How Long Can Cooked Hamburger Sit Out? (And How To Tell if it’s Bad)

Ground beef is an amazing additive to any dish, whether you are making pasta, casserole, or tacos. But how long can cooked hamburger sit out?

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How long cooked hamburger can sit out
  • Ground beef recipe ideas
  • And much more!

How Long Can Cooked Hamburger Sit Out?

Whether you have added cooked hamburger to a casserole or another dish, you may be wondering how long you can let it sit out before it goes bad. This can be important, especially if you are planning a cookout or event where people will serve themselves from a buffet table. 

Cooked hamburger should only be left out at room temp for 2 hours at most. After 2 hours, the cooked ground beef can begin to grow bacteria which can make you sick. Any hamburger meat left out for more than 2 hours should be discarded. 

Want to learn more about what you should do with your hamburger meat after it has been cooked? Read on to learn more about how long hamburger meat can sit out and unique dishes to include it in.

What is the Danger Zone for Ground Beef?

The main reason hamburger meat can’t sit out for longer than 2 hours is because this is when the meat enters the danger zone. The danger zone is a temperature range where bacteria can begin to make their home on the surface of the food. 

According to the USDA, the danger zone is from 40°F-140°F, and it applies to both meat and poultry. In order to keep meat from this temperature, you should plan for a way to keep the meat either warm or cold. A warming plate or crockpot can work well for an event where you want to keep the hamburger meat accessible to guests for a long period of time. 

You’ll need to be careful, however, as hamburgers can also dry out easily. We recommended making only what can be eaten immediately and then making more burgers when guests request them. You will also need to be aware that in temperatures over 90°F meat will enter the danger zone much more quickly, so you should only have hamburger meat sitting out for a maximum of 1 hour in these temperatures. 

If you aren’t asking because you plan to keep your beef out, then it’s best to put it in the fridge as soon as it cools down to keep your hamburger meat fresh.

Want to learn more about what temperature you should cook your burgers to? Read our hamburger temperature guide here.

Related >> How To Grill Frozen Burgers

ground beef in the fridge fact

Can Bad Bacteria Be Cooked Off Hamburgers?

While cooking raw meat is a way to rid raw meat of bacteria, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

For example, when it comes to cooked ground beef, there is no way to cook off bacteria that has grown while the meat has sat at room temperature overnight. This is because many of these bacteria are heat resistant. Eating food that has been left at room temperature for too long can give you food poisoning, among other ailments, and should be avoided. 

Related >> Exploring the Basics: What Exactly is 80/20 Ground Beef?

Not to mention that when you reheat meals that have ground beef, you usually only keep it over the heat for a moment or two–enough to heat it up without drying it out. This is likely not long enough to truly cook off bacteria.

Related >> How To Defrost Hamburger Meat

How to Tell if Cooked Hamburger Has Gone Bad

Do you have some cooked hamburger on hand that you aren’t sure if you should eat? There are a few ways you can tell if it has gone bad.


Does it look like ground beef? Or has it turned into sludge? Also, look for the presence of mold growth (white or green) and signs of discoloration. If your meat is any other color besides brown, you should put it in the trash. 


Take a whiff of your ground beef. If it smells like rotten meat or sour, then it probably is no longer safe to eat. 


Touch a small piece of ground beef. If it feels slimy or mushy to the touch, it has likely gone bad. Good ground beef should feel dry to the touch. 

Related >> How To Shape a Hamburger Patty

Dishes That Can Be Made with Leftover Hamburger Meat

If you made hamburgers for a party but then didn’t eat them all, don’t throw them away! Repurposing food is a necessity in your home, and it’s so easy to do. As long as you have kept your hamburgers out of the danger zone, put them in a fridge and use them to make one of these tasty recipes. 


Tacos are super easy to make with leftover hamburger, simply crumble the leftover hamburger into a container and keep it in the fridge. Microwave for a minute and serve with taco fixings like lettuce, tomato, and cheese!

ground beef tacos

Meat Sauce for Spaghetti

When you have leftover hamburger meat, it’s perfect to crumble up and put into a tomato sauce that you can use to top spaghetti. 


Cooked hamburger meat can also easily be added to a casserole. In our home, it usually goes into enchilada casseroles, made by layering tortillas with rice, ground beef, cheese, and red enchilada sauce. 


It’s no secret that the best use for leftover hamburger meat is chili. Simply add it to a pot with beans, green chilies, and some seasonings. Cooking your leftover hamburger meat like this will help tenderize it while also flavoring your chili!

Related >> How Long Does Chili Last in the Fridge?

Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese

Have the stuff to make mac and cheese on hand? Then keep the leftover hamburger meat to toss in the pan to make a delicious cheeseburger mac and cheese. 

Shepherds Pie

Common in the UK, Shepherds pie is a dish that can be made using leftover hamburger meat, peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes. It may sound weird, but when you layer it all in a casserole dish with some cheddar cheese, it is a great go-to on chilly winter nights. 

Game Day Nachos

Ground beef is also perfect for game-day nachos! Simply put some tortilla chips on a pan, cover with cheddar cheese, add your leftover ground beef with some onion and tomato, then toss in the oven for a tasty snack!

Before you go, have you ever wondered why it’s even called “hamburger”? We did too, so we did the research so you don’t have to! Here’s our guide on The History of the Hamburger.

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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