you assume that the steak was prepared just right the first time, then the goal is to get it up to 120°F while minimizing any other changes." You don't want to cook it any more, just warm it up.


I know you must be wondering about how things were going with heating the interior of my leftover steak. Its progress was ridiculously slow.  I used a convection oven, probably set lower than 250°F. (I don't remember exactly.) After 20 minutes, the steak's temperature was only 80°F.  Convinced that we'd starve to death before this piece of cow reached an edible degree of warmth, I turned up the heat to 350°F.  I left it in the oven a few more minutes, probably not long enough for the oven to actually reach 350.  The steak was at 130°F. when I moved on to searing.




Dr. Mills points out that maintaining an appealing flavor is often a problem with reheated steak: "A warmed-over flavor  may develop as the cooked  meat cools, especially if it has been chilled to less than 40°F.  Browning (searing)  after the interior is heated is an effective way to boost the flavor."


Home Sweet Jones says, "Heat vegetable  oil in a skillet over high heat until smoking.  Sear the steak about a minute on each side."


Cook's Illustrated has about the  same message with more specifics: "Pat the steaks with a paper towel and heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking.  Sear the steaks on both sides until crisp, 60 to 90 seconds per side. Let the steaks rest for five minutes before serving."


I followed this advice and, with trepidation, served it to my spouse.


Dr. Bowser  suggests a small change in the above advice: searing BEFORE heating the interior because, in addition to quickly killing  microbes on the outside of the steak, that helps to seal in the remaining juices.


Alternative procedures


microwaving: Dr. Mills says, "Microwave heating in a closed environment (a small casserole dish or plastic cooking bag) is a fast, effective way to heat leftover steak. Rendering of water and fat and evaporation of water will be minimal if the temperature stays below the original cooked temperature of the steak. To achieve this, microwaving is good because it does not produce a high surface temperature. Oven heating is slow, allowing extra time for evaporation and rendering of liquids. "


Boil in the bag: Dr. Bowser recommends this method: "Vacuum pack the steak in a bag that is designed to handle high temperatures (e.g. boil-in bag). NOTE:  It would even be better if the steak was vacuum-packed before it was refrigerated. To reheat, place the vacuum-bagged steak into a hot-water bath and heat to the desired eating temperature. It is difficult to predict the required cooking time, since the initial steak temperature, water temperature, steak thickness, and water agitation (stirring) can all be variables."


When a steak is not a steak anymore: Besides reheating it and consuming it as a steak, what else can  you do with  that leftover hunk of meat?  Here are some options: 1) Cut it up into strips (like stroganoff  meat), heat it slightly in a pan or in a sealed bag (as described above) , and toss it into some salad ingredients. 2) Grind it and grill a hamburger.  3) Feed it to your dog as a reward for obedience.  4) Feed it to your garbage disposal. Let it suffer from high cholesterol.


The outcome


Now, to end the suspense. What about my own venture into reheating steak?  It couldn't have been more successful. Believe it or not,  after his first bite, my husband said, "This steak tastes better now than it did in the restaurant."  I've chosen to believe him.




Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D. , Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Catherine Nettles Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Department of Food Science


Edward Mills, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Department of  Animal Science "6 Easy Ways to Reheat a Steak" "The Best Way to Reheat a Steak" "Reheating Steak--without Overcooking it" reheating steak 






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