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Diner calls police over 'pink pork' at Raleigh BBQ restaurant

Diana Jackson takes lunch orders at Clyde Cooper's original location in downtown Raleigh.

Diana Jackson takes lunch orders at Clyde Cooper’s original location in downtown Raleigh.

A customer at Clyde Cooper’s in Raleigh learned this week that there’s no medium rare in barbecue.

“Yesterday, we had a customer come in and order takeout, a barbecue plate and a couple sides,” said Ashley Holt, whose mother Debbie Holt owns Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue in Raleigh and interacted with the customer. “She left and came back and said her barbecue was undercooked because it had a lot of pink in it. We explained that’s because it’s smoked. When pork is smoked, it turns pink.”

Holt said a few minutes later a Raleigh Police officer came to the restaurant, talked to the customer outside and then entered Clyde Cooper’s, asking about the pork.

“The cop looked so confused,” Holt said. “He seemed baffled by someone calling the cops over this.”

The meat cookery that goes into barbecue flips the script on what we typically think of as doneness, going for tender texture and not temperature in determining when it’s time to eat. It’s low and slow, not seared and roasted.

That means the final pork and beef temperatures usually soar above the typical upper limits of “well done,” finishing north of 200 degrees.

But smoke changes things.

A brisket or a slab of ribs will often have a rosy pink ring just under the bark where a chemical reaction has changed the color of the meat. According to the USDA, which takes cooking temperatures more seriously than anyone, that pink is common in smoked meat and poultry.

Clyde Cooper’s opened in 1938 and is one of North Carolina’s oldest barbecue restaurants. The restaurant posted about the encounter on its Facebook page, drawing more than a hundred shares and comments.

The Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center confirmed that an officer was dispatched to the Clyde Cooper’s address at 327 S. Wilmington Street on Tuesday, but declined to comment on the nature of the call.

Holt said she explained the pork’s color was from the smoke. She said the officer went back outside, talked to the customer, and then left.

Tuesday night, Holt said she saw a new one star Google review for Clyde Cooper’s, complaining of undercooked pork and claiming to have called the police on the restaurant. A photo of the plate shows mostly tan and some pink chopped barbecue, mac and cheese and sweet potatoes in a styrofoam box.

Holt said Clyde Cooper’s barbecue is typically cooked for 12 hours at 225 degrees or more, then reheated before serving.

“It can’t get much hotter,” Holt said. “It’s done and cooked and then we take it and chop it, cool it and heat it again….Some people don’t want to listen to reason and don’t know the process that it takes to make smoked pork. We have to laugh and move on.”

This story was originally published November 2, 2022 1:53 PM.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.