And how can you make it last longer?
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cooked ground beef in a Staub cast iron pan
Credit: Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Have some leftover steak or a burger that went uneaten? You can safely store it for another meal. However, how long cooked beef lasts depends on how you store it. 

How to Store Cooked Beef

Cooked beef should cool either on the counter for a short period of time, loosely covered, or in the refrigerator. It will cool more quickly if big pieces are cut into smaller ones, or if it is spread out on a baking sheet.

Once it's no longer hot, wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it. It's best to refrigerate the meat as quickly as possible, and definitely within two hours of cooking. If meat is left at a temperature of 40 degrees F or warmer for longer than two hours, harmful bacteria can multiply quickly.

Once refrigerated, cooked beef should be eaten within three to four days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cooked beef can be stored in the freezer for a longer window of time. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, making sure there is as little air as possible in contact with the meat. It's a good idea to place the wrapped meat in a zip-top freezer bag to further protect against freezer burn, and be sure to label the contents and the date.

According to the USDA, cooked beef will keep in the freezer for two to three months; after that it may still be safe to eat but the texture and flavor may begin to deteriorate. 

How to Defrost Cooked Beef

The best way to defrost cooked beef is in the refrigerator. Transfer the wrapped package of frozen meat into the refrigerator, and let it thaw slowly.

This method can take a long time depending on the size of the meat, up to 24 hours for steaks or roasts.

A faster method is to put the wrapped meat in a resealable bag if it isn't already, press out any excess air, and submerge the bag in a large bowl of cool water. Change the water every half hour or so, replacing it with fresh cold water, until the meat is thawed, which can take up to two hours, depending on size.

How to Heat Leftover Cooked Beef

Refrigerated or frozen and thawed cooked meat is best reheated in the oven or in a pan. Take it out of the refrigerator first, and let it come to room temperature for up to 30 minutes.

In the oven, use a low temperature, such as 250 degrees F, and place the meat on a baking sheet, preferably elevated on a roasting rack or an oven-safe cooling rack set inside the baking sheet. Heat it until it is warmed through, to an internal temperature of at least 120 degrees F when checked with a meat thermometer

To reheat in a pan, cuts like steak or hamburger can be cooked in a nonstick skillet with a little bit of neutral oil, such as vegetable oil. Heat it over medium-low heat for a few minutes, turning over after 2 to 3 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature, it should be at a similar temperature of how you normally like your steaks cooked, such as 130 degrees F for medium-rare.

However you've heated it up, if your leftover beef seems dry, try drizzling it with a sauce, gravy, or even a little warm beef broth. This will help replace moisture that was depleted from reheating. 

How to Tell if Cooked Beef Has Gone Bad

If your leftover cooked beef smells or looks off, throw it out rather than eating it— t's just not worth the risk!

The meat should have a similar texture and smell as the day you cooked it. A slimy or mushy feel, a green tint, or a sour or rotten-egg smell are all signs that your meat is probably spoiled. There's no real way to tell if it has bacteria that can cause food poisoning, so you're better off not taking a chance.

Finally, if you know the meat has been at a temperature between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F for two hours or more—what food experts refer to as the "danger zone," as it is the most favorable conditions for bacteria to multiply—pitch that steak or burger and find something else to eat.