Why Is My Meatloaf Still Pink in the Middle? (Explained)

Meatloaf remains pink in the middle due to nitrates from ingredients or inefficient oven combustion. It’s safe to eat if the internal temperature reaches 160°F, indicating doneness regardless of color. Use a meat thermometer for accuracy.

Your dinner is almost ready. The meatloaf is sitting on the counter resting, just waiting for you to slice it.

After finishing up the rest of the meal the time has come. You have your knife and serving platter ready. 

You take that first slice and set it on the platter. Oh no, why is my meatloaf still pink in the middle? 

Is it done? Is it safe to eat?

You have baked it for the hour stated in the recipe. What to do? 

In this article, I am going to explain the answers to these questions.

Sliced meatloaf

Why Is My Meatloaf Still Pink in the Middle?

There are many reasons why your meatloaf is still pink in the middle. They are nitrates, added vegetables, inefficient burning of gas flames, or that your meatloaf simply is undercooked.

What Are Nitrates?

Nitrates are natural chemicals that are found in soil, air, and water. Sodium Nitrate is used as a food additive to preserve food and control the growth of bacteria and enhance flavor and color. 

Nitrates are also found naturally in some vegetables, dairy products, and meat. Nitrates are added to beef, and dairy products, such as cheese, poultry, and fish to make their appearance and flavor more appealing.

They bind to the proteins in the meat thus preventing them from releasing oxygen molecules as they would normally do during cooking. This makes the proteins remain oxygenized and therefore makes the meat maintain a pink color even when the meatloaf is fully cooked. 


Root Vegetables

Using onions, garlic or any other root vegetable in your meatloaf can cause it to maintain a pink color. Why?

Root vegetables are higher in naturally occurring nitrates. Again, those pesky nitrates.

If you were to continue to cook your meatloaf until it was brown inside you would most likely end up with a dry and overcooked meatloaf. 

Inside an oven

Inefficient Burning of Gas Flames

Inefficient burning of gas fumes in the oven can emit small amounts of carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide then mixes with the myoglobin in the meat which can cause the meat to retain a pink tinge.

Sliced meatloaf

Is It OK to Have a Little Pink in the Meatloaf?

The answer is yes! But only if your meatloaf is fully cooked.

When the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees it is safe to remove it from the oven. It will continue to cook some while resting on your counter.

You don’t want to go over 165 degrees, if so you will end up with an overcooked and dry meatloaf.

A thermometer

How Do You Know If Meatloaf Is Fully Cooked?

As much as we depend on our eyes, they are not accurate thermometers. You can not tell just by appearance if your meatloaf is done. 

The most accurate way to achieve this is to use a meat thermometer. As long as the internal temperature is 160 degrees, your meatloaf is safe to eat whether it is pink inside or not.  

An internal temperature of 160 degrees is the temperature at which any harmful bacteria is destroyed. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you need to get one. 

They are not that expensive and are the only way to tell if your meat is not only safe to eat but at the correct temperature as well. Don’t have a meat thermometer?

There are a few other things that you can do to check for doneness.

A metal fork: Poke the fork into the center of your meatloaf. If the fork goes in without much resistance then your meatloaf is more than likely done. This was the technique my mom and grandma used.

Clear juices: This technique is not that accurate but will do in a pinch. Press gently down on your meatloaf with your fingers. If the juices run clear, then it should be done.

Firmness of the Meatloaf: Gently press the sides or top of the meatloaf. If it springs back into its original shape then it is most likely done. If not fully cooked, an indent will remain.

How to Fix Undercooked Meatloaf

Return the meatloaf to the oven. Just sprinkle the meatloaf with a little water.

Or better yet use some broth for added flavor. Cover it with aluminum foil and cook until done.

Don’t forget to add water or broth to keep the meatloaf from drying out.

My Final Thoughts

  • Meatloaf may remain pink due to nitrates from added vegetables or meat itself, affecting the color during cooking.
  • Certain cooking methods, like using a gas oven, might cause meat to retain a pink color due to carbon monoxide interaction.
  • Meatloaf’s doneness should be determined by internal temperature (160°F) rather than color, as pink meat can still be safe to eat.
  • Using a meat thermometer is the most reliable way to ensure meatloaf is cooked properly.
  • To fix undercooked meatloaf, return it to the oven, possibly adding liquid to prevent drying out.

There are many reasons why your meatloaf is still pink in the middle. Nitrates, vegetables such as onions or garlic, inefficient burning of gas flames, or your meatloaf just isn’t done.

It is ok if your meatloaf is still pink in the middle and safe to eat as long as the meatloaf is done. There are many ways to check for doneness but the most accurate is a meat thermometer. 

An internal temperature of 160 degrees and you are good to go even if your meatloaf is pink in the middle. Many times we take our meatloaf out of the oven before it is done.

After all who wants an overcooked and dried-out meatloaf? But this is an easy fix.

I hope you found this article helpful. Please leave me a comment below with your thoughts.

And as always, have a wonderful day!

FAQ: Why Is My Meatloaf Still Pink in the Middle?

1. What causes meatloaf to remain pink in the middle even when fully cooked?

  • Meatloaf may remain pink inside due to the presence of certain ingredients like onions or garlic, which can react chemically with the meat during cooking. Additionally, some processed meats or seasonings contain nitrates or nitrites, which can also keep the meat looking pinker than expected.
  • Another reason could be the use of a smoker or cooking methods that involve smoke, which can impart a pink hue to the meat internally due to the reaction with carbon monoxide.

2. Is it safe to eat meatloaf that is pink in the middle?

  • As long as the meatloaf has reached an internal temperature of 160°F, it is safe to eat, regardless of its pink color. This temperature ensures that harmful bacteria have been killed.
  • It’s essential to use a reliable meat thermometer to check the internal temperature rather than relying solely on color to determine doneness.

3. How can I ensure my meatloaf is cooked thoroughly but not dry?

  • To avoid overcooking while ensuring it is done, monitor the meatloaf’s internal temperature closely with a meat thermometer.
  • Keep the meatloaf moist by adding ingredients like eggs, breadcrumbs, and sauces, which help retain moisture inside the meat during cooking.

4. What should I do if my meatloaf is undercooked?

  • If the meatloaf is undercooked in the center, return it to the oven and continue cooking at a moderate temperature. Cover with foil to prevent the outside from burning while the middle finishes cooking.
  • After it reaches the safe internal temperature of 160°F, let it rest for a few minutes before slicing to redistribute the juices and ensure a moist texture.

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