Grilled pork chops are fantastic!
The crisp crust. The smoky flavor. Juicy pork fat mingled with spice.
It's an experience that's hard to beat.
Too bad most grilled pork chops don't turn out that way.
There often dry, pale and tasteless. It can be a chore trying to choke one of these down.
But it doesn't have to be that way...
Good pork chops come from the loin section of the pig. Premium beef steaks also come from this area. On beef this section is divided into two pieces; the rib and the short loin.
If you've ever overcooked a steak, and who hasn't, you know that this ruins your nice, juicy steak. The same thing happens when you overcook a pork chop. The muscles seize up, squeeze the juices out of the meat and you end up with a tough, dry and grainy pork chop.
But I have good news for you...
You don't have to cook your pork chops to death.
Pork chops are like beef steaks but there's some significant differences...
The biggest difference is that beef steaks have more marbling than pork chops. This means that a pork chop can dry out much easier than a nicely marbled beef steak.
Pork chops are also smaller than beef steaks. This means you have to cook a pork chop less because smaller pieces of meat cook faster and dry out sooner than large cuts.
A lot of people have been raised with the idea that pork has to be well done to prevent illness.
This used to be the case...
Because of laws regulating the care and feeding of hogs, trichinosis has been virtually eliminated.
According to the CDC, during 2008–2012, 15 cases were reported per year on average. This is probably due to people eating wild game, like bear and wild boar.
Trichinosis occurs in animals that eat raw meat. Laws that have been in place since the 1950s prohibit the feeding of raw meat to hogs raised for food.
This means it's safe to eat a pork chop that hasn't been cooked to death.
The CDC and the USDA recommends cooking whole cuts of pork to 145°F.
For a tasty and juicy grilled pork chop, you should cook it until the internal temperature is between 135°F-140°F. This will give your pork chop better texture and more moisture.
And don't worry, it's safe to eat at this temperature.
Now you understand why grilled pork chops come out dry and chewy.
But I have a solution...
Because grilled pork chops dry out, we need a way to keep that moisture inside the meat.
Everybody has their favorite cut of steak. That's because different steaks have unique flavors and textures. The same thing goes for pork chops; some cuts are better than others...
When you look for pork chops you'll find a lot of different types;
Which ones should you choose?
Let's look at some different types of pork chops and discover their characteristics...
The picture below is from a pack of assorted pork chops. The chops are packaged in a way that makes it hard to tell what you're getting. Often, it's something like this...
The two on top are rib chops. The ones on the bottom left and center are blade chops. The one to the far bottom right is a sirloin chop.
Rib chops come from the loin section of the pig.
They have a good amount of fat and are tasty.
You can tell a rib chop by the single rib bone and the large piece of loin muscle attached.
Blade chops come from the shoulder end of the loin.
They are a little tough.
As you can see in the picture below, a lot of different muscles make up this cut. This gives this pork chop lots of flavor.
These pork chops can curl up while cooking. You can fix this by slicing through the band of silver skin at the end of the pork chop. It's the white section to the left of the pork chop in the picture below. Make some slits with a sharp knife, in two or three places, through the silver skin.
Sirloin pork chops come from the hip area of the pig. The bone you see in the pork chop below is part of the hip bone.
These pork chops are dry and tough when grilled.
I don't recommend them for grilling, which is a high heat cooking method. These should be cooked low and slow to make them tender. Braising or barbecue would be a better choice for sirloin pork chops.
The picture below is from a pack of center cut pork chops. Center cut pork chops contain loin muscle and tenderloin muscle. It's the T-bone steak of pork chops!
In the picture below, the loin muscle is on the left side of the T-bone and the tenderloin is on the right.
As you can see, the amount of tenderloin meat you get can vary greatly in a pack of pork chops; the pork chop on the bottom left doesn't have any tenderloin at all. The upper left, center and lower right have generous portions of tenderloin meat.
The tenderloin is the most tender part and that's what you're paying for when you but center cut pork chops. Select center cut pork chops with the largest amount of tenderloin you can get.
Below is a close up of a center cut pork chop.
The tenderloin section is the small medallion of meat on the right.
The loin muscle is the larger piece of meat on the left.
Boneless pork chops are rib chops without the bone. It's cut from the pork loin. This is the cut that butterflied pork chops come from.
Because there isn't a bone and little fat, this pork chop tends to dry out.
I don't recommend this cut for grilling.
I recommend center cut pork chops for grilling; They have a good fat content and you get a piece of pork loin and tenderloin in the same pork chop.
My close second would be the rib chop; also tasty with a good fat content.
Both of these cuts will help you turn out tasty, juicy grilled pork chops every time.
Consumers wanted leaner pork and, sad to say, we got it. To compensate for this leaner pork, we need a way to hold that moisture in the meat. Using a brine helps to do this.
Brining the meat adds flavor and helps hold the moisture inside the meat while cooking.
When you brine a piece of meat, the salt penetrates the outer surface. As it does this, it carries a small amount of water with it.
When you grill a pork chop, this keeps the outer layer from drying out. The result is a tasty, juicy pork chop.
Skip this step, and you'll have the same dry pork chops you've always had...
We all know that overcooking meat will make it dry out. Even if you cook a pork chop to perfection, it may be a little dry. This is because most pork chops don't have a lot of fat in them. Remember, they're the "other white meat".
To make sure our pork chops are tasty and moist, you have to cook them until they're almost done.
You also want a nice crust, so you will cook them at a high to medium high heat.
The method will be direct high heat.
For a 1" pork chop, cooking time on a charcoal grill is about 4-5 minutes per side.
On a gas grill, it's about 5-6 minutes per side.
Total cooking time, using direct heat is:
Your mileage may vary.
Watch your grilled pork chops and make sure they don't overcook!
After you cook grilled pork chops a couple of times, you'll get the hang of it. And soon you'll have the perfect time dialed in.
Note: For the brine we'll be using The Simple Blonder Wet Brine. This is a technique I discovered in Meathead Goldwyn's book, Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.
It uses weight to measure the salt instead of volume.
The size of salt crystals vary in size: Kosher salt crystal are bigger than table salt crystals. This makes measuring salt by volume less exact than measuring salt by weight.
If you don't have a kitchen scale, you can still make this recipe using measuring cups.
You can use any kind of salt that you have on hand. I prefer kosher because it has fewer additives. Diamond Crystal kosher salt doesn't contain any additives.