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Can Ribs Be Pink When Cooked and Still Be Safe To Consume?

Can ribs be pink even after they’re cooked? The short answer is yes. In fact, this phenomenon is fairly common with smoked meats. If you’ve done the job right, a pinkish tinge is not only safe, it’s a good sign. We’ll tell you why.

Can Ribs Be Pink and Still Be Cooked Through?

Pork is considered safe to eat as long as it’s cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll be smoking the ribs until they hit the 195-degree mark, so you shouldn’t have to worry about undercooking. What’s more, smoked meats may retain a pinkish tinge even when they’re fully cooked.

Why Is Raw Pork Pink?

Although a popular marketing campaign touted pork as “the other white meat,” pork is actually classified as a red meat. This distinction is based on the amount of myglobin that’s present in the muscle proteins.

Myoglobin, a protein in itself, gives off a reddish hue when exposed to oxygen. Beef contains high amounts of myoglobin, which is why it’s dark red in color. Pork has less of it, but the levels are still high enough to put pork in the red meat category.

Despite the fact that pork turns a lighter color as it cooks, it’s still red meat. In fact, all livestock falls into this category, which also includes beef, veal, and lamb.

What’s The Difference Between Red and White Meat?

All livestock may be classified as red meat, but what characteristics put white meat animals in a different category? The answer has to do with the muscle fibers themselves.

In white meats such as poultry and fish, the flesh is made up of “fast-twitch” muscle fibers. These are responsible for short-term energy bursts—think sprinting instead of long-distance running.

These muscle fibers take their energy from the muscle’s glycogen stores. The raw meat has a translucent appearance that turns opaque when the proteins coagulate during cooking.

Red meat, on the other hand, contains a multitude of slow-twitch muscle fibers. These are responsible for the sustained bouts of energy for which fast-twitch muscle fibers lack the capacity.

In slow-twitch muscle fibers, the oxygen that fuels the energy is created by the myoglobin protein. That’s why the flesh of pigs and cows is a darker color than that of fish or poultry.

What Does It Mean When Ribs Are Dark Pink?

Sometimes, the ribs you buy at the butcher counter might be darker than you’re used to. Despite the negative connotations that dark meat has for some people, this doesn’t mean that the meat is low-quality.

Dark pink pork is better at retaining moisture than pork that’s lighter pink in color. That’s because the pink color indicates a higher level of myoglobin. When your ribs are dark pink, they should be nice and moist when they come off the smoker.

If you’ve ever smoked a fatty cut like pork butt or pork shoulder, you should know what we’re talking about. These cuts tend to be darker in color than lean cuts like pork chops. This contributes to the juicy texture that makes pork butt great for pulled pork.

What’s more, dark pork has higher pH levels than light-colored pork. In layman’s terms, that means it has less acidity. Acid destroys muscle proteins, so dark pink pork has a superior texture and a stronger pork flavor than its lighter counterparts.

Can Ribs Be a Little Pink After They’re Cooked?

Absolutely. As long as the internal temperature of the pork has reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat should be safe to eat.

160 degrees used to be the recommended temperature for pork products. That was back when less-than-ideal farming practices increased the likelihood of trichinosis. Today, these practices have improved to the point where the risk of trichinosis is very small.

When pork is cooked to just 145 degrees, there may still be a hint of pink in the center. This is normal, and it doesn’t mean that the pork is unsafe.

In the case of pork ribs, they should reach an even higher temperature before you attempt to enjoy them. The meat won’t have that tender, melt-in-your-mouth quality until it cooks to 195 degrees or so.

Even when the ribs are fully cooked, though, you might spot a tinge of pink beneath the exterior. This is bound to be the case if the pork has an especially high pH factor, for the reasons we’ve already discussed.

Temperature and texture are crucial when it comes to determining doneness. If the ribs are showing a lot of pink on the inside and you’re having trouble separating the meat from the bone (see separate section below), there’s a good chance they’re undercooked.

What Happens If You Consume Undercooked Ribs?

Although the risk of trichinosis is slight these days, it’s still a concern if the pork isn’t cooked to at least 145 degrees. You also run the risk of contracting food poisoning due to the E. coli bacteria when consuming undercooked meat.

145 degrees is the minimum threshold at which these hazardous bacteria are destroyed. To be on the safe side, make sure the meat reaches this temperature before you eat it.

Why Is Smoked Meat Pink?

There’s another reason why your smoked pork ribs might look red beneath the surface. The phenomenon known as the “smoke ring” creates a pink halo just below the bark of smoked meats, from chicken to pork to beef brisket.

In fact, the smoke ring isn’t “created” so much as it is reintroduced. After all, the myoglobin that produces the pink color is present in the meat already. With smoked ribs and other meats, the layer beneath the surface stays that way, no matter how long you cook it.

Here’s what happens. When the nitric oxide from the smoke condenses on the surface of the meat, it binds with the myoglobin and prevents that protein from turning brown. So the rosy hue remains behind, a symbol of the nitric oxide that adhered to the meat.

While it will give smoked meats like brisket an impressive appearance, the smoke ring doesn’t necessarily contribute to the flavor and texture of the meat. As long as you don’t overcook the ribs, they should turn out fine even if they’re brown throughout.

Should Rib Meat Fall Off The Bone?

Perfectly cooked rib meat should slide easily off the bone when you bite into it. However, it should still have a decent amount of “chew” to it. If the meat is so tender that it’s literally falling off the bone when you touch it, it’s probably too dry.

The ideal target temperature for ribs is 200-205 degrees Fahrenheit. We like to take them off the heat when they hit 195 degrees. That way, the resting period should carry them right into the sweet spot.

When ribs are cooked past 210 degrees, the meat loses its richness and begins to take on the texture of pot roast. A reliable instant-read thermometer is the best tool to help you avoid this fate.

How Long Does It Take To Smoke a Rack of Ribs?

The total cooking time depends on the type of ribs you buy and the temperature of the smoker.

Baby back ribs, which are leaner than spare ribs, should smoke for about 5 hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit—our recommended temperature. The 3-1-1 and 2-2-1 rib methods are both great for smoking baby backs.

Since spare ribs are a fattier cut, they should spend about 6 hours on the smoker when the temp is set to 225 degrees. If you want to wrap the ribs partway through the smoke, try using the 3-2-1 technique.

Final Thoughts

Pork can still be slightly pink in the middle and still be safe to eat. Further, when it comes to smoked meats, the pink color is not only normal, but prized. This is the case whether you’re smoking brisket, ribs, or chicken.

Happy grilling!