A pork chop is an individual serving of meat cut perpendicular to the spine of the pig that usually includes a rib or a piece of vertebra.  A center cut chop, like a beef T-bone, contains a large T-shaped bone.  Rib chops, like rib eye steaks, come from the rib portion of the loin.  Blade or shoulder chops come from the spine and sirloin chops, like porterhouse steaks, are taken from the rear leg end.

In the past pork has been cooked longer than beef to avoid parasites harmful to humans that can survive in undercooked pork.  As a result, pork often was overcooked and dry.  More recently, improved breeding techniques for hogs have made it possible to cook pork for shorter time periods, to about 145* on a meat thermometer, and still maintain safety.  Nevertheless, the main challenge in cooking a pork chop remains to avoid drying it out.  Here are some tips for producing a juicy chop:

  • Look for center cut loin or rib chops with the bone still in.  The presence of the bone  slows cooking, flavors the meat and helps the chop retain moisture.
  • Have your chops cut at least 1 inch thick.  Thinner chops will be shoe leather on the inside before you’ve browned the exterior.
  • Brine the chops before you cook them.  In addition to seasoning the meat, brining actually changes its cell structure, resulting in a noticeably juicier chop.  If you’re short on time, skip the brine and your chops will still be good.  But if you have a few hours available for unsupervised soaking, it’s worth the small effort.
  • Let the chops sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before cooking them. If the meat is too cold, the outside will overcook while the inside is finishing.
  • Dry the chops thoroughly with paper towels before seasoning and browning them. If they’re not dry, they won’t brown.  And make sure your pan is screaming hot before you add the chops so that you get a good sear.
  • In the recipes that follow, after the chops are browned they are covered and braised in a liquid either in the oven or on top of the stove until they are meltingly tender.  The timing of the braise is a ballpark figure.  The thickness and cut of your chops, the heat of your oven, or the pan you’ve used all can effect timing.  Check the chops and don’t hesitate to continue the braise if you think they need more time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Braised pork chops with apples
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA with capers, mustard and sour cream
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA with collard greens (smothered pork chops)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA with sauerkraut (James Beard’s pork chop sauerkraut casserole)

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