What color should properly cooked chicken be?

Small and Backyard Flocks, Food Safety July 13, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

Safely cooked poultry can vary in color from white to pink to tan. For safety when cooking poultry, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the product. For a whole chicken or turkey, check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. All the meat – including any that remains pink – is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165°F.

Chemical changes occur during cooking. Oven gases in a heated gas or electric oven react chemically with hemoglobin in the meat tissues to give it a pink tinge. Often meat of younger birds shows the most pink because their thinner skins permit oven gases to reach the flesh. Older animals have a fat layer under their skin, giving the flesh added protection from the gases. Older poultry may be pink in spots where fat is absent from the skin. Also, nitrates and nitrites, which are often used as preservatives or may occur naturally in the feed or water supply used, can cause a pink color. Poultry grilled or smoked outdoors can be pink, even when all parts have attained temperatures well above 165°F. There may be a pink-colored rim about one-half inch wide around the outside of the cooked product. Commercially prepared smoked poultry is usually pink because it is prepared with natural smoke and liquid smoke flavor.

Reference: USDA's The Color of Meat and Poultry fact sheet.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.