Can Chicken Be Slightly Pink in the Middle?

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
A photo of slightly pink cooked chickenajafoto /Depositphotos

Of course it can. It’s cooked meat, and cooked meat can take on all kinds of colors. *Should it* be pink in the middle? Why the answer isn’t a clear-cut yes or no.

We’ve all been there.

You cooked chicken for the family, following Grandma’s secret recipe—which you couldn’t get enough of growing up—down to the letter.

You plated and garnished the chicken, and then you served it on the table. Now you’re sitting at it with your spouse and children, and everyone is eager to bite into the meat. And as you do, you suddenly notice that the meat is still slightly pink inside.

The internal color of chicken isn’t a reliable indicator of its doneness. What matters is the meat’s internal temperature while it’s still cooking. Always check the internal temperature of the chicken before removing it from the heat to make sure it’s at least 165°F (or 74°C).

If you didn’t use a meat thermometer, you can’t be sure about the chicken’s safety.

In such a case, the best thing to do is to remove it from the table, cut it up into bite-sized pieces, then heat your oven to 300°F (150°C) and bake the chicken for 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

This article will discuss in more detail how to tell if chicken is fully cooked, why it’s so important to make sure chicken is fully cooked, and some tips on how to prepare chicken.

Is Pink Chicken Undercooked?

If chicken is pink on the inside, it can be undercooked. However, that doesn’t mean that it is.

The internal temperature of the chicken—not its color—is the only indicator you can reliably use to determine whether it’s cooked through or not. As long as the chicken is at least 165°F or 74°C inside, it is cooked through.

Many external factors that can affect the internal color of chicken, raw or cooked. These include the age of the chicken, what it was fed, how it was frozen, and even the cooking method and recipe used for preparing it.

Slight pinkness on the inside may or may not mean that the chicken is undercooked; it shouldn’t be relied upon. Still, if it’s coupled with wet, leathery flesh instead of cooked flesh that feels nice and dry, it’s probably undercooked.

How to Measure Chicken’s Internal Temperature

To measure the temperature of chicken, you will need a meat thermometer. Here are some tips to make sure you’re measuring the temperature properly:

First, make sure you’re getting a good thermometer. Nine times out of ten, this means a digital instant-read thermometer, the kind that’s powered by batteries and has a digital dial. You may have to spend a bit more, in the range of twenty-five to fifty bucks, but it’ll be worth it to get one that works (and one that lasts!).

If you want to make sure your thermometer is accurate, you can stick it in a bowl of ice water. If it’s accurate, it should read around 32°F (0°C)—freezing temperature.

Stick the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, and make sure it’s not in any bones or fat, as you won’t get an accurate reading that way. You should leave the thermometer in the chicken for at least 2-3 seconds, or it won’t be able to get a good reading.

Make sure you’re checking the lowest internal temperature. You want the chicken to be cooked all the way through. Begin checking the temperature once you suspect that it’s just about ready. Undercooking meat is not good, of course, but you don’t want to overcook it either.

Always clean the thermometer’s probe with warm soapy water and blot it thoroughly dry after using it, in order to get rid of any harmful bacteria left behind from the raw meat.

Should You Rest Chicken Before Serving?

The process of “resting” food is simply letting it sit for a certain amount of time after it’s done.

For some dishes, such as beef, pork, lamb, and venison, it’s required in order for the dish to be safe to eat. For others, such as chicken and fish, it’s not really necessary.

Chicken is a dish that’s not required to rest for it to be safe to eat. However, it’s still recommended that you let it rest for at least a few minutes; this allows the fats and juices to be absorbed back into the meat.

This keeps the meat tender and juicy. The fats and juices will settle in their rightful place, and won’t run out onto the plate as soon as the meat is cut.

Is Undercooked Chicken Safe to Eat?

Undercooked chicken—or any undercooked meat, for that matter—is not safe to eat.

If it’s not fully cooked, you could get food poisoning, so it’s extremely important to make sure the chicken gets to the proper temperature.

Food poisoning is never fun, but in the worst case scenario it can be fatal. The CDC estimates that about one in six Americans gets a foodborne illness every year. That adds up to about 48 million people. 

Of that number, around 128,000 are hospitalized each year, and around 3,000 people die. Obviously, you don’t want to be one of those people, which is why it’s so important to cook your chicken fully.

Related: Cooking Meat to Safety and Tenderness (A Guide)

Our Tips for Preparing Chicken

These tips will help you keep your kitchen safe from bacteria.

And not just that, but they’ll also help you make sure the finished chicken dish is as delicious as it can be!

Wash your hands and clean the knife, cutting board, and countertop surface that came into contact with the raw chicken to prevent bacterial cross-contamination. Have two cutting boards and two knives, one set for raw meat and one for fruits and veg.

Buy fresh, good quality chicken. The fresher the meat and the better fed the chicken, the tastier the final product will be. Before cooking, bring the chicken to room temperature (but don’t leave it out for more than 15-20 minutes, or it’ll end up growing bacteria).

Frozen chicken will lose moisture as it thaws and will end up much tougher than refrigerated chicken when cooked.

If you do go with frozen chicken, never thaw it at room temperature. This runs the risk of growing bacteria. Instead, thaw it either in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or in cold water. This can take a while, but it’s better than risking getting sick.

You can marinate or brine the chicken before you cook it, which will help add flavor and keep the chicken tender.

Summary

Essentially, as long as your chicken has been cooked to the proper temperature—165°F (74°C)—then it’s safe to eat, even if it’s pink inside.

The color has little bearing on whether the meat is fully done or not. What matters is that you’ve prepared it correctly and safely. 

Now go out there and get cooking!

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.