Can Ribs Be Pink? The Pink Side of Smoking Ribs!

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

A little bit of pink in your ribs is nothing to be afraid of - in fact, it is exactly what you should look for. It is only if most of the rib meat is pink that it is considered undercooked.

Everyone knows the feeling - you have followed the instructions for grilling or smoking ribs perfectly. Then, you pull off some of the meat only to find that it is still pink! What is that all about? Can ribs be pink and safe to eat? Well, as someone who has been BBQing for years and is professionally trained in food safety, I am here to say that you can!

In this post I discuss why pink ribs are nothing to be afraid of and show you how to cook your ribs to perfection. Let's begin!

can ribs be pink

Is It OK If Pork Ribs are a Little Pink?

A little bit of pink color on your spare or baby back ribs is fine. In most instances, cooked pork ribs will still contain some pink color throughout the white meat. Despite this, it is safe to eat.

Why are My Ribs Still Pink?

So, you have prepared ribs according to the instructions and are quite sure that your ribs are cooked to perfection. Despite this, the pink is still there among the white meat. Why is this?

Well, it turns out that there is a scientific explanation for this:

Myoglobin is a protein that is found inside rib meat, ground pork, red meat, and other meats as well. Myoglobin is only completely denatured when it reaches 170 or more degrees. At this point, the meat turns brown.

When the meat is cooked to lower temperatures, then this protein isn't fully denatured. So, it will stay white or pink.

Usually, ribs are done when they reach an internal temperature of around 198 to 200 degrees F. However, with cooked or smoked ribs, not all the meat on the pork ribs reaches this internal temperature. In some sections, the meat doesn't heat to higher than 170 F. As a result, it remains pink.

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How are Pink Ribs Safe to Eat?

When it comes to cooking ribs or red meat, the biggest concern is the risk of food poisoning.

With this in mind, you may be trying to figure out how it is safe for you to eat smoked ribs that are still pink in certain areas.

Well, the thing is, as long as you cook ribs to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F for several minutes, they are actually safe to eat.

Just because the ribs are considered safe at this point, doesn't mean that you can halt the cook just yet. The thing is that the meat on the ribs need time to cook so the tissues begin to break down. It is only then that you get really tender meat.

This is why you will cook the ribs until they reach an internal temperature of around 200 F.

However, as long as the ribs pass 145 F, they are considered fully cooked and safe. Due to this, there is almost no risk of food poisoning.

Smoked Barbecue Pork Ribs

How Do You Tell if Ribs are Undercooked?

Well, it is clear from above that the color of the meat doesn't really mean much when it comes to determining if the ribs are fully cooked or not.

In this case, how do you know if your ribs are undercooked? Well, to begin with, undercooked pork will have more pink color and very little brown or white to it. Fully cooked ribs will be slightly pink, not overly so.

That being said, you aren't going to want to go cutting into your ribs if they are still cooking and you aren't sure if they are done or not.

Now, when you typically smoke meat like pork butt, you would use a meat thermometer to determine if the meat was fully cooked.

With spare ribs and baby back ribs, this isn't really possible. As there is so little meat on the bone, it can be tricky to get an accurate reading.

This is why you should insert a toothpick or BBQ skewer into the rib meat. If there is very little resistance and you can push the stick in easily, then the meat is fully cooked or at least close to being done.

If you are finding it difficult to get the skewer in, though, then you are dealing with undercooked meat.

Are Undercooked Ribs OK to Eat?

Are you wondering if it is safe to eat undercooked ribs?

No, it absolutely isn't! There is no guarantee that undercooked meat will make you sick but the risk is quite high.

And, the last thing that you want to do is to get people sick, right? Especially if you are hosting a cookout.

You should also bear in mind that older people and young children are at a higher risk of severe food poisoning and may even need to be hospitalized in certain cases.

How Do You Know When Ribs are Done?

Here is the million dollar question - how can you tell when ribs are fully cooked.

As I have already explained, a meat thermometer isn't going to do you much good when cooking ribs. So, you are going to have to use an old fashioned technique.

Now, if you are preparing baby backs, then you need to use the 2-2-1 method. Here, you smoke the ribs for 2 hours on low heat, wrap them and smoke them for 2 hours, and then smoke them once for an hour but this time unwrapped.

In case you are making spare ribs, then you will use the 3-2-1 method. This is similar to the 2-2-1 method but here you cook the ribs for 3 hours the first time around.

Therefore, your baby back ribs will be close to being done at the five hour mark and the spare ribs will be done closer to six hours.

When you are nearing this time period, use a pair of tongs to lift the ribs by the middle of the rack. When well cooked, each side of the rack should droop downwards. You will also notice that the meat at the middle of the rack will begin to tear apart.

If this doesn't happen, then the ribs need to go back on the grill for a little longer. If you are very close to the ribs being done, make sure to conduct this test every 10 minutes or so that you end up with perfectly cooked pork ribs.

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Smoked Pork Ribs on a Cast Iron

The Fallacy of the Fall Off the Bone Ribs

It is likely that you have long heard the yarn about how ribs are cooked just right when the meat falls off the bone.

However, this isn't true at all. In fact, if the meat is falling off the bone, it means that you have overcooked ribs on your hand. It is likely that the meat will be quite dry and won't taste as good either.

While you should be able to pull cleanly meat from bone, it shouldn't be falling off on its own. So, if you want to guarantee that you end up with a juicy rib rack, use my technique with the tongs. It is far more reliable.

Tips for Smoking Great Ribs

Here are the guidelines that you should be following if you want your ribs to turn out perfect each and every time:

Take Ribs Out of the Refrigerator

The first point to keep in mind is that you should take the ribs out of the refrigerator about an hour before they go on the grill. This way, the rack has some time to warm up. This ensures that it cooks more evenly.

For food safety reasons don't keep the rack out on the countertop for longer than an hour, though.

Start on a Low Temperature

I know that some people like to crank it up to around 275 F when smoking ribs but this is just way too high. Keep in mind, there isn't much meat on the bones here and much of it is lean meat. As a result, it is quite easy for it to dry out.

Instead, keep the temperature at 180 F for the first two or three hours. Then, increase the temperature to 225 F but don't go any higher than this.

Create a Tight Seal

As I mentioned, you need to wrap the ribs. You will use aluminum foil for this. Make sure to create a really tight seal around the ribs. Not only does this trap in moisture but it also guarantees that the ribs cook at a more even temperature.

Keep Lid Closed

This is a rule that I will repeat for every smoking recipe - keep the lid closed at all times! I know this is especially tricky with ribs as you can't monitor the doneness using a thermometer.

Still, follow the timeline set for each type of ribs and avoid opening the lid as much as possible. You will prevent the temperature from fluctuating inside the cooking temperature.

Smoked Pork Ribs with Crispy Bread and Lettuce

Wrapping It Up

So, now you know - you can eat ribs that are a little pink or have a slight pink tinge. As long as you have followed the instructions for cooking the ribs, you should be fine!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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