Can Pork Chops Be Pink in the Middle?

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
A photo of roast pork chopsilianesolenyi /Depositphotos

Are the pork chops you just served on the table underdone? When it comes to the color of cooked chops, here’s what you need to know.

Pork chops are underrated! A pork chop cooked to perfection, as meat lovers will readily attest, is one that’s deliciously tender and juicy. Since pork has a higher fat content, it’s also very aromatic and intensely flavorful.

But should it be pink in the middle? Many home cooks worry when they serve pork chops to their family and, as the spouse and kids bite in, they find that the meat is slightly pink inside.

Contrary to what some people think, the color of pork is not a reliable indicator of how well done it is. It is only the internal temperature as measured by a meat thermometer. Pork chops, as with all other pork, should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C).

In this article, we’ll tell you how to make sure your pork chops are fully cooked—and share some of our best tips for preparing pork along the way.

Are Pink Pork Chops Undercooked?

Fully cooked pork chops actually maintain a slightly pinkish color.

Smoked pork chops will be even more pink-looking. As stated before, the color of meat is not a reliable way to tell if meat is cooked thoroughly or not. 

Pork chops can look white, tan, and even pink, depending on how you prepped them for cooking and what cooking method you used to prepare them. This is why it is essential to test the temperature with a thermometer before eating. 

As you cook pork chops, they turn whiter and whiter. It used to be thought that they needed to be completely white to be safe, but it is normal for some pink to remain. Remember, you can’t tell whether pork chops are cooked with just the naked eye.

How to Measure Pork Chops’ Internal Temperature

Measuring the internal temperature of your pork chops is easy.

Using a meat thermometer, stick the end into the thickest part of the meat. You can find a decent meat thermometer in most every supermarket, department store, and home improvement store. When in doubt, check out our roundup of the best of them.

Keep the tip of the probe in the thickest part of the meat for at least 2-3 seconds. At first, the temperature on the thermometer will rise steadily. It’ll stop rising once it reaches the internal temperature of the meat, giving you the final reading.

If the temperature reads 145°F (63°C) and above, the pork chops are finished cooking!

A higher temperature doesn’t necessarily mean your meat is overdone. Some people prefer their pork well done, which is perfectly fine.

The important part is that it is no lower than the minimum internal temperature for safe consumption.

Should You Rest Pork Chops Before Serving?

The USDA recommends resting pork chops for at least 3 minutes before serving. These 3 minutes are more than just a cool-down period.

First, it allows the rendered fats and the dripping juices to settle in the meat before cutting.

This keeps the succulence inside the pork rather than letting it spill all over your plate as soon as it’s touched by the knife and fork. You’ll get to taste them with every bite. You don’t want to waste the herbs and spices you spent time applying and marinating!

Additionally, the meat is so hot when it’s just off the pan or out of the oven that it actually continues to cook for a few minutes. This is called “carryover cooking,” and it serves an important function in making sure that your chops are as safe as they can be by killing off the final remnants of bacteria or parasites.

Are Undercooked Pork Chops Safe to Eat?

Undercooked pork chops are never safe to eat. Undercooked meat contains dangerous—and the pathogens and parasites that it contains can lead to a number of foodborne illnesses.

According to the USDA, bacteria thrive in environments between 40 °F and 140 °F. Thoroughly cooking your food kills these bacteria, eliminating the chance of consuming something that could be harmful to your health.

The CDC estimates that, every year, 48 million Americans contract a foodborne illness. Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Clearly, you don’t want yourself or your loved ones to be anywhere near this statistic.

There are different minimum temperatures for different foods, but for pork, you must reach at least 145°F to ensure any bacteria have been cooked away.

Related: The Minimum Internal Temperature for Every Kind of Meat

Our Tips for Preparing Pork Chops

Before cooking the pork, thaw it out completely.

Cooking partially frozen meat is a huge no-no. The temperature and texture will be inconsistent throughout, likely overdone on the outside and underdone in the middle. 

To thaw pork chops, plan ahead. Take them out of the freezer and put them in the fridge 24-48 hours before cooking. Just make sure that they’re in a deep plate or large bowl that can collect the raw-meat juices that will drip from the meat; you don’t want these messing up your fridge.

Try dry-brining your pork chops with salt.

Remove the pork chops from the fridge 45-60 minutes before cooking, then salt them liberally on all sides and put them back in.

During that time, the surface salt will draw out the juices from the meat, only to dissolve in them and get reabsorbed. The result is savory pork chops seasoned to perfection on the inside and out, without needing to marinade the meat for hours in advance.

This is an easy step to add to your process, and it makes a world of difference. 

Use medium-high, not high, heat.

The heat setting when frying, grilling, and roasting pork chops is a Goldilocks dilemma. If the heat is set too low, the chops lose too much moisture during cooking and dry out. If the heat is too high, they will char on the surface when they are done.

Unless the recipe explicitly says otherwise, use medium-high heat. That’s 375°F (190°C) in the oven.

Final Words

Pork chops can be pink in the middle if and only if cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) and allowed to rest for a minimum of 3 minutes before eating. This ensures that bacteria have had the chance to be fully cooked away and reduces the risk of acquiring a foodborne illness. 

For the best pork chops, allow them to thaw fully and bring them to room temperature before cooking. Brine is recommended to add flavor and juiciness. 

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.