If you see blood in chicken, do you need to remove it before you cook the meat? If so, how? And what happens if you don’t?
Every budding chef has asked questions like these from time to time. Let’s take a closer look at what to do when you see blood in chicken you’re preparing for the grill.
Blood in Chicken
Most of the time, the “blood” you see in chicken is actually myoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen to the muscles. If it’s located near the bone, the red or purple color may be due to bone marrow pigment. Should there be any blood present, you may be able to remove it by rinsing the chicken under cold running water.
What It Means
Chicken is a meat product, which means that it was once a living thing. When you take this into consideration, it’s not surprising that there might be some blood present.
That said, if the butchering process was done correctly, all the blood should have drained out of the chicken before it ended up on the shelf. If you see blood in chicken, it’s either because the butcher made an error, or there was a wound or clot somewhere inside the muscle tissue.
A Word About Bone Marrow Pigment
Much of the time, when people see chicken meat that has a red or purplish hue, they assume that it’s due to blood in chicken. This discoloration is most often visible around the bone.
In truth, that darker color is often due to bone marrow pigment that has made its way into the meat. It can still be visible even when the meat is fully cooked.
This is more of an issue in the US, where chickens tend to be slaughtered at 6 to 8 weeks old. At this age, the bones haven’t had a chance to calcify, so the marrow is more likely to seep through and discolor the meat.
You may also notice the bone marrow pigment if you’re cooking a chicken that was previously frozen. The freezing process causes the bone marrow to expand, which creates cracks in the bones. This means the marrow can actually leak through the bone.
While we’ve been conditioned to think of pink or reddish chicken as being underdone, that’s not the case here. As long as the chicken has cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it should be safe to consume, even if it has a purplish tinge.
Is Pink Chicken Undercooked?
Not necessarily. While chicken usually turns opaque and white when it’s fully cooked, there might still be some visible pink spots.
Raw meat takes its reddish hue from myoglobin, a protein that’s responsible for delivering oxygen to the muscles. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not technically blood.
In fact, myoglobin levels are responsible for the biggest difference between white and dark meat on chicken. The breasts don’t get a ton of exercise, so the muscles don’t contain a lot of myoglobin. Conversely, the legs and thighs get a regular workout, so they’re darker in color.
If the sight of pink chicken bothers you, you’re not alone. Many people prefer to cook the meat until no trace of pink remains, especially in the breast region.
It’s up to you whether to cook the chicken past the recommended temperature. If you want to make sure the breast meat is completely white throughout, feel free to cook it until you achieve the desired results. Just be aware that the texture may be akin to sawdust.
How To Tell When Chicken Is Cooked
Since you can’t rely on color, the only way to make sure that chicken is fully cooked is to test the internal temperature.
Poultry products, including chicken, are considered done when they’ve cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because at this temperature, the bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are killed off in just a few seconds.
It’s permissible to remove chicken from the heat when it’s cooked to just 160 degrees. The temperature will continue to rise as the chicken rests. In fact, it’s a good idea to take chicken breasts off the heat at 160, because they’ll be too dry if they cook longer.
Dark meat is another story. Thanks to its richer texture, we prefer to cook legs and thighs to 180 degrees so that they’ve achieved an internal temp of 185 when it’s time to serve them. They’ll still be safe to consume at 165, but the meat won’t be as succulent.
White Meat vs. Red Meat
You might be wondering why it’s okay to eat beef and pork at lower temperatures, but chicken and turkey need to cook to 165 degrees. The answer has to do with the density of the flesh.
White meat is less dense than red meat, so hazardous bacteria can penetrate deeper beneath the surface. When you sear a steak or a pork chop, you destroy any bacteria that may have taken up residence on the flesh. Chicken, on the other hand, needs to cook all the way through.
We should also note that ground meat products need to cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees as well—and that includes pork and beef. That’s because the meat gets all mixed together when it’s fed through the grinder.
Bloody Chicken Wings
As we pointed out, there shouldn’t be any blood in the chicken once it’s packaged for sale. However, mistakes do happen. If you notice that you have a batch of bloody chicken wings on your hands, it’s easy enough to clean them up before you cook them.
To start, set the wings in a large colander. We prefer to use a colander that’s made of a nonreactive material when dealing with raw meat, but you can use one made of plastic as long as you clean it thoroughly using antibacterial soap.
Place the colander in the sink and run cold water over the wings. Gently lift and toss the wings with one hand so that the water can rinse away any blood.
When finished, pat the wings dry using paper towels. At this point, you can remove the wing tips and cut the wings at the connecting joint, if desired.
Season and cook the wings according to your chosen recipe. Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap immediately after you handle raw meat products, especially poultry.
How To Remove Blood Clots
You can attempt to clean bloody chicken by rinsing it under tap water as we discussed in Bloody Chicken Wings, above. The process should work with other cuts as well.
If the lingering blood is due to a wound or blood clot, though, you might have to take an extra step. Simply use a small, sharp knife to remove the offending spot until no trace of blood remains.
The Brine Solution
Brining chicken can help it retain moisture as it cooks. But did you know that it can also reduce the amount of blood and myoglobin in the meat?
After the chicken has been thoroughly rinsed under cold water, make a brine solution using ice water and kosher salt. A ratio of 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water is the standard recipe—feel free to make adjustments depending on how much chicken you have.
Soak the chicken in the brine for at least 30 minutes and up to 18 hours. Try not to leave it in the solution any longer than 24 hours. Excess brining can give the meat a spongy texture, which defeats the purpose of the step.
If you’d prefer not to add any salt, you can soak the chicken in plain cold water. This won’t be as effective as using brine, but it will still remove a great deal of myoglobin, so the chicken won’t appear to “bleed” as much while it’s cooking.
Another way to reduce the amount of myoglobin in the meat is to parboil it in broth or water before adding it to the grill or fryer. “Parboiling” is short for “partially boiling,” and it can ensure that the meat cooks through before the skin is charred.
When the proteins in the muscle heat up, they’ll contract and grow firmer. This means that the blood and myoglobin in the cells will be forced out.
For best results, parboil bone-in chicken parts and whole chickens for 10 to 15 minutes. Then finish cooking the meat using your chosen preparation technique. Don’t wait too long to finish the process, or the meat might stay in the danger zone for too long.
The Bottom Line
There shouldn’t be any blood in your chicken, but if there is, now you know how to deal with it.
To avoid this issue in the future, it’s a good idea to buy your chicken products from a reputable source. That way, you can be confident that the meat was slaughtered and drained properly.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!