White meat, dark meat -- pink meat. Unlike the breast that is considered white meat, the meat of a chicken thigh is dark because the muscle is used more. If the dark meat of your chicken thigh is overshadowed by a pink hue, it could still be cook thoroughly enough to eat. The pink color in a fully cooked chicken thigh usually results from nothing more than a heat-related chemical reaction.
Color is never an indicator of the doneness of chicken thighs or any other meat products for that matter. Hemoglobin in the tissues of the meat sometimes remains heat stable, remaining unaltered by the heat of cooking, whether grilled, sauteed, boiled or baked. Chicken thighs that remain pink after cooking may very well be OK to eat just as long as the internal temperature meets that recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
All poultry, from breasts to thighs, has a recommended internal cooking temperature that should be heeded in order to avoid foodborne illness. According to the USDA, the internal temperature of a thoroughly cooked chicken thigh is 165 degrees Fahrenheit -- pink or not. Since it is impossible to determine the internal temperature of a piece of chicken by looking at it, a meat thermometer pressed into the center of the chicken thigh is the proper tool for the job.
Unlike the pink coloration that you may see when you cook your chicken thighs, bacteria is invisible to the naked eye. Even if you don’t see pink when you cut open a piece of poultry, pathogens may be lurking on the meat if it is undercooked. Eating the undercooked meat may cause serious illness, which is why thorough cooking is so important. The recommended 165 F internal temperature is enough to kill this dangerous bacteria.
Smoked and Pink
Hemoglobin aside, cooking methods may increase the likelihood of your chicken thighs turning pink. The USDA website explains that smoking chicken tends to result in pink meat. Despite the fact that the chicken thighs may be cooked to the perfect temperature, it is not unusual for natural and liquid smoke flavoring to produce a 1/2-inch pink ring around the cooked meat. The ring may also appear on chicken thighs as a result of outdoor grilling.
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