Rotisserie chickens are an inexpensive, easy meal when life gets hectic. But it’s disappointing to get home and discover that the chicken that’s been making your mouth water is pink and looks undercooked. So why are rotisserie chickens pink?
Rotisserie chickens are pink because of marrow leakage from young birds’ porous bones during thawing or cooking. The marrow stains the meat, juices, and bones brown. The smoking or cooking process and the chickens’ diet can also cause pink meat. Test chicken for doneness using a thermometer.
It’s not unusual to find pink meat in a rotisserie chicken, especially around the bones, whether you’ve bought a ready-made chicken or made one on the grill. Yet, we’ve all been taught that adequately cooked chicken must be white, with clear juices.
So, why a rotisserie chicken can be pink yet still be safe to eat?
Why Are Rotisserie Chickens Pink?
Our first thought on seeing pink areas in a rotisserie chicken is that it is blood. However, all commercially sold chicken meat is drained of blood during processing.
Another idea is that the chicken is undercooked, but the test for doneness in the chicken is not color but internal temperature. According to the USDA, pink chicken can be safe to eat if the internal temperature reaches 165⁰F (74⁰C).
Let’s look at why a rotisserie chicken may be pink, even though it is thoroughly cooked and safe to eat.
Pink Rotisserie Chickens Are Young Birds
The primary reason for slightly pink meat in a rotisserie chicken is that the chicken is a young bird.
Most rotisserie chickens are six to eight weeks old when sold, processed, and cooked. The younger the chicken, the thinner and more porous the bones are. The dark red marrow seeps out of the bones into the meat as the chicken cooks.
Marrow contains hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells) with a special reddish-purple pigment. The hemoglobin stains the meat next to the bone and won’t fade however hot or long the chicken is cooked – it is a heat-stable color.
The bones of older chickens are denser, so leaking of bone marrow is less likely, and the meat will remain white.
Sometimes you might notice the juices of the bird running pink. This is because the juices are mostly water, and the myoglobin leaking from the muscles causes the color. Myoglobin has a similar red pigment to hemoglobin.
Pink Rotisserie Chickens Have Been Frozen
Just as heat causes the hemoglobin to leak out of the young chickens’ porous bones, so too will the cold temperatures of a freezer.
This discoloration often happens if poultry cuts or whole chickens are frozen quickly after processing.
While the chicken is thawing, the hemoglobin may leak, staining the meat red. Once cooked, the bones themselves may turn an odd brownish shade.
Pink Rotisserie Chicken Is Cooked At A Low Temperature
If you notice pink meat, especially rings or layers of color near the surface, the reason is the long, slow, low cooking process used to make rotisserie chicken.
Chicken with this coloration has most likely been smoked or treated with liquid smoke.
A pink smoke ring is usually seen as a sign of a good barbeque or smoking technique, which also applies to rotisserie chicken. The larger the smoke ring, the better the smoke flavor.
Pink Rotisserie Chickens Have Had Specific Feed
The feed that chickens consume can also influence the color of the meat, making it a rosy hue.
The color is caused by nitrates and nitrites, used as preservatives in chicken feed or occurring naturally in water. These substances chemically react with myoglobin and stain the meat pink.
Is It Safe To Eat Pink Chicken?
According to the USDA, it is safe to eat pink chicken so long as the internal temperature of all parts of the chicken has reached a minimum of 165⁰F (74⁰C).
In other words, the color of the meat is not the most reliable indicator of whether a chicken is cooked, nor is the color of the juices.
Most commercial rotisserie machines are programmed to ensure that the chicken reaches the correct temperature using a digital thermometer.
When making rotisserie or BBQ chicken at home, use a proper cooking thermometer, preferably a digital probe thermometer.
Whenever I cook rotisserie chicken, I use the Pit Boss probes and a handheld thermometer to make sure it is cooked thoroughly.
Test the temperature of the meat in multiple places, including the fleshiest parts, the thigh, and the breast. If the thermometer reads 165⁰F (74⁰C), the chicken is cooked. So you don’t need to worry about rosy or brownish meat.
What If You Eat Undercooked Chicken?
It is risky to eat undercooked chicken, that is, chicken that has not reached an internal temperature of 165⁰F (74⁰C).
The bacteria in undercooked chicken can cause food-borne diseases, ranging from a mild stomach upset to severe food poisoning.
Salmonella is a common bacteria found in undercooked or poorly cooked chicken. The bacteria live in the gut of many farm animals, particularly chickens.
Someone infected with salmonella can develop gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, enteric fever, and other food-borne diseases. If the bacteria moves beyond the digestive tract, it can result in life-threatening complications.
A second common bacteria in undercooked chicken is campylobacter. The infection causes diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, bloating, and fever. Although less severe than salmonella, campylobacter infection can also lead to serious complications if it continues for more than a week.
If you eat chicken that you think is undercooked, look out for these symptoms:
- stomach pain
- trouble breathing
Go to your doctor, local clinic, or hospital if you think you have food poisoning from poorly cooked chicken.
It is common to find that parts of a fully cooked rotisserie chicken are pink. This coloring is caused by bone marrow seeping from the bones into the meat through cooking or freezing, smoking, or the chickens’ diet.
Always check that a chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165⁰F (74⁰C), using a digital probe thermometer as it is the best doneness test.
Do not risk eating undercooked chicken, as you can experience food poisoning.
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