Is it safe to eat pink hamburger? If so, how pink can a burger be and still be safe to eat? Our guide to safely cooked ground beef has all the information you need, including why raw hamburger is pink to begin with.
Can Ground Beef Be Pink?
When beef is cooked, it changes color from red to brown. It’s important to cook ground meat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure safety. But the meat may still be safe to eat even if a trace of pink remains. The only way to be sure is to test the temperature.
Why Is Raw Beef Red or Pink?
When you take raw ground beef out of the package, it’s usually a pinkish-red color. Let’s talk about what gives it that rosy hue.
Raw meat contains a protein known as myoglobin. This protein is responsible for ensuring that the muscles are getting a sufficient supply of oxygen. Since well-worked muscles require more oxygen, they’ll be darker in color than unused muscles.
When the cow is butchered, the flesh is exposed to even more oxygen. This converts the myoglobin into oxymyoglobin, turning the meat bright red.
If the meat isn’t cooked off within a few days, the oxymyoglobin will turn to metmyoglobin. You can tell this has happened when the meat turns from red to brown.
Exposure to heat, meanwhile, causes the proteins in the meat to denature. That’s another process that alters the color. As the beef cooks, it will turn from red to a lighter pink, then eventually to a brownish shade.
Other meat products contain myoglobin as well. Raw chicken, for example, ranges in color from peach to dark pink, depending on how much exercise the muscles got during the chicken’s lifespan. That’s why the thighs and legs are darker than the breasts.
Common Beef Serving Temperatures
What does it mean when you order a steak medium rare? The parameters for beef serving temperatures may vary slightly among chefs, but here are the basic guidelines.
Beef that’s cooked rare usually falls into the 120-130 degree range. If it’s cooked to under 120 degrees, it’s considered “blue-rare.” A rare steak will be seared on the outside, with a cool red center.
At medium rare, the meat has turned a lighter shade of pink, and the insides will be warm to the touch. This occurs at around the 130-135 degree mark.
Medium steak is cooked to 135-150 degrees and is hot throughout, with plenty of pink encased by a well-seared exterior. Once it surpasses the 150-degree mark, the pink center becomes increasingly brown, transforming the steak to medium well doneness.
By the time the steak has cooked to 170 degrees, it will be dry and brown throughout, rendering it well done. Most beef aficionados agree that steak is ruined at this point, though ground beef is another story (see below).
Safe Internal Temperature for Ground Beef
The USDA states that all ground meat, including beef, needs to cook to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s safe to consume. At that temperature, the bacteria that can cause food poisoning will be killed off in a matter of seconds.
Why is it safe to eat a steak medium rare, but not a hamburger? It has to do with the nature of the pathogens that cause illness when consumed. These bacteria hang around on the surface of the meat, so searing the outside is sufficient to destroy them.
That said, when you grind beef to make hamburger, the meat that was on the surface gets all mixed up with the rest. There’s no way to tell where the bacteria might have ended up. So the only way to ensure food safety is to cook the beef thoroughly.
Some people continue to take their burgers rare or medium rare, contrary to USDA guidelines. Since not all beef is contaminated with hazardous bacteria, the risk is a slight one.
However, there’s no denying that eating undercooked ground beef does pose a risk. It’s best to err on the side of caution and cook the meat to at least 160 degrees, then allow carryover cooking to take it to the 165-degree mark.
Can Ground Beef Be Pink?
Cooking the ground beef will change the color from red to brown, as we established earlier. So if some of the meat is still pink, does that mean it’s not safe to eat?
Not necessarily. Sometimes, the meat will cook to a safe temperature and still retain a hint of pink. Other times, the beef can be thoroughly browned without yet achieving the desired internal temperature.
The ground beef is considered fully cooked when it achieves a temperature of 165 degrees. You can test it using a meat thermometer. An instant-read model is your best bet, as it only takes a second or two to process the results.
Tips on Buying Ground Beef
—Always take a look at the fat content. For perfect burgers, you want a meat-to-fat ratio of 80 to 20. 85 percent lean is acceptable, but anything leaner will result in a dry burger. Save the lean ground beef for other recipes.
—Check the sell-by date to gauge how long the product has been on the shelf. If it was packaged a few days ago, the meat has already begun to outlast its freshness. The sell-by date should still be a couple of days away.
—Select your ground beef toward the end of your shopping excursion so that it stays cold for as long as possible. Meat products should never be left out at room temperature for longer than two hours, or one hour in hot weather.
—Cook off the ground beef within a day or two of bringing it home. If you opt to freeze it instead, use it up within 2 to 3 months.
How To Cook Ground Beef in a Skillet
1. Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. It’s best if the skillet is nice and hot before you add the beef.
2. Break the ground beef into smaller chunks as you add it to the hot skillet. This will allow it to cook through more quickly.
3. Season the meat as desired. Salt and pepper are essential, but you can add other spices, depending on your recipe.
4. Stir the beef occasionally, about every 3 to 4 minutes. When the meat is mostly brown with just a hint of pink remaining, test the temperature using a meat thermometer. You can stop cooking when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
5. Tip the skillet and gather the cooked beef on the higher side so that the grease collects in the opposite corner. Use a spoon or turkey baster to remove the excess grease from the pan.
6. At this point, you can either leave the beef in the pan to continue with your chosen recipe, or remove it to a plate lined with paper towels to continue draining.
7. Any leftover cooked ground beef should keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
How Long To Grill a Burger
For a thoroughly cooked burger, grill the patty for 4 minutes before flipping it over. Cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until it’s achieved an internal temp of 165 degrees.
Don’t be tempted to flip the burger too often. If you attempt to turn it over too soon, the meat will stick to the cooking grate. It needs to get a decent sear on that first side before it can be flipped.
If you want to add cheese to your burger, wait until you’ve removed the patty from the grill, then lay the sliced cheese on top. The residual heat should be sufficient to melt the cheese. This works best if the cheese is already at room temperature.
The Bottom Line
Ground beef can be pink and still be safe to consume. However, most of the time, it will be brown throughout by the time it hits the 160-degree mark. It’s always best to test the temperature with a meat thermometer, just to be sure.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!