When you make homemade sausage, you want to make sure it reaches a safe internal temperature without overcooking. This is one instance in which you definitely don’t want to neglect the thermometer, as it’s the only way to tell whether the meat is cooked.
Can sausage be pink in the middle and still be safe to eat? And if so, why is this the case, when pork typically turns white or brown as it cooks? Let’s find out.
Can Sausage Be Pink?
Sausage can be pink in the middle as long as it’s cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re buying pre-cooked sausage from the store, it already met this requirement beforehand, and you just need to reheat it. When cooking fresh sausages, be sure to test their temperature before you stop cooking them.
Why It’s Important
Most sausages are made of either ground pork or beef, although chicken and turkey sausages have become more popular in recent years. All of these meat products can cause food-borne illnesses if they’re not properly cooked.
It’s permissible to cook whole muscle cuts of beef and pork to just 145 degrees—or even less when you’re dealing with beef. The bacteria that could make you sick would be hanging around on the surface, so as long as that’s cooked, you should be fine.
The rules change when it comes to ground meat products, even beef. When the meat is fed through the grinder, it gets all mixed in together, so the bacteria could be anywhere. That’s why ground meat needs to cook to at least 160 degrees before it comes off the heat.
Since meat continues to cook even after you remove it from the heat, the sausages should achieve a safe internal temp of 165 before you serve them. Summer sausage, which is made primarily from beef, should cook to 155 before the resting period.
Can Sausage Be Pink? A Guide
Now that you know why it’s imperative to cook sausages to a certain temperature, the question remains: Can sausage be pink and still be safe to consume?
The truth is, color is not a clear indicator of doneness. It serves as a useful measuring stick, but the only way to tell whether meat is fully cooked is to test the temperature with a meat thermometer.
Sometimes, meat will lose its pink color before it reaches the 160-degree mark. At other times, it can be fully cooked and still retain hints of pink. It all depends on the quality and condition of the meat, as well as the cuts that were used.
What’s more, many sausages are pink even after they’re fully cooked. That’s usually because they’re made with curing salts, which are pink to red in color.
The key to great sausage is to remove it from the heat as soon as it’s finished cooking. You don’t want to overcook it, or the meat will dry out. That will make the sausages tough and unpleasant to chew.
Pre-cooked sausages like hot dogs and smoked kielbasa have already achieved a safe internal temperature, and only need to be reheated. But fresh sausages, whether homemade or store-bought, will need to cook to 165 before you serve them.
About Curing Salts
There are two types of curing salt: #1 and #2. They may also be called “Insta Cure” or “Prague powder,” but they should still be marked with these numbers to tell consumers what they’re dealing with.
The first type, #1, is used for short cures. This is the kind of curing salt you want if you’re making homemade summer sausage. It’s also used to make hot dogs, corned beef, and other sausages that only need to be cured for a day or two.
Sausages that require prolonged smoking periods, such as hard salami and country ham, will benefit from Prague powder #2. They’ll need to be cured longer as well, and the higher levels of sodium nitrate will prevent spoilage.
Curing salt has a pinkish color that will remain even after the sausages are cooked through. Therefore, when you’re smoking sausages that have been cured, the color is an even less reliable indicator of doneness.
Don’t confuse curing salt with regular table salt or Himalayan pink salt. Curing salts are extremely strong and your food will taste way too salty if you attempt to use them in place of other types of salt.
Curing salt isn’t the only ingredient that might cause sausages to retain a pink or reddish hue. For example, paprika, a traditional addition to many types of sausage, will leave behind its telltale red color long after the meat is cooked through.
Other pepper-based spices, such as cayenne and crushed red pepper, will ensure that the meat remains rose-colored after cooking. That’s the main reason why pepperoni is so red, but these days, manufacturers tend to add dye to the product to make it even redder.
How To Cook Fresh Sausage
Whether you’ve prepared your own fresh sausages or bought them from the store, you’ll need to take care when preparing this type of meat.
There are many types of pre-cooked sausage available. Some, like hot dogs, should be reheated before eating. Others, like summer sausage, are fine to eat right out of the refrigerator (though the flavors will be more pronounced if it warms up a bit).
With fresh sausages, though, you need to bring the meat to a safe internal temperature before you eat it. That can be tricky, because it’s easy for the outsides to burn before the insides have cooked through, especially for thick sausages.
One option would be to put the sausages on the smoker. The long exposure to low heat will allow the meat to cook slowly without burning. However, this is only a valid choice if you enjoy that rich, smoky flavor.
The best alternative to the smoker would be to par-boil the sausages and then transfer them to the grill. That way, they’ll stay moist and tender as they cook.
To begin, place the sausages in a stock pot and fill the pan with just enough cold water to cover them. Set the pot over medium-high heat and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the water reaches a bare simmer. Remove the sausages from the pot and turn off the heat.
At this point, the sausages are ready to be transferred to the grill. Set a gas grill to medium-high, or build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal-fired unit.
When the grill is hot enough, set the sausages on the cooking grate. Sear them for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until they’re crisp on the outside and heated to 160 degrees on the inside. Remove from the grill and set aside to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
You can also put them in a frying pan, again over medium-high heat. Add a bit of oil to the pan to help the sausages get nice and crisp. Cook, turning frequently, until browned all over and cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.
The Bottom Line
Some types of sausage will be browned all the way through once they’re fully cooked. Others might never lose their pink color. It all depends on the type of sausage you’re making. As long as the meat is fully cooked, the color doesn’t really matter.
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!