Are your friends less than enthusiastic when you invite them over for a back yard barbecue featuring grilled pork chops? Could that be because you’ve served them dried out, card board-tasting pieces of pork flesh in the past?
Troubles with your grilled pork offerings can be cleared up with some things you can do that will have your friends and neighbors begging for an invite.
Grilling pork chops to perfection could almost be considered an art.
It may come as no surprise that the art of the pork chop begins at the grocery. A poorly selected chop grilled to perfection is not any better then a great chop botched on the grill.
Selecting Pork Chops
All pork chops come from the wholesale cut of the pig known as the pork loin. The pork loin is from the back of the pig and runs from the head all the way to the tail.
The whole pork loin is further cut into retail cuts. Any cut from the pork loin can be labeled as pork chops. But there are huge differences.
Chops cut from near the head will most likely be labeled shoulder chops or blade chops.
These chops are a combination of several muscles. Multi-muscles means connective tissue and if connective tissue is not broken down during cooking these chops will be tough and chewy.
On the opposite end of the pork loin (the tail end) are sirloin chops. Sirloin chops have the same characteristics as shoulder chops if not more so.
Shoulder chops and sirloin chops are delicious in their own right but they are not a good choice for grilled pork chops. Grilling times are too short to break down connective tissue.
Reserve these chop choices for a slow cooking method such as braising.
The choicest cuts of the pork loin and the best for grilling come from the center. These are the chops furthest from the head and the tail.
You might see these labeled in different ways in your grocery. Center cut pork chops just mean the area they are from.
A great center cut chop is the one shaped like a t-bone or porterhouse beefsteak. On one side of the T will be the pork tenderloin and on the other side will be the pork loin.
These were the chops of choice for my Mom for frying up pork chops southern style.
The trouble with grilling this chop is that the tenderloin side will be done much sooner than the loin side.
By far the best pork chop for grilling to perfection is the center cut pork loin chop. The loin chop is a single muscle cut with very little fat. It compares in fat content with chicken breast.
You will see pork loin chops in plastic wrapped Styrofoam trays in the pork section of the meat aisle. If you opt for one of these packages inspect it first for uniformity of cut. You don’t want thick and thin areas within a chop or thick and thin chops within the package.
My personal choice is to buy a pork loin roast and have it cut to the chop thickness that I want, which is usually about 1″.
Brining Pork Chops
Brining pork is not a secret. Most good cooks know that brining pork before cooking makes it juicier and tenderer. Since pork loin chops are extremely lean I consider brining a must.
During the brining process the weight of the chops is increased significantly. This additional weight is all water.
During the cooking process the water takes time to cook out and some will remain after the chops are done. Moist and tender!
You can also add additional flavorings to the brine if you like. Basic brine however is one cup of non-iodized salt dissolved in one gallon of water. Place the chops in the brine and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
Grilling the Pork Chops
I don’t want to get into a debate over gas grills versus charcoal grills. I’ve owned a gas grill before and even though they are convenient they don’t add flavor like a charcoal grill does. (Plus you don’t get to play with fire!)
I use a two-stage grill method for my 1″ chops. If you have thinner chops that will cook quickly then a one stage is fine.
In the two-stage method build your charcoal fire in one half of the grill bowl centered next to a bottom vent. Leave the other half free of charcoal. Light the charcoal and allow it to acquire a light coating of gray ash. This is a fairly hot fire.
Place your chops over the charcoal and allow them to sear for 1 1/2 or 2 minutes on the first side and then turn and sear the other side. (Use tongs for turning-don’t pierce with a fork)
After searing the chops move them to the non-charcoal side and cover with the lid aligning the top vent in the center of the chop area. By aligning the fire with a bottom vent and the chops with a top vent you have cross ventilation that moves heat and smoke from the fire over the chops.
Now comes the tricky part of grilling the perfect pork chop. They have to be cooked just until done! Overdone and you’ve wasted all your time.
You should aim for removing the chops at 155 degrees internal temperature.
Residual cooking will bring the temperature up to the recommended 160 degrees. The only way to be sure of the internal temperature is to test from the side with a meat thermometer.
If you don’t have a thermometer an approximate time for a 1″ chop is about 5 to 6 minutes. You can cut into one and see if it’s done and that the juices run clear.
Pork Chop Recipes
Maybe grilling the perfect pork chop is not an art but it’s certainly a craft and crafts can be learned. But it takes practice!
Do a couple sessions with the information here with just your family and perfect your craft. After that you can expand your prowess with some good pork chop recipes for the grill.
You can venture into flavored brines, marinades, dry rubs and sauces. The variety is infinite.