As a general rule, meatballs that are pink on the inside are not safe to eat. Pink beef or pork usually means undercooked meat. In the case of recipes such as meatballs in sauce, pink ground meat can lead to food poisoning. If you regularly find your meatballs stay pink inside when cooked in sauce, try cooking the meatballs before adding to the sauce.
Making Meatballs Safe
Whether cooked in sauce or otherwise, ground meat such as meatballs should be heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture. To check the internal temperature of a meatball, gently push a cooking thermometer into the center of one of the larger balls. If the thermometer doesn't reach 160 F after a few seconds, cook them for longer. Unlike meat cuts such as steak or chops, ground meat doesn't need a rest time after cooking.
Cook Before Sauce
Cooking meatballs directly in tomato or other pasta sauce is usually not the best or safest way to make a delicious dish. Instead, shallow-fry meatballs in a little hot oil. This helps sear the meatballs on the outside and prevents them from falling apart when heated in the sauce. This also helps avoid undercooked, pink meatballs -- particularly because you can check the meat before mixing the balls in with sauce.
Perfect, Not Pink
Cooking times depend on the size of the meatballs. For example, UK TV chef Jamie Oliver suggests cooking small meatballs in a pan for eight to 10 minutes. He also recommends cutting one of the meatballs in half to check for any sign of pinkness before adding to the pasta sauce. Meatballs larger than a golfball may need 20 to 30 minutes to cook.
Frozen Meat and Colored Sauce
frozen meatballs need longer to cook, whether cooked in sauce or fried. Slow cooker recipes that heat the meatballs gradually in the sauce work for fresh and thawed meat only. Avoid frozen meatballs in slow cooker sauces altogether. If cooking in tomato sauce, or sauce with red coloring, it can occasionally make the meat look pink. In this case, always use a thermometer to check if the meat is ready.
Based near London, U.K., Peter Mitchell has been a journalist and copywriter for over eight years. Credits include stories for "The Guardian" and the BBC. Mitchell is an experienced player and coach for basketball and soccer teams, and has written articles on nutrition, health and fitness. He has a First Class Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) from Bristol University.