Pork chops are one of my favorite foods. To illustrate my devotion, I actually even named my little pug “Pork Chop”–such is my enduring love of the classic meat cut.
The fact is this: when pork chops are made well, they are a thing of culinary beauty: unctuous, flavorful, moist, and filling. However, pork chops are not always executed with such panache. There are plenty of poorly prepared specimens out there, which come out stringy and dry, unevenly cooked, or bland and flavorless.
Making perfect pork chops doesn’t require a diploma from culinary school, but it does require some key steps in preparation. Luckily, it’s not difficult to master the right methods.
What is a pork chop? Just in case you’re not completely sure what a pork chop is, exactly, let’s take a moment to discuss. What is commonly called a “pork chop” is a cut of pork from the loin, which is cut perpendicular to the spine of a pig. Typically, it is served as an individual portion. Pork chops can be purchased bone-in, or boneless.
8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Making Pork chops. Usually, if pork chops come out poorly, it’s due to one of the common errors outlined below. Happily, these common mistakes are all easy to remedy, so that you can be cooking pork chops like a pro in no time.
- You use low quality meat. The key ingredient in a pork chop? The pork. Suffice it to say that the quality of your finished dish is directly correlated to the quality of the meat you employ for your cooking.
If you use low quality meat of questionable origin, your results could be, well, questionable. The quality of your finished dish will be much greater if you use good quality meat from a trusted source. Local and organic pork will typically yield the best results.
If your local store doesn’t have local or organic varieties of pork available, there is an easy way to ensure that you’re choosing the best meat you can buy. According to America’s Test Kitchen, you can simply choose the pinkest pork chops from the grocery case; these are likely to be the most flavorful.
- You think boneless is best. It might seem easier to buy the boneless pork chops: after all, you’re not going to eat the bone, so why not save yourself the trouble of cutting it off when it’s time to eat?
What you gain in time by purchasing boneless chops, you’ll lose in flavor. The bone imparts quite a bit of flavor and moisture on the finished chops. As an added benefit, the bone’s density also slows down the cooking process slightly, which offers a slightly more forgiving window of time for cooking your chops.
- You don’t let the meat come to room temperature before cooking. Do you transfer the chops directly from your fridge to your cooking surface? This could lead to uneven cooking, as the meat will thaw and cook far faster on the outside than on the interior. This means that by the time your meat has reached the USDA-suggested “safe” interior temperature of 145 degrees F, the outside may already be charred and crispy.
Next time, try letting the pork chops rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before cooking. This will even out the interior and exterior temperatures, allowing for more even cooking.
- You don’t add enough salt or seasoning. If you give your pork chops a sprinkle of salt and call it good, you may end up with bland pork chops. Salt helps seal in moisture, and helps your pork chops realize their full flavor potential.
Be generous with salt–more generous than you think you need to be. It will burn off quite a bit during the cooking process, but not before it’s able to seal in moisture and impart flavor to the finished chops.
Be generous with other seasonings such as pepper, herbs, or dry rubs, too. By seasoning before you cook, you allow the flavoring to meld with the chop during cooking. If the spices or herbs you add fade too much during the cooking process, you can always “finish” the pork chops with more once they are cooked.
- You remove all of the fat before cooking. Don’t fear the fat: it’s where so much of the flavor comes from in your pork chops. If you remove the fat before you cook your pork chops, not only will you remove a key source of flavor, but you’ll also be removing the fat layer that acts as protection to the more tender portions of the meat, which could result in the meat becoming tough during the cooking process.
It’s fine to slice off the fat after the pork chops are cooked, but for the sake of superior flavor, leave the fat on while you cook.
- You keep the heat too hot on your cooking surface. A sizzling-hot pan is perfect for getting a nice sear on the exterior of your meat. However, once you’ve attained that initial sear, it’s time to turn down the heat. While that sizzle can be satisfying, if the pan is too hot, the meat will char on the outside before it is fully cooked inside.
By starting out very hot, flipping the chops so that you can get a sear on either side, and then turning down the heat to medium, you will ensure that you have the best of both worlds: a crispy exterior but a fully cooked interior. As an added bonus, this method gives leeway for the different smoke points of various cooking fats, allowing you to use butter, vegetable oil, lard, or even olive oil.
- You don’t use a meat thermometer. Your chops might look perfectly cooked, but in terms of safety, the only way to know if your pork chops have cooked through is to monitor the internal temperature.
A meat thermometer can be inserted into the center of the cut of meat to give the inner temperature. The USDA suggests that you aim for an internal temperature of 145 degrees F for your pork chops. Because the meat will continue to rise in temperature internally after it is removed from the heat source, remove the chops when they register around 140 degrees F. As the meat rests for several minutes after cooking, the internal temperature will rise to about 145 degrees F.
- You don’t let the meat rest. It can be tempting to dig right into your finished pork chops, but give them a few minutes to rest before you serve. It’s worth waiting for a few minutes. Why? First, it allows the temperature to even out, as the meat will actually continue cooking internally for a few minutes after it’s removed from heat.
Resting will also make for a better finished texture. If you don’t let your chops sit before digging in, all of the juices can come seeping out, and you’ll be left with a dry pork chop.
Conclusion: Perfect pork chops aren’t just for restaurant chefs and cookbook authors. Everyone can master the art of the pork chop, right at home. Once you’ve overcome these common mistakes, you’ll be on a path to pork chop perfection.
Have you ever made any of these common mistakes while cooking pork chops?