Chicken still pink in places once cooked? Don’t panic!
Here’s the situation: your thermometer reads 75°C, but that meat still looks pretty darn pink. What do you do? According to the USDA, looks can be deceiving.
Salmonella is still a very real concern when it comes to cooking chicken. It gets knocked into our heads again and again that poultry is safe to eat only when its juices run clear when the meat is no longer pink, and when it registers at least 75°C in the thickest part of the thigh.
But of those, only temperature is the real indicator of a fully-cooked chicken. The USDA says that as long as all parts of the chicken have reached a minimum internal temperature of 75°C, it is safe to eat. Colour does not indicate doneness.
The USDA further explains that even fully cooked poultry can sometimes show a pinkish tinge in the meat and juices. Hemoglobin in the muscles can react with air during cooking to give the meat a pinkish colour even after cooking.
Even knowing this, it’s startling to cut into a chicken and see pink. Reprogramming the automatic association between pink chicken and undercooked chicken is going to take some work.
We’ve been trained as a society to treat pink poultry like anathema. Some cooks even go so far as to overcook chicken on purpose. But what if I told you some pink poultry is safe to eat? Would you believe me?
Amazingly, it’s true. When I spoke to Dr Greg Blonder, a physicist and co-author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, he explained why some pinkness will never fade. And if no amount of checking the chicken’s temperature will assuage your squeamishness, he offered some tips to avoiding pink poultry before you even bring it home from the store.
What Causes Cooked Meat to Turn Pink?
“The majority of chickens sold in stores today are between six to eight weeks old,” says Blonder. Young chickens have hollow bones that are thinner and more porous than their older brethren. When cooked, “the purple marrow—so coloured due to the presence of myoglobin, a protein responsible for storing oxygen—leaks into the meat.” This reaction, in effect, stains the bone; the colour of the meat adjacent to it will not fade regardless of the temperature to which it’s cooked.
What about pink flesh nearer the surface? Certain cooking techniques—especially ones that use lower cooking temperatures, such as smoking—exacerbate the pink meat reaction. That pink smoke ring that’s a telltale sign of good barbecue? Myoglobin again. In fact, you don’t even need smoke to achieve that smoke ring.
Why is My Chicken Bloody In the First Place?
Actually, it’s not. Blonder notes, “all commercially-sold chickens are drained of their blood during processing.” The pink, watery liquid you’re seeing is just that: water. The moisture that seeps from the chicken while it’s waiting for you to buy it mixes with that old rascal myoglobin, causing the pink “juices” that you see pooling around the packaged bird—it’s called myowater, FYI.
That same substance is what gushes forth when you cut into a cooking chicken to see if the juices run clear. Unfortunately, that’s a long-held measure of doneness that can’t be trusted. The only way to know if your bird is cooked through is to use a good quality thermometer. To check the temperature, stick the probe into the meatiest part of the bird—checking both the breast and thigh is a good idea. You’re looking for a finished temperature of 71ºC to 74ºC. Accounting for carry-over cooking and the size of whatever it is you’re cooking, that could mean pulling the chicken off the heat anywhere from 65ºC to 68ºC.
Whatever, Pink Meat Still Freaks Me Out
There are a couple of things you can do to avoid pink meat altogether.
First, debone the meat before it’s cooked. Without a myoglobin-y bone around to stain it, your chicken breast will be as pristinely white as possible.
Second, change the pH. A lot of factors are at play here, notes Blonder, and even the way an animal is slaughtered can significantly change the pH level (i.e. acidity) of its meat. Higher pH—i.e. lower acidity—means the myoglobin present requires a higher temperature to turn clear. And that means, unless you like dry chicken, pink had better become your new obsession. If you’re not Steven Tyler, opt instead to marinate your meat with a lot of citrus or vinegar. Introducing the meat to a high-acid environment will lower the pH and reduce the risk of that anxiety-inducing rosy hue.
We’ve all been there — you cook your tasty chicken dish, sit down to enjoy it and cut into a still-pink piece of chook. Back to the frying pan, it goes.
Not only is undercooked or raw chicken unappetising, but it can also lead to food poisoning — not something anyone wants from a simple stir fry.
When it comes to checking whether a chicken is cooked, most of us go by this rule: cut the chicken and check it’s not still pink. But this isn’t the best (or most convenient) method to go by.
What happens if you eat raw chicken
“The main risks with raw chicken, or not properly cooked chicken, would be that you could potentially get food poisoning,” Rachelle Williams, Chair of the Food Safety Information Council, told HuffPost Australia.
“Why? Because the food poisoning bacteria that chicken and other potentially hazardous foods contains haven’t been eliminated through cooking.
“Poultry is particularly attractive to salmonella and campylobacter species, but any sort of food poisoning bacteria or pathogens could potentially be in poultry and other potentially hazardous foods.”
How to know when chicken is cooked
There are a few ways to check whether a chicken is cooked or not, but there’s one method which reigns supreme.
1. Use a meat thermometer
“The best way of checking (literally the best way of checking) is to get a meat thermometer and put it into the chicken,” Williams said.
The sweet (and safe) spot for cooking chicken is 75 degrees Celsius and above.
“If you’re cooking a whole bird, the best place to be checking the temperature is not where most people would — which is right into the breast at the top.
“You should actually take the thermometer and push it right into the thigh, under the big thigh bone — where the drumstick and thigh meet. If that place has reached a minimum of 75 degrees Celsius, you are good to go.
2. Check the juices run clear
“Our recommendation at the council is to always use a meat thermometer, but another easy way to confirm if it’s cooked is, if you pierce the meat and the liquid comes out and it’s clear, you’ve got a pretty good chance it’s cooked,” Williams said.
3. Check the colour
Another way of seeing whether a chicken is cooked is to check if the meat has become white all the way through. But cut-up chicken isn’t always ideal — for instance, when you’re cooking for a dinner party or making a roast.
There’s also an exception to this colour rule: some cuts of chicken can still be pink at the bone, even if it’s safely cooked.
“What a lot of people probably don’t realise, and this isn’t a food safety issue per se, is if the blood which runs through blood vessels (which run against the bone) reaches around 85 degrees Celsius, the blood changes from a pinky-red colour to a grey-brown,” Williams explained.
“From a quality point of view, if the chicken hasn’t reached 82-85 degrees Celsius, then it’s going to look like it’s not cooked as it’s going to be a little bit pink on the bone. The meat is safe, as long as it’s reached 75 degrees Celsius, but you need to get to 85 degrees Celsius to cook the blood on the bone.”
4. Make sure you’re cooking it for long enough
To really make sure the chicken is safely cooked, Williams recommends holding the temperature at 75 degrees Celsius for a certain period of time.
“The higher the temperature, the less time you need to be able to kill the bacteria,” Williams said.
“A good example is this: if you put us in a room at 30 degrees Celsius, we can be in that room for ages. Put us in the room at 55 degrees Celsius, we’re not going to be able to stay there very long. But put us in a room at 75 degrees Celsius and we’re pretty much going to be dead.
“This is something I go by, it’s not a principle or standard practice, but my belief is that if you take the meat to 75 degrees Celsius and hold it there for five minutes, you’re going to be well and truly making sure everything is quite safe.”