While pork chops are a favorite among backyard grillers across the country, the problem is that all too often they come out tough and dry. In an effort to ensure moist and tender chops each and every time they hit the grill, Grillocracy's compiled a few tips to help get you there.
Facts and Fiction: Internal Temperature of Pork Chops
If you’re like me, you grew up eating dry, over cooked pork chops. Even today, it’s not uncommon for consumers to insist on cooking chops well past the point of well done out of a fear of contracting trichinosis. The truth is, however, that trichinosis in pork has declined dramatically over the past several decades and that chops cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees are not only safe, they are much more moist than ones cooked well done.
Brines and Marinades*
An overnight soak in a brine or oil-based marinade is an excellent way to not only add moisture to pork chops, but to also amp up the flavor. To create a simple brine, combine 1/8 cup salt, 1/8 cup brown sugar, 2 cups water and fresh herbs and garlic then mix well until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. For a simple marinade, combine 1 cup olive oil or canola oil, 1 cup balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs and garlic then stir well to combine.
*Note: A large percentage of pork sold today has been injected with some type of salt-heavy solution to promote flavor and moisture. Before brining or marinating pork, be sure to read the label to see if it has been enhanced as this will likely result in an overly salty dish.
Bone-on Versus Boneless
When it comes to pork chops, there are a variety of options available to consumers – from bone-in ribeyes and porterhouses to boneless New York chops and sirloin chops (you can find a great description of these cuts at the Pork Board’s website here). When deciding what cut to fire up at your next backyard bash, bear in mind that the bone-in versions tend to be more moist when cooked to the proper temperature as the bone provides an even thickness across the chop thereby ensuring even cooking throughout.
Thickness of the Chop
Once you’ve decided on the type of chop cut, it’s time to consider thickness. While thin chops cook much quicker than thicker chops, they are also more likely to dry out if the internal temperature isn’t carefully monitored. Instead, opt for bone-in chops that are 1-2 inches thick which will allow you to cook them longer (see two-zone cooking below) and allow them to become nice and tender. While not always readily available at the grocery store, a quick visit to your local butcher to have them cut to your specifications will definitely pay off when you cut in to it.
Stuffing the Chops
Stuffing thick cut pork chops with apples, vegetables, bacon and other things is a great way to introduce extra moisture and flavor to your dish. To do so, simply cut a small incision through the center of the chop on the side opposite the bone and stuff it with the ingredients of your choice.
While hot-and-fast grilling works well for thin pork chops, 1-2 inch bone-on chops require more cooking time and therefore are perfect for starting over high heat to create a nice crust then finishing over low heat. To accomplish this, prepare your grill for two-zone cooking, placing all of the hot coals on one side and leaving the other side without coals. Season the chop as you normally would, place it on a well oiled grate on the hot side of the grill, and allow it to sear for 2-3 minutes per side before moving it to the cool side, covering the grill, and allowing it to come to the desired finished temperature.
Temping the Meat and Abandoning the “Cut Method”
As mentioned previously, the biggest culprit behind dried out pork is overcooking. According to Ray Lampe (aka Dr. BBQ), “cook your chops just as you would a steak -- 145 for medium rare and 160 for medium and always with a 3 minute rest [to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat]. If folks will just do this their chops will be tender and juicy every time. Get a good instant read thermometer and use it.”
Also, under no circumstance should you use the popular “cut method” to check doneness as slicing in to the meat to see if it looks done is not only an inexact science, it also releases valuable juices from the meat.
Resting the Meat
The pork chops have been cooked to perfection, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to get eating. As with any meat, allow the chops to rest for 3-5 minutes to allow the juice to redistribute before cutting in to them.
Tips by Clint Cantwell, courtesy of Kingsford.com