Grilling pork chops that are moist, tender and delicious is a really simple and straightforward process. In fact, it's one of the easiest things you can do on a grill.
Unfortunately, many of us were taught that pork was safe to eat only if it was very well-done else you risked getting intestinal worms/trichinosis.
However, pork production has greatly improved over the decades and trichinosis has nearly been eliminated in domestic pigs. Hence, the USDA has lowered the recommended internal temperature of cooked pork from 160°F to 145°F. That's a big difference.
In fact, the National Pork Board states, "Because pork can often be overcooked, checking the internal temperature often will help prevent dry pork. Cook pork until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a three-minute rest time, and is a little pink inside."
Yes, "a little pink inside." For a lot of folks, that's gonna be hard to swallow - literally. However, the recommended internal cooking temperature for pork is great for us consumers, especially when it comes to grilling pork chops. It helps ensure that our chops will be moist and tender.
Pork is not graded the same as beef -- there are no Select, Choice and Prime grades. However, there are several different cuts of pork chops: sirloin chops, rib chops, blade chops, top loin chops, etc. All of these cuts can be cooked the same way. Your main concern would be if the pork chop is thick cut (3/4 inch or thicker) or thin cut (less than 3/4 inch), bone-in or boneless.
Grilling pork chops that are thick cut require more time on the grill over slightly less intense heat so that they can cook to the proper internal temperature without drying out. Thin cut pork chops are cooked quickly over high heat.
When it comes to grilling pork chops that are either bone-in or boneless, you retain a bit more moisture and gain some flavor with bone-in pork chops when compared to boneless.
Before grilling pork chops, there are basically three ways to enhance their flavor:
Dry Rub. A dry rub can be something as simple as salt and pepper or it can be a complex, custom blend of your own special herbs and spices.
Marinade. Grilling pork chops after a good marinade is another option. Marinating meat tenderizes it and adds flavor. And since marinades do not penetrate much below the surface of the meat, it is especially effective for flat and relatively thin cuts like pork chops.
Generally speaking, the longer you marinate something, the more pronounced the flavor. That's why most recipes suggest marinating your chops from several hours to overnight.
Brining. Brining helps meats draw in moisture and retain that moisture when cooked. Your most basic brine consists of water, salt and sugar. However, things like herbs, spices, onion and garlic or some other water soluble ingredients can be added to the brine for additional flavoring.
Like marinating, though, the effects of brining intensify with time. So while salt is a necessary component in the brining process, it's important not to over-brine your chops so that they aren't too salty. With a solution of 1 quart water, 3 tablespoons of Morton kosher salt, and 2 tablespoons of sugar, you can brine chops for 6 to 8 hours. Depending on your personal taste, you could brine your pork chops for up to 24 hours but definitely not beyond that.
In my experience, thick-cut pork chops benefit most from brining. You can certainly brine thin-cut chops as well, but I find them better suited for a good marinade since they can be cooked quickly, lessoning the chance of drying them out.
Really, though, the most important thing to remember when it comes to grilling pork chops is: Don't overcook 'em.
As I mentioned earlier, grilling pork chops is very simple. The first thing you do is take your chops out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature. This helps ensure your chops will cook evenly, especially if they're bone-in.
During this time, set-up your grill for two heat zones. This simply means having your hot coals in two layers on one side of your grill and a single layer on the other side. If you have a really small grill, you may want to have no coals at all on one side of your grill since the side without coals is still likely to be very hot.
Once the hot side of your grill reaches 450°F, sear your chops directly over the coals for 2 minutes on each side. Next, move your coals to the other side of your grill and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F. This will take about another 3-4 minutes per side.
Once your chops are done, take them off the grill, cover them with aluminum foil and let them rest for about 5 minutes. Why? Well, when you first take meat off the grill the temperature continues to rise several degrees. But as it begins to cool a bit, the moisture in the meat begins to redistribute throughout the meat, making it juicier.
Below is a recipe for Asian-style pork chops. They have a sweet flavor similar to Chinese char siu.
Prep Time: 10 min.
Cook Time: 10-14 min.
(Servings: 6 pork chops)
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup Mirin (Sweet rice wine)
2 tbls sesame oil
1 tbls Hoisin sauce
1 tbls kosher salt
1 tbls Siracha Hot Sauce
5 garlic cloves minced
2 tbls minced ginger
3 tbls sugar
1/3 cup onion minced
1/2 cup scallions
As you can see in the picture above, the pork chops are peppered with bits of ginger and garlic so we don't want the grill flaming hot, as this would burn the garlic bits and make them bitter. Also, the sugar in the marinade would cause the meat to burn.
Therefore, when grilling pork chops using this recipe you want about a 400°F grill temperature. If your coals are at least 12-14 inches below your meat (my smoker has an adjustable charcoal grate) you can cook your chops directly above the coals. Otherwise, set-up your grill for two heat zones just as a precaution.
Next, just grill your chops for about 5-7 minutes per side. Once they're done, let them rest for another 3 minutes and you're ready to dig-in.
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