How to Make the Best Pork Chops
We love the versatility of pork chops, and that’s why we’ve developed dozens of pork chops recipes—from pan-fried to sautéed pork chops, and from slow-cooked to grilled. Many of our pork chops recipes can be made quickly and easily, making them perfect no-fuss weeknight meals. Here we’ve assembled essential pieces of equipment to have. We’ll also tell you how to choose the best chops at the store, and explain the core techniques to use when making perfect pork chops.
We’ll explain why pink pork is okay, the best way to prevent your pork chops from curling, and how to make a pan sauce for your pork chops.
What is the safe internal temperature for pork? And is pink pork safe to eat?
The pork of yesteryear was always cooked till gray, but that pork was a lot fattier than what's on the market today. Selective breeding has made today's pork much leaner, and if you cook it till gray, the meat will be dry and tough. We think the leanest cuts—like tenderloin—are best cooked to 150 degrees. At this point, the meat will still have a tinge of pink in the center.
What about trichinosis? Better farming practices have all but eliminated the trichina parasite from American-raised pork. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of trichinosis cases averages 12 per year-and most of those cases have been linked to wild game, not commercially raised pork. Also, the trichina parasite is killed when the temperature of the meat rises to 137 degrees, so cooking pork to 150 degrees should do the job.
Pink pork isn't completely without risk. All meat (including beef) may be subject to cross-contamination with several pathogens, such as salmonella. This can happen during processing, at the supermarket, or in your home. To reduce this risk, some food safety experts recommend cooking all meat to 160 degrees—that is, until it is well done. But if you think it's worth taking the small risk to enjoy a rosy steak, you might as well to do the same with pork.
Tired of your pork chops curling as they cook? So were we, until we found a quick technique that prevented our chops from buckling.
Pork chops—especially thin-cut chops—have a tendency to curl as they cook. When exposed to the high heat of the pan, the ring of fat and connective tissue that surrounds the exterior tightens, causing the meat to buckle and curl. To prevent it, we cut two slits about 2 inches apart through the fat and connective tissue on each chop.
Making a Pan Sauce for Pork Chops
Just seared some pork chops? Don't wash that skillet! Here's how to use it to make a rich, savory pan sauce to serve with them.
A pan sauce—made with just a handful of ingredients and in a matter of minutes—can look and taste nearly as rich as a classic, labor-intensive French sauce. The base of a pan sauce is the fond, or browned bits, clinging to the bottom of the skillet after sautéing pork chops. Once the meat is removed from the skillet, aromatics such as minced shallots can be sautéed; then, in a process called deglazing, liquid—usually wine, homemade stock, or broth—is added and the fond is scraped up. The liquid is simmered and reduced to concentrate flavors, thickened, and, in a final (sometimes optional) step, the reduction is enriched and slightly thickened by whisking in butter.
If the recipe calls for canned broth, it's best to use a low-sodium variety because reduction can result in overwhelming saltiness. Also avoid the "cooking wines" sold in grocery stores. They contain considerable amounts of salt and are generally unappealing in flavor.
If you intend to make a pan sauce for your pork chops, opt for a traditional skillet. A nonstick skillet will not develop as much fond as a traditional skillet will, and, because fond supplies a pan sauce with richness and depth of flavor, a nonstick skillet will make a less flavorful pan sauce. Also important is the size of the skillet. It should comfortably hold the pork chops. If it is overcrowded, the pork chops will steam and fail to create much fond.
Because pan sauces cook quickly, before you begin to cook it is essential to complete your mise en place—that is, have all necessary ingredients and utensils collected and ready before you begin cooking your pork chops. Here are the things we recommend having ready to use:
1. Just-seared meat After searing the pork chops, transfer it to a plate and tent it loosely with foil to keep it warm while you are making the sauce. A loose seal is recommended because it will help to keep any crust that has formed from turning soggy.
2. Liquids Leave liquid ingredients (such as wine, broth, juices) in a measuring cup. Once emptied the measuring cup should be kept close at hand; the reduced liquid can be poured back into the cup toward the end of simmering to gauge if it has been adequately reduced.
3. Salt and Pepper Tasting for and correcting seasoning is the last step before serving. Keep salt in a ramekin so that it is easy to pinch or measure out in small amounts.
4. Small Bowl Have ready a small empty bowl or container to catch excess fat that must be poured off before you begin the sauce.
5. Whisk For maximum efficiency and easy maneuverability, use a medium-size whisk with flexible wires that can get into the rounded corners of the skillet.
6. Aromatics Aromatics include garlic and onion, but in many pan sauces shallots are preferred. If "minced" is specified, make sure they are minced finely and evenly; this will cause them to release maximum flavor, and their texture will be less obtrusive in the finished sauce.
7. Herbs and Flavorings Herbs are sometimes used in sprig form, to be removed from the sauce before serving. Delicate herbs such as parsley and tarragon are usually chopped and added to the sauce at the end so that they do not discolor. Other flavorings, such as mustard, lemon juice, capers, and chopped olives are often added at the end for maximum flavor impact.
8. Wooden Utensil A wooden utensil works best to scrape up the fond while deglazing, because it is rigid. A wooden spatula is ideal because its flat edge can scrape up more fond than the rounded edge of a spoon.
9. Butter So that it will melt quickly, cut the butter into tablespoon-size chunks. Cold butter is easier to incorporate into a sauce than softened butter and it makes for a sturdier emulsion that is more resistant to separation.
The Right Tools for Making Pork Chops
Modern pork is so lean that is goes from underdone to overdone very quickly. To prevent dry, overcooked meat, you’ll need to take the pork chop’s temperature. There are two types of instant-ready thermometers: dial face and digital. Both models are accurate, but we found the digital models to be quicker to register and easier to read.
A large skillet is our preferred vessel for pan-frying, searing, and sautéing pork chops. Our favorite model is a roomy 12-inches—we found we preferred a generous cooking surface, and pans that crowded together pork chops steamed the meat instead of browning it.
Twelve-inch tongs are long enough to protect you from splattering oil when cooking pork chops, yet short enough to offer control when flipping pork chops in a skillet or on the grill.
Key Ingredients for Pork Chops
Due to market demands, today’s pork is bred to be 50 percent leaner than its counterpart in the 1950s and less fat means less flavor and moisture. The industry has addressed this issue by producing “enhanced pork”—meat injected with a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate. The idea is to both season the pork and prevent it from drying out. (The sodium phosphate improves its water-retention abilities.) More than half of the fresh pork sold in supermarkets is now "enhanced."
The results of our countless tests comparing “enhanced” pork against natural pork have all had the same results: We unilaterally prefer the latter. Natural pork has a better flavor and if cooked correctly, moisture isn’t an issue. We also strongly recommend brining most cuts of pork, which lends both moisture and seasoning to the meat. (Enhanced pork should not be brined; it’s already pretty salty.) Manufacturers don't use the terms "enhanced" or "natural" on package labels, but if the pork has been enhanced it will have an ingredient list. Natural pork contains just pork and won't have an ingredient list.
Sure pork chops make for a family-friendly, easy weeknight dinner. But knowing what kind of chop (and what to avoid) is often the difference between a quick dinner and a quick dinner that your family will enjoy. This guide covers the different types of chops you might encounter at the butcher counter.
Our Favorite Pork Chop Recipes
Apple flavor can be fleeting, but we found the secret to infusing these pork chops with deep, rich cider flavor. Apple cider lent a sweet tartness to the pork chops’ braising mixture and sauce, while apple butter added tons of flavor and its natural pectin gave the sauce a thick, glossy consistency.
Too often, pork chops turn out dry, tough, and flavorless. We keep our pork chops juicy and tender with a quick pan-fry, and bring the flavor with a fennel- and sage-infused gravy.
Pork chops are a standard weeknight meal because they are quick and easy to prepare, but without some help, pork chops are also insufferably dull. We wanted to jazz up otherwise boring boneless pork chops with a bright herb stuffing.
In search of an easy way to build big flavor for weeknight pork chops, we revisited an old-fashioned cooking method: pan-frying. Turns out, a shallow pan-fry yields beautifully browned, moist pork chops and a fast weeknight supper.
Breadcrumb-coated pork chops, aka “Shake ’n Bake” pork chops, are a weeknight staple in many households. They may be quick and easy to prepare pork chops, but they rarely turn out as pretty as the picture on the box. The crumb coating is typically gummy and bland as can be, seasoned with little but salt and dusty dried herbs. We wanted to make our own rendition that turned out pork chops with a crisp coating and rich flavor.
Boneless pork chops are nothing if not convenient. They cook quickly and pair well with as easy tangy glaze, making this simple pork chop dish a weeknight favorite. Still, keeping the pork chops moist and tender and getting the right consistency for the glaze did require a little finesse.
Grilling double-thick pork chops can be a tricky endeavor—grilling pork chops directly over hot coals will char the exterior before the inside is cooked, while “slow and low” cooking makes them gray and pale and leaves the pork chops tasting steamed. We wondered how we could get great taste, good color, and tenderness out of these double-thick chops.
A popular chain restaurant serves a “Jack Daniel’s” pork chop that sounds a lot better than it really is. There’s little of the whisky flavor at all; instead it is just a dish of pork chops with a sweet-tasting barbecue sauce. The concept, however, sounded good enough that we wanted to try to make this pork chop dish at home.
Juicy pork chops with an irresistible golden-brown crust are not so difficult to achieve when they’re an inch thick, but what happens when all you have are smaller chops? For juicy, nicely charred thin pork chops, we used a four-part method of salting, freezing, and brushing with softened butter before grilling.
There’s a reason we smother pork chops: On their own, they can be bland, leathery, and flavorless. But after trying a handful of recipes, we realized that merely smothering pork chops with oniony gravy and hoping for the best wasn’t going to cut it.