Beefsteak and elephant ear mushrooms are in a category of "false morels," meaning that they resemble and are often mistaken for edible morel mushrooms. Though some of them may be eaten without any negative effects, many false morels contain dangerous toxins and should be avoided. There are characteristics of these mushrooms that make them identifiable in the wild.
Beefsteak or elephant ear are common names for the gyromitra esculenta species of mushroom. They go by other names such as brain mushroom and turban fungus. They are often poisonous false morels that are found on hardwood trees. They are a bracket fungus found in wooded areas in Europe, North America and Australia. It derives its name from its appearance and texture, which resembles beef.
Look for certain characteristics when attempting to identify beefsteak or elephant ear mushrooms in nature. They are of a dark brownish red color and are heavily textured due to a porous surface that resembles a malformed cauliflower. The cap can grow up to six inches wide and the height is usually about four inches. The stem is an off-white color. Older morels will have darker, sometimes blackened ridges. Eating these mushrooms can be seriously detrimental to your health due to the presence of a toxin known as monmethylhydrazine, or MMH.
Avoid touching or eating beefsteaks or elephant ears. For edible mushrooms, stick to supermarkets and farmers' stands.