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Can Cooked Ground Beef Be Pink Inside? The Shocking Truth!

Ground beef that is pink even after cooking scares everyone. Every now and then, a restaurant makes it to the headlines for serving “raw” or “pink” ground beef. But there’s too much fiction around the pink, causing too much-unneeded worry. Let’s debunk the pink in cooked ground beef.

Can Cooked Ground Beef Be Pink Inside?

Ground beef can retain its pink color even after cooking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harmful or not cooked enough. Color is not a good indicator of the doneness of meat. And thus, to make sure what you are eating is safe, you must follow the proper steps while cooking.

Can Cooked Ground Beef Be Pink Inside
Can Cooked Ground Beef Be Pink Inside

Can Pink Beef Make You Sick?

In a nutshell, if you are a healthy, 25-year-old, pink beef can only make you sick if the pink is caused by the meat being undercooked. However, if you are a pregnant mother, a child under five years of age, or over 65, you are at a higher risk of contracting an infection like salmonella. 

You may have consumed pink meat or E. coli-affected meat numerous times without experiencing E. coli symptoms. Still, pregnant women, children under five years, older adults crossing the 65-year-old mark, and people with weak immune systems are at a higher risk.

The most common symptom is brief diarrhea, which may go unnoticed depending on your digestive health.

Very young kids, pregnant women and people above the age of 65 and those who have weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for food-borne illnesses from undercooked meat.
Very young kids, pregnant women and people above the age of 65 and those who have weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for food-borne illnesses from undercooked meat.

How to Cook Ground Beef Properly?

Ground Beef is required for a long list of dishes out there – too many to mention here, but how do you cook ground beef perfectly? How to enjoy the patties you love so much without risking an infection?

The starting point, of course, is to get your preferred type of ground meat from the store. For super-juicy burgers, (80/20) or (70/30) is the best pick for you. If you want to reduce fat, you can go for the extra-lean (90/10) mix. 

Oversimplified, all you need to do is sauté the ground beef in cooking oil for 15 to 20 minutes. However, you need to ensure you don’t fiddle with the meat too much. It is best if you spread out the beef in the pan and don’t move it before a crusty layer is formed. 

Break the meat down into little clusters once a crusty layer forms. Also, you must ensure that you heat your pan before putting the beef into it.

Wait for fifteen to twenty minutes till the ground beef is browned, and you are good to go.

To ensure even cooking of ground beef, spread the beef around the pan and do not stir too much until a crusty layer is formed.
To ensure even cooking of ground beef, spread the beef around the pan and do not stir too much until a crusty layer is formed.

Why Can You Enjoy a Rare Steak but Not Uncooked Ground Beef?

It has been established that pinkness in ground beef may be healthy to eat, but undercooked ground beef is a big no-go zone.

But why can you eat a rare (undercooked) steak, not undercooked ground beef? Aren’t both the same? What makes the difference?

The problem here is that bacteria thrive primarily on the meat surface. As a result, the steak from the inside is relatively safe.

Minced/ground meat, on the other hand, is made up of many tiny pieces, so nearly all of it is covered in bacteria.

Because bacteria grow, the longer you keep your minced meat, the less safe it is for raw consumption.

Bacteria thrive on the meat surface therefore the inside of the steak is relatively safe. Ground beef has more surface area for bacteria to proliferate.
Bacteria thrive on the meat surface therefore the inside of the steak is relatively safe. Ground beef has more surface area for bacteria to proliferate.

What Causes the Pink in Ground Beef?

The pink in ground beef can be for several reasons. However, you only need to be worried about one reason – undercooked beef. Pink is not “necessarily” an indicator of being undercooked.

Conversely, if ground beef is undercooked, it will have a pink color. This should be cause for alarm, and needless to say – you must stay away from it.

Other than being undercooked, a lot of chemicals can contribute to the pinkness in ground beef. The chemistry is explained below.

The Chemistry Behind the Pink in Ground Beef

Reducing agents, pH, nitrate pollution, or carbon monoxide from gas ovens can contribute to pinkness. Myoglobin, found in raw beef, mixes with oxygen to generate oxymyoglobin, which is brilliant red.

A heme ring on the surface of the myoglobin protein mainly controls meat color. 

When myoglobin is heated, the protein denatures and unfolds, allowing the iron molecule on the heme ring to be oxidized.

Metmyoglobin is formed when heme iron is oxidized and has a cooked brown appearance.

Reducing chemicals and blocking oxygen from reacting with the heme iron may prevent the heme ring from oxidizing, resulting in pink-cooked color. 

Moreover, the pink color could be caused when nitrate-containing vegetables are cooked alongside the meat. 

P.S: In order to make sure your beef’s pink color is not due to being undercooked, refer to this section.

Here’s How to Make Sure Ground Beef is Cooked Correctly

You must thoroughly cook ground beef and all the products made from ground beef to a temperature of 160 °F to kill all the bacteria that can jeopardize your health.

Even after following the correct procedures, ground beef can still have some shade of pink inside.

The oven, or any other source of heat you use to cook the ground beef, can heat the myoglobin. This causes the myoglobin to take up a reddish-pink color. 

As explained earlier, color is not a good measure of the doneness of ground beef. Therefore, using a food thermometer while cooking is critical. After it has been safely cooked, it can be pink on the inside. 

Ground beef needs to be cooked to a temperature of 160 °F for it to be safe. Using a meat thermometer makes this easier to determine.
Ground beef needs to be cooked to a temperature of 160 °F for it to be safe. Using a meat thermometer makes this easier to determine.

Conclusion To Can Cooked Ground Beef Be Pink Inside

Ground Beef can have some pink following a thorough cook. However, this doesn’t mean that all cooked ground beef that is pink is a cause for worry.

The pinkness can be caused by a multitude of other reasons. The best way to ensure that what you are eating is safe is to make sure that you cook the ground beef thoroughly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Can Cooked Ground Beef Be Pink Inside?

Is Ground Beef That Is Pink Inside Safe to Eat?

It is hard to tell by the color whether ground beef that is pink inside is safe to consume or not. A better way is to ensure that the meat is cooked at 160 °F.

Why is Cooked Ground Beef Sometimes Pink?

If the beef is properly cooked, the pinkness can be caused by several chemical reactions mentioned above.

Is Pinkness an Indicator of Ground Beef Being Undercooked?

Pinkness is an indicator of ground beef being undercooked. However, it can’t be relied on much. Pinkness can be caused by many other reasons besides the beef being undercooked.

Author Bio

Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)

Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.