Cooking Tips

Yes, You Can Eat Pink Pork

Don't judge pork by its (internal) color. 

Published Oct. 19, 2022.

A few weeks ago in the test kitchen, Cook's Illustrated Editor in Chief Dan Souza whipped up a delicious batch of Albóndigas, Spanish-style pork meatballs.

I eagerly sliced open a meatball with my fork and hesitated. It was pink. 

“Is it supposed to be . . . ?” I trailed off. 

“Yes. It’s totally cooked,” answered Dan. 

I always thought pink pork meant that it was undercooked and therefore likely to make you sick. But these meatballs were cooked to a safe temperature. 

Had I been overcooking pork my whole life?

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Why can you eat pink pork? 

Persistent pinkness in pork can come from a variety of factors unrelated to the meat’s doneness: the seasonings, the age of the pork when it’s processed, and how it was stored. 

But according to Joseph Sebranek and Melvin Hunt, professors and meat experts at Iowa State University and Kansas State University respectively, the most significant factor affecting the pigment is the pork’s pH (a measure of acidity). 

The higher the pH (and less acidic the pork), the more stable its pink pigment will be, even when the meat is fully cooked.

We confirmed this while developing our recipe for Italian Sausage with Grapes and Balsamic Vinegar. We added increasing amounts of alkaline baking soda to ground pork to raise its pH and then cooked all the samples via sous vide to exactly 160 degrees. 

Italian Sausage with Grapes and Balsamic Vinegar

This humble Italian supper celebrates the natural pairing of sweet and savory. But to make it great, we had to test every possible way to cook sausage.
Get the Recipe

Sure enough, the samples with the lowest pH (no added baking soda) were barely pink inside. The samples with the highest pH (½ teaspoon of added baking soda) were deeply pink, proving that the color of the pork is not a good indication of its doneness.

Leave that to your instant-read thermometer.

As Paul Adams, our senior science research editor said, “Foodborne pathogens don't care what color your meat is; they only care what temperature it's cooked to (and how long it stays at that temperature).”

What is the safe internal temperature for pork?

Historically, people worried about the threat of trichinosis. But nowadays, better farming practices has all but rid the trichina parasite from American pork. 

Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture revised its guidelines for cooking whole cuts of pork. It now recommends that whole cuts be cooked to 145 degrees (with a 3-minute resting period). For ground pork, it still recommends 160 degrees. 

For further peace of mind, know that the trichina parasite is killed when the temperature of the pork rises to 137 degrees, so cooking it to just 140 degrees should do the job. 

That’s why we often recommend cooking whole cuts of pork to about 140 degrees and then letting the meat rest until it reaches 145 degrees, which also ensures juicier, more tender results.

Albóndigas (Spanish-Style Meatballs in Almond Sauce)

For another take on meatballs and sauce, try albóndigas en salsa de almendras, a tapas staple featuring a rich nut mixture that should be in everyone's repertoire.
Get the Recipe

Spicy Gochujang-Glazed Pork Chops

The best way to produce tender, juicy chops with a stay-put glaze is to take it slow. Bonus: You'll have built-in time for making a side dish.
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Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu)

Sweet, salty, savory—char siu is the flavorful Chinese pork dish that has it all.
Get the Recipe


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