Is It Safe To Eat Pink Turkey Meat?

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Pink Turkey Meat

You spent all day roasting your turkey. Now, you’ve carved into it, and the meat is pink. Does it need to go back in the oven? Is it safe to serve to your guests? Did you mess up somewhere along the way?

The good news is that pink turkey meat isn’t necessarily a sign that your bird is under-cooked. In fact, if you followed the cooking instructions carefully, it probably isn’t a sign of any problem at all.

To determine if your turkey is done, just use a a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. As long as the breast meat is reading a minimum of 165 degrees and the thighs are reading a minimum of 180 degrees, you can safely serve your turkey without worrying that you’ll make your family sick.

So Why is My Turkey Pink?

Fully-cooked turkey meat can be pink for several reasons. Here are four common causes for pink turkey:

Pink Turkey Meat in Smokey Turkey
This turkey was smoked, as a result, the meat is pink all the way through. Since it got a good temperature reading, it’s completely safe to eat.

1. You smoked or grilled your turkey.

Smoked turkey meat always has a pink tinge to it. Meat that’s been grilled outdoors often does, too. It’s common for the outer half-inch of a smoked or grilled turkey to look pink, and not unusual for the meat of a smoked turkey to be pink all the way through. So, what causes this? Myoglobin, a protein found in muscle, is the source of the pink color. Heat usually denatures the myoglobin, turning it brown, but with the lower, slower heat of smoking, the pink color often remains.

If you purchased a smoked turkey from the grocery store, it’s probably pink for a different reason. Usually commercially-smoked turkeys get their pink color from the natural smoke and liquid smoke flavor that’s added to the meat.

2. A chemical reaction took place while your turkey was cooking.

Sometimes the gases that form in the oven while a turkey is cooking react chemically with the myoglobin in the meat to form that tell-tale pink color.

Pink Turkey Leg Meat
This turkey is fully cooked, but the drumstick and thigh meat are pink around the joint. Since this is a small (i.e. young) turkey, it’s likely caused by hemoglobin leaching into the meat around the bone. While it might not be Pinterest-worthy, this bird is safe to eat.

3. You bought a young bird.

Young turkeys have porous bones, which makes it easier for hemoglobin to leach into the meat. This causes the meat to look pink close to the bone. Since young birds also tend to have thinner skin, with less fat, the gases from the oven are able to penetrate further into the meat, where they react chemically with the myoglobin. This also contributes to the pink color.

4. Nitrites or nitrates turned the meat pink.

Nitrites and nitrates are often added to cured meats, like bacon and ham, to make them pink. But they also occur naturally in vegetables and water. So, turkeys are exposed to both through their food. If enough nitrites and nitrates are present, it can give the meat a pink tinge.

Carving Your Turkey

If you got a safe temperature reading off of your turkey, it’s time to get it carved and on the table. Here are step-by-step instructions to take you through the carving process.

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