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Safe or Sorry: Should Burgers Be Pink Inside?

Have you ever eagerly bitten into a freshly cooked batch of burgers, only to be taken aback by the pinkness within?

We understand the perplexity and concern that a pink burger can evoke. In search of answers, you turned to your trusty phone, ultimately leading you here. Rest assured, you’re not alone in your confusion.

Fortunately, your inquisitiveness has led you down the right path. The truth is, the color of a burger’s interior can be misleading, and so can relying on it as an indicator of doneness.

To provide you with reliable and accurate information, we have scoured the websites of federal governments and esteemed universities across the nation. Read on below for everything you need to know.

Can Burgers Be Slightly Pink?

The color of a cooked burger’s interior can be deceiving, so never rely on color alone to determine doneness.

According to food safety experts, the color of ground beef isn’t a good indicator of whether a burger is properly cooked. Burgers cooked to a safe internal temperature can have a range of colors on the inside, including brown, pink, or variations in between.1USDA (2013, August 6). Color of Cooked Ground Beef as It Relates to Doneness. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/meat/color-cooked-ground-beef-it-relates-doneness2Food Safety Myths. Washington State Department of Health. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://doh.wa.gov/you-and-your-family/food-safety/food-safety-myths

In simpler terms, the presence of slight pinkness in the middle of a burger patty does not necessarily signify undercooking.3Schweihofer, J. (2014, October 10). Cooked meat color: Part 2. MSU Extension. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/cooked_meat_color_part_2 Conversely, a burger that appears brown throughout can still pose a risk of food poisoning.

What really matters is the meat’s internal temperature, as it is the only and most accurate measure of whether or not a burger is safe to eat.

The Safe Internal Temperature for Burgers

Beef burgers must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C) for food safety reasons.4USDA (2020, May 11). Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/safe-temperature-chart Even if the burgers remain pink, they are safe to eat as long as they’ve been cooked to this temperature.

Ground meat, including beef, poses a risk of harboring harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning if ingested in large quantities.5(2022, February 22). Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foods-linked-illness.html To eliminate this risk, cook your burgers to a specific internal temperature, as measured by a meat thermometer.

The heat exposure from cooking destroys enough harmful bacteria present in the meat, making the burgers safe to eat.

How Seriously Should I Take This?

Foodborne illness is a serious issue in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million Americans contract a foodborne illness each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.6(2018, November 5). Burden of Foodborne Illness: Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/estimates-overview.html

These numbers underscore the importance of food safety in the home kitchen or backyard, including cooking your burgers to a safe temperature to eliminate the risk of getting sick with food poisoning.

Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of contracting a foodborne illness and experiencing severe symptoms.

Adults aged 65 and over, children younger than 5 years, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of food poisoning.7(2022, August 10). People With a Higher Risk of Food Poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/people-at-risk-food-poisoning.html

If you—or a family member you cook for—belongs to any of these groups, it’s paramount to practice proper food safety measures.

Is It Safe to Eat Rare or Medium-Rare Burgers?

It’s no secret that biting into a perfectly cooked rare or medium-rare burger can be an incredibly satisfying experience.

The lightly seared exterior gives way to a juicy and flavorful interior that many connoisseurs simply can’t resist. The minimal cooking time allows the natural flavors to shine through, resulting in a delightful sensory adventure for your taste buds.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that indulging in a rare or medium-rare burger comes with its fair share of risks.

The lower cooking temperatures may not effectively eliminate harmful bacteria, such as E. coli or Salmonella, which are commonly associated with undercooked meat. These pathogens can cause severe gastrointestinal discomfort, ranging from mild discomfort to more serious cases of food poisoning.8Filipic, M. (2015, March 26). Chow Line: Beef lovers: How safe are your burgers? College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://cfaes.osu.edu/news/articles/chow-line-beef-lovers-how-safe-are-your-burgers

Essentially, it’s a trade-off between taste and potential health consequences.

While a perfectly healthy person may not experience any adverse effects from consuming such burgers, certain groups are more susceptible to potential consequences.

Young individuals, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who are currently sick or recovering from an illness may be at a higher risk and should exercise caution and eat their burgers fully cooked.

I Don’t Have a Meat Thermometer. What Should I Do?

If you’re ever unsure whether your burgers are cooked all the way through and don’t have a meat thermometer on hand, err on the side of caution.

Preheat your oven or grill to 375°F (190°C) and cook the burgers for an additional 10 minutes. Although the burgers may come out slightly overcooked, it’s a small price to pay for ensuring their safety.

The texture of ground meat can provide important cues about its doneness. The rule of thumb is that cooked protein should be firm and springy, similar to the whites of a hard-boiled egg.

If a cooked burger patty feels mushy and has a pasty mouthfeel, it’s almost certain that the burger needs additional cooking.

What About Other Meats and Meat Mixes?

Using a meat thermometer is the only reliable way to determine burger doneness, no matter what ground meat or ground meat mix it is made of.

Burger MeatInternal Temperature
Beef burgers160°F (71.1°C)
Pork burgers160°F (71.1°C)
Lamb burgers160°F (71.1°C)
Venison burgers160°F (71.1°C)
Mixed red meat burgers160°F (71.1°C)
Fish and seafood burgers160°F (71.1°C)
Poultry burgers165°F (74°C)

Pork burgers should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C). The burgers may come out gray or lightly pink in the center. As long as they are cooked to the correct temperature, they are safe to eat.

Cook your lamb burgers to a temperature of 160°F (71.1°C). Ground lamb, as other types of ground meat, may have a slightly pink center when cooked. Provided it’s cooked to the right temperature, they are safe for consumption.

The safe internal temperature for venison burgers is 160°F (71.1°C).9University of Minnesota (2021, January 1). Cooking Venison for Flavor and Safety. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/cooking-venison-flavor-and-safety Cooked venison burgers may have a pink center, even when they are fully cooked. As long as they’re cooked to this temperature, they are edible.

Due to increased risk of salmonellosis, poultry burgers require cooking to a higher internal temperature, at 165°F (74°C).

Bottom Line

The key takeaway?

When it comes to cooking ground meat, appearances can be deceiving.

The color of a burger is not a reliable indicator of its doneness. Instead, what truly matters is ensuring that it has been cooked to the correct temperature.

Burgers made from beef, pork, lamb, or venison may retain a slightly pink hue in the center, even after being fully cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71.1°C).

The color does not necessarily indicate undercooking or pose a health risk. Conversely, burgers that appear brown or gray may still be undercooked and potentially hazardous in terms of foodborne illnesses.

To ensure that your burger is cooked to perfection, it is essential to rely on a reliable tool: the meat thermometer. Instead of reading the meat’s color, use a meat thermometer to accurately read the internal temperature of your burger.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.