If you are cooking ribs, you may be wondering whether it is okay for a little pinkness to remain in the meat. It is often confusing, because this is safe with some meats, and not with others.
Can ribs be a little pink? A small amount of pink in ribs is generally considered safe. Ribs are usually white inside when fully cooked, and they should pull apart reasonably easily. You can also use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature is at least 180 degrees F, although this can be tricky to do because of the bones.
Is a Bit of Pink in Ribs Safe to Eat?
If you have started to pull apart the ribs and discovered that the inside still has some pink in the surface layer, you don’t need to worry. This is safe to eat. In the past, it would have been rejected as undercooked, but current guidelines from the USDA say that it is safe.
For a long time, the USDA guidelines stated that pork must be cooked to at least 160 degrees F. For a large slab of pork, that creates dry, tough, unsatisfying meat.
Now, however, the guidelines say that pork should reach at least 145 degrees F before being consumed. This makes pork taste better, but does mean that a little pink color may remain. This is safe according to the current guidelines.
What Happens If You Eat Undercooked Ribs?
There is always a risk if you eat undercooked meat because it may be harboring bacteria that could make you sick. The commonest kind in pork is E. coli, which the USDA’s guidelines seek to eliminate.
In the past, there were concerns about a bacteria known as trichinosis, but there is minimal risk of contracting this nowadays. It is extremely uncommon, which is why the USDA updated its guidelines to make cooked pork taste better.
Eating ribs that are undercooked may not hurt you, but it is not considered a safe thing to do. You could easily encounter food borne bacteria that will make you very sick.
E. coli and other bacteria will not have been killed at temperatures below 145 degrees F, so make sure the ribs have reached at least this temperature before serving them, or you risk food poisoning.
What Temperature Should Ribs Be?
Ribs are technically cooked when they reach 145 degrees F according to the USDA guidelines. However, at this stage, they will often still be tough and chewy. Many people prefer to take the temperature higher, aiming for around 180 degrees F or between 190 and 200 degrees F.
If you do not want to cook the ribs this much, they will be safe to eat at the lower temperature. You should use a meat thermometer to check, but bear in mind that this can be quite challenging with ribs, because the bone makes it hard to measure the internal temperature.
Take several readings to ensure that you have an accurate measurement, and make sure you have a good digital thermometer with a thin probe. If your ribs are thick, ensure you are getting it right to the center of the meat.
You will probably find that cooking ribs to higher temperatures gives you a more enjoyable meal, but they are safe to eat at only 145 degrees F.
How Else Can You Tell If Ribs Are Cooked?
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you might be wondering how you can tell whether the ribs are done. A thermometer is considered the most accurate test, but there are a couple of other things that will let you know: the meat’s texture and the color of the meat’s juices.
If you can still see pink juice around the ribs, they are not cooked. Even a hint of pink in the juices means that the ribs are underdone. You should cook the ribs until the juices are completely clear. When they are, the meat should be done.
The next sign that the ribs are done is the texture. They should be slightly pulling away from each other when you lift them. You can test this by grasping the ribs in the center with your tongs and lifting them. The meat on either side should show signs of splitting away and cracking. This shows that it is cooked.
When the meat is fully done, it should pull cleanly off the bone, and not stick in any places. However, it should not fall off. If it simply drops away, it is overdone. It may still be enjoyable, but it is not cooked to perfection and you will have lost some juice and flavor.
What If You Smoke the Ribs?
If you have smoked the ribs, there is very likely to be some pink in them when they are fully cooked, and this is nothing to worry about. The ribs are still cooked if their internal temperature is high enough and they have been on the smoker for long enough.
Timing will vary significantly between smokers, especially because ribs come in different thicknesses. As an approximate estimate, you can usually cook some baby back ribs in around four or five hours at 225 degrees F, but it will take up to seven hours to do spare ribs.
This is also dependent on pressure, so make sure you know how far above sea level you are. You may wish to finish ribs off on the grill, but don’t worry if they retain a little pinkness; they are perfectly safe to eat as long as this is minimal and the correct temperature has been reached.
How Do You Tell When Baby Back Ribs Are Fully Cooked?
These are harder to test because meat thermometers don’t work well with so little meat. You should try bending the ribs into a U shape. If you get them to a 45 degree angle without them cracking, they are not done. Equally, if you see juices, they are not done, and need more cooking.
It is safe for ribs to be a little pink when you serve them, but the meat should not show much color. If there is a lot of pink and the ribs are not easily separating from the bone, you should continue cooking them.