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Is Brisket Supposed To Be Pink or Brown in the Middle?

After hours of waiting, you’re ready to cut into your beautifully smoked beef brisket. When you look at the first slice, though, you notice that it’s tinged with pink. Is that supposed to happen, or did you do something wrong? Let’s take a look.

Is Brisket Supposed To Be Pink?

It’s usually fine for smoked meats like brisket to appear pink when you cut into them, but it depends on the circumstances. The smoke ring, which appears just beneath the surface, is a common and sought-after occurrence. Seasoning options like Morton’s Tender Quick and pink curing salts will also impart a pink color.

The Preferred Temperature For Brisket

For superb results, aim for an internal temperature of 210 degrees Fahrenheit when making smoked brisket. That means pulling it off the heat when the internal temperature reaches about 200 degrees.

Brisket is a huge cut of meat. As such, the temperature will continue to rise during the resting process. This phenomenon is known as “carryover cooking.” It’s important to pull the brisket from the smoker before it hits the target temp, or you’ll risk overcooking.

A brisket should rest for a minimum of 30 minutes after coming off the heat. We prefer to rest it for about an hour on the counter if you’re serving it right away. Brisket that was held in a cooler beforehand can handle a shorter resting time.

Is Brisket Supposed To Be Pink in the Middle?

If you were to cook a steak to 200 degrees, the interior would be brown and unpleasantly dry. So why would your brisket be pink in the middle after attaining that ideal temperature?

There are a few possible explanations for this phenomenon. Here, we’ll discuss the most obvious ones.

It’s The Smoke Ring

Even the most perfectly cooked brisket might display a circle of dark pink meat just under the hard exterior crust, which is known as the bark. In fact, many pitmasters strive to achieve it.

Those tinges of pink are telltale signs of the smoke ring. They mean that the meat was exposed to sufficient amounts of smoke during the cooking process. As a result, the brisket will have plenty of wood-kissed flavor. In short, you’ve done the job right.

When the myoglobin in the meat is exposed to the gases produced by the burning wood, it prevents oxygen from attaching to the meat’s fibers. Exposure to oxygen is what turns the meat brown during cooking, so this blockage means that the meat will retain some pink.

This is a common occurrence with smoked meats. Even smoked chicken might still be pink around the edges, which is enough to give many first-timers a shock when they cut into the meat. Over time, you’ll learn to recognize the smoke ring for what it is.

You can achieve an impressive smoke ring by creating a moist environment inside the smoker. Soaking the wood chips might help a bit, but mopping or spritzing the surface of the meat will work even better.

Using an additive like Morton’s Tender Quick is another option. However, in competitive circles, this shortcut is considered to be a cheater’s way out.

The smoke ring doesn’t need to be any thicker than 1/4 inch—about the same thickness as the fat cap should have been prior to the smoke. Also, bear in mind that if there’s no smoke ring at all, it doesn’t necessarily mean the flavor will be inferior.

Finally, we should note that some smoked and cured meats will be pink all the way through. For more information, see You’re Making Corned Beef, below.

It’s Undercooked

If you’re sure the pink color isn’t due to the smoke ring, there’s always a chance that the meat is actually undercooked. That’s why we recommend keeping a reliable instant-read thermometer on hand.

It takes hours to smoke a brisket to the target temperature. At a certain point—sometimes even more than once—the temperature will halt, in a process that’s known as “the stall.” This can be frustrating, and may prompt amateurs to pull the meat before it’s ready.

Be patient and wait for the brisket to finish cooking. If you want to help the meat power through the stall period, try wrapping it in butcher paper once it hits the 150-degree marker.

We should point out that the beef will still be safe to eat, as long as it’s cooked to 145 degrees. However, thanks to the high levels of collagen and fat in brisket, it won’t be pleasant to bite into at this point.

You’re Making Corned Beef Brisket

If you’ve used pink curing salts to brine the brisket before adding it to the smoker, there’s a good chance the meat will stay pink even when it’s fully cooked.

Pink curing salts use sodium nitrite to help prohibit bacteria from forming. This allows the meat to cure in the brine for up to 7 days without going bad.

These salts are dyed pink so that we don’t accidentally mistake them for regular salt, as sodium nitrite can be toxic, even in concentrated amounts. Be aware that curing salt isn’t the same as pink Himalayan sea salt, which gets its color from natural minerals.

It’s traditional to use these salts for corned beef, which is often made from the brisket flat. The dish is called “corned beef” because the salt crystals that were originally used for brining were very large—almost the size of corn kernels.

You don’t have to use pink curing salt for corned beef, but some people prefer this dish to have a vibrant rosy hue. If you have used them and your corned beef brisket is still pink throughout, there’s no need to worry.

Final Thoughts

It’s perfectly normal for smoked meats to have a rosy interior when you slice into them. Depending on the cooking method and the seasonings you used, the meat might even be pink all the way through.

Conversely, if the meat is dark brown on the outside and a lighter brown on the inside, that doesn’t necessarily denote failure. As long as the thermometer reads 200 degrees when you take the meat off the smoker, the brisket should be cooked to perfection.

Happy grilling!