When I’m dreaming up my dinner menus, pork chops always fall to the bottom of the list. They take the back seat to favorites like flaky baked salmon or juicy grilled chicken. The reason? No matter what I do, I tend to overcook them-leaving my meal dull, dry and desperate to be drenched in applesauce.
This is a shame, because I know pork chops can make a delicious dinner that’s easy on the wallet. (Kind of like the rest of our budget-friendly dinners!) It’s time to make a change. Expert food editor James Schend agreed to share his best tips for cooking moist, tender and flavor-packed pork chops.
Tip #1: Buy the right type of pork chop.
It’s common knowledge that quality ingredients make a quality meal. And grilled pork chops are no exception. James suggests picking out 1-inch rib chops. Why? A thicker chop has a higher tolerance for direct heat. This means it’ll yield a nice sear without overcooking. Plus, rib chops have more fat than other chops-and fat equals flavor. Lastly, choosing a bone-in chop is important, too. The bone helps insulate the meat, keeping it moist and flavorful as it cooks.
Tip #2: Let it brine.
Thought brine was just for the Thanksgiving turkey? Think again. A saltwater bath helps tenderize the meat, preserving its delicate texture and keeping it nice and juicy. Time matters, too. Our Test Kitchen determined that pork chops should be kept in brine for 8 to 12 hours for best taste.
Tip #3: Spice things up with a slammin’ rub.
Pork chops are fine plain, but a rub will dial up the flavor. Best part? Spice blends are easy to experiment with and customize to your liking. Start with a couple tablespoons of paprika and a teaspoon of pepper, and add your favorite herbs and spices to the mix.
Just getting started? Follow the recipe below for a step-by-step guide to grilling tender, juicy pork chops, with tips from our Test Kitchen.
How to Grill Pork Chops
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 cups ice water
4 bone-in, center-cut pork rib chops (1 inch thick and 8 ounces each)
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin and ground mustard
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
Here are a few ideas for how to customize your rub:
- Smoky: Substitute smoked paprika in place of regular paprika.
- Spicy: Add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper to rub mixture.
- Sweet: Add 3 tablespoons brown sugar to rub mixture.
Step 1: Brine the pork.
To create the brine, combine salt, sugar and 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat. When the salt and sugar have completely dissolved, take the pan off the burners. Then cool the brine down to room temperature by adding 2 cups of ice water.
Place the pork chops in a large resealable plastic bag and carefully pour in the cooled brine. Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Gently turn it over a few times to coat the chops in the liquid. Place the brining bag in a 13×9-in. baking dish and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
Test Kitchen Tip: Set a timer on your watch or phone to remember to retrieve your pork chops. If the meat sits in the brine for longer than 12 hours, it risks becoming salty and tough. Remember the motto: Rise and brine. Start this step in the morning so your pork will be ready just before suppertime.
Step 2: Add the rub.
Remove the pork chops from the brine. Gently rinse each under the tap and pat dry using a paper towel. You can discard the brine, too. Next, prime the pork chops by brushing a light layer of oil on both sides.
Test Kitchen Tip: Check that each pork chop is completely dry before adding the oil. The less moisture there is on the surface of the meat, the quicker that satisfying golden-brown crust will form.
It’s time to make the rub. In a small bowl, mix together the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, ground mustard and ground peppers. Then, using a small handful at a time, rub the blend over the pork chops. Gently pat the spice blend onto the chops until they are evenly covered. Let the meat stand at room temperature 30 minutes. (But don’t just wait there! Go ahead and skip to step 3.)
Step 3: Get grilling.
At last, it’s time to fire up that grill. While the meat is making its way to room temp, double check to see if your grill is squeaky clean. Stuck-on food can cause the chops to stick! All good? Oil the grates. If you’ve already fired up the grill, the best way to oil is using a pair of long-handled tongs and a greased paper towel.
Now, rev up the flame to medium heat.
Test Kitchen Tip: If using a charcoal grill, you can gauge the temperature by holding your hand 5 inches above the cooking grate. If you can keep it there comfortably for 4 to 6 seconds, it’s at medium heat.
Gently lay the pork chops on the cooking surface, then cover. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes on each side
Test Kitchen Tip: Use long-armed tongs or a spatula to turn over the chops. If you pierce the meat with a fork, you risk losing those precious juices locked inside.
Looking for picture-perfect grill marks? Our food stylists have just the tip: After the chops have seared for 2 to 3 minutes, rotate them a quarter turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes more before flipping. Repeat on the opposite side.
Step 4: Check for doneness.
When your pork chops are just about ready, use a meat thermometer to measure their internal temperature. This is the single best way to ensure that your pork chops are cooked to perfection. For accuracy, insert the thermometer into the side of the chop. Take the meat off the grill when the thermometer reads 140° and let it stand for 5 minutes.
Test Kitchen Tip: Why the 5-minute wait? For this recipe, we use a method called carryover cooking. This means the meat is removed from the heat before it has finished cooking. As it sits, the pork chop’s internal temperature will continue to rise (from 140° to 145°) leaving you with a tender (and perfectly cooked) chop. Learn more about safe cooking temperatures for food here.
Step 5: Dig in!
You did it! Now that your chops have rested, they’re ready to serve. Carve each piece into slices or served them whole for a heftier meal.
Test Kitchen Tip: Concerned about the color of your meat? Don’t be alarmed. A truly moist, tender pork chop will look faintly pinkish on the inside.
Once you’ve made the perfect pork chop, it’s time to load up on the sides. Take a step up from applesauce with these crowd-pleasing recipes.
- Go hearty. These creamy ranch potatoes will round out your meal. P.S. This recipe is an easy one for your slow cooker.
- Go fresh. A vibrant green salad will lighten up the heavy dish. Better yet, cube the pork and toss it into a chopped salad to fuel lunches for the week.
- Get back on the grill. Complete your cookout with our top-rated grilled vegetable recipes. Smokin’ sides, here we come.
Looking for more ways to cook pork chops? Check out our easy, breezy pork chop recipes.