“I hated pork chops as a kid,” a friend told me. “We’d have them once a month,” she said. “They were so dry, my jaws hurt by the end of dinner.”
“But you eat pork now,” I said. “What changed?”
“I don’t cook it like my mother did.”
I’ve heard several stories like this from several customers whose mothers cooked pork to a second death. They had their reasons. People our parents’ age and older grew up with their mothers overcooking pork to make sure they killed Trichinella spiralis, the pathogen that causes Trichinosis. Though Trichinella spiralis has been mostly eliminated from pork for a few decades in the US (to the tune of 1 case per 54 million for retail pork), overcooking has persisted. Only a few years ago, the USDA finally lowered their cooking temperature recommendations for pork. For cuts (its higher for ground meats), that internal temperature is a nice, easy 145˚ that leaves meat juicy, with some color in the center.
USDA Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Recommendations Link
For “low and slow” cooking in dutch ovens and crock pots, we don't have to worry to much about drying out the pork. Want to be sure? Especially for grilling? Get a meat thermometer.
The thermometer pictured works well for me since the face is large enough to read easily and small enough to use on a steak or chop still on the grill (note that it has the older, higher cooking temperature recommendations on it).
To get an accurate reading, you need to make sure the probe reaches the center of the meat. I pick one cut on the grill and probe through the side. That ensures maximum contact from meat to probe so the thermometer is giving you the temperature of the meat, and not just the temperature of the thermometer. (Thermometers are notorious at giving you their temperature and not the temperature of the medium you are measuring. Self-centered things…)
If you are grilling, brining is another good way to keep pork juicy. Meat soaked in a brine will absorb the salty solution, and all the other flavors in it, through osmosis until the salt level in the meat and the solution reach equilibrium. This absorption gives meat a higher liquid content before cooking and protects it from drying out as easily. I didn’t go to this recipe because I was afraid of drying my chops out; I wanted the brine to carry the bourbon in. (You are not surprised).
While the charcoal grill only comes out in summer or for smoking meats, we use the gas grill year around. I made the below recipe from Steven Raichlen over the weekend. He has you smoke the meat for the last ten minutes. I skipped the smoking part and they were still delicious.
Bourbon Brined Pork Chops:
4 Loin Chops (he says 1” thick but I like 3/4” chops)
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
10 black peppercorns (I used 12 -I’m sure that threw everything off)
5 allspice berries (Couldn’t find them. I’ve made it with and without them. Not a deal-breaker.
Come to think of it, I didn’t use the bay leaves either.
They pop up in recipes everywhere and I’ve never found them to be a critical ingredient.)
3 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar
3 tablespoons of coarse salt
1 cup of hot water
2 cups of cold water
3 tablespoons of bourbon (I used 4. You are not surprised.)
Place the chops in a baking dish large enough that they all lay flat. The ideal dish has just enough room for the chops and is deep enough that they are completely covered in brine. That way, you don’t have to bother turning them once while they brine. Arrange the onions and the next five ingredients (whichever ones you choose to use) over the chops.
Combine the brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the hot water and whisk until the salt and sugar dissolve. Stir in the cold water and the bourbon. Pour over the chops and refrigerate 2-4 hours.
Once your grill is warmed up, place the chops on the grates so they are not directly over a burner. You don’t want direct heat at the beginning. The actual recipe calls for smoking the chops first and then transferring them to the hotter part of the grill for the last few minutes.
Grill the chops on both sides for several minutes, and then move them directly over the burners. I can’t give you an exact time. Your grill isn’t my grill and your chops might be thinner or thicker than mine. This is why you have a meat thermometer. When the internal temperature reaches 145˚, pull them.
When you pull meat from the grill, let it rest. I’ve read and heard that resting meat after cooking allows the juices that have been driven to the center of the meat to come back out to the edges. Not exactly. It’s actually about temperature. As meat cools slightly after cooking, the muscle fibers relax slightly and can hold more moisture than they could at higher temperature. (The sizzling when you cook meat is the juices being driven out of the meat.) Juices run out of a chop or steak if you cut into it straight off the grill. Let it cool a few degrees and the meat will be able to hold more of the juices within the fibers. If you want to test this to a noticeable level, cut into one chop (or steak or whatever) straight off the grill and let another one rest until it’s almost room temperature. Juices won’t run out of the cooled one. Try it.
Even without smoking, there is a slightly smoky flavor to the meat thanks to the bourbon. I cooked four chops for the four of us—40+ ounces of meat for two adults and two six-year-olds. There wasn't anything left on the bones when we finished.
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Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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