A big challenge facing a lot of grillers is how to cook tender juicy pork chops. Why do they so often turn out dry, tough and flavorless? There are a few reasons, but most often is because they are overcooked. There was a time when, for food safety reasons, we were taught to cook pork well-done. Well, those reasons really don’t exist anymore, so it is perfectly fine to grill your pork to medium… I actually prefer mine a little pink – cooked but with a little blush. Another big reason is that the pigs themselves are much leaner than they were years ago.
Butcher’s Lesson: Pork chops are undoubtedly the most popular cut from the pig’s loin section. The loin section is a strip of meat that runs from the shoulder to the hip. Pork chops, themselves come in a variety of cuts and names, including loin, rib, sirloin, top-loin and blade chops.
So how do you keep your chops nice and juicy? First, don’t buy thin-cut chops! Pork chops should be about 1-inch thick. Any thinner than that and it’s cooked through before you can get any grill marks on it. Next, buy chops that have the bone still attached – loin chops and rib chops are a griller’s best friend. The bone not only adds flavor, but it also helps to keep the chop nice and juicy. The loin chop has a T-shaped bone and has the same benefits as a T-bone steak – a nice piece of pork loin with the bonus of some juicy tenderloin.
Another trick to producing tender juicy pork chops is to brine them. Brines work by breaking down some of the muscle tissue and helping the meat to draw in moisture. Without getting too much into the science, soaking the pork in a salt water will increase the amount of moisture in the meat – this is very important in such a lean cut of meat. The more moisture that is in the meat when it hits the grill, the more moisture is in the meat when you are finished cooking = juicy and tender!
Here is a great brine recipe that works well with four to six 1-inch thick chops or a few 1-pound pork tenderloins.
- For brine:
- 6 cups water
- 6 tablespoons salt
- 6 tablespoon granulated sugar, packed
- 2 bay leaves, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 10 juniper berries, crushed
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- Four 1-inch thick pork loin or rib chops
- Barbecue sauce or grilling glaze - I used Bull BBQ's Spicy Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
- For brine: add 2 cups of water, salt, sugar, spices, and garlic to a medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 4 cups of water. Cool completely to room temperature. Place chops in single layer in a shallow baking dish; or another container or resealable plastic bag large enough to hold the chops. Pour in the brine mixture to cover the chops (you may have to use a small plate to weigh them down. Soak the chops in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours (6 to 12 hours if brining tenderloins).
- Remove the chops from brine and rinse with cold water to remove any excess salt from the surface of the meat. Let sit at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes to take the chill off the meat.
- Set up grill for direct heat grilling with two zones: high heat and medium heat. For charcoal grills, this means fewer coals on the lower heat side. Brush and oil the grates before cooking. Place chops on the high heat side for two minutes to sear the meat, flip and sear the other side for two minutes. Move chops to the medium heat; rotate 90 degrees for crosshatch marks. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 140F for medium (medium is 145F; the temperature will rise another 5 degrees with carryover heat). During the last couple minutes of cooking, brush on your favorite sauce, flipping a couple times to help caramelize the sauce.
- Allow the chops to rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Cheers and Happy Grilling!