This post is sponsored by Omaha Steaks. Rest assured, all opinions are my own.
If I took a poll of all of the types of meat people have told me they tend to mess up cooking, pork chops is probably at the top of that list. If people aren’t traumatized by tough hockey puck resembling chops when they were kids, what kind of food horror stories would we complain about to our own families? But why have so many generations passed down bad cooking methods to their own kids? Seriously, when I talk to some people they act like they have given up on the almighty pork chop as if it was impossible to make it turn out well. I promise you, it’s not the pork chop’s fault. But listen, it’s going to be okay! This is not rocket science and actually, it’s one of the easiest things you will ever cook once you know the simple basics of pork chops 101. Don’t have a smoker? That’s okay, I have you covered as well.
You know what is great about pork? It is relatively inexpensive, it’s versatile, and readily available typically for most of us. Now, my personal preference if I am going to sit down to a nice chop for dinner is to buy a nice thick one. Even as I am writing this I’m having flashbacks of those super thin cut pieces of pork that were some poor excuse for a chop that was typically coated in Shake n’ Bake growing up.
If I’m being truthful, we didn’t really know how much better pork could be back then. If Mom made food, you ate it and told her thank you regardless of the outcome. I’m going to take a second to give you all a bit of worldly advice. If anyone and I mean anyone takes the time and puts in the work to cook for you always tell them thank you. As someone who has been cooking for many years, a little bit of appreciation goes a long way. Motherly advice aside, let's get back to the chops.
There are a couple easy things we can do to assure we get a perfect chop that is perfectly cooked every time. I can’t stress this one enough as it is an essential tool we all must have in our kitchens: An instant read thermometer. I don’t care if it’s a basic model that costs $30 or one with all the bells and whistles. Accuracy is all that matters. If you are in the market for a new instant read thermometer, you can check this site here. If you need any specific suggestions, drop me an email and I’m more than willing to help. Do you want insurance that you won’t overcook meat ever again? Invest in that thermometer.
Next, the chop itself. To make a nice tender, juicy chop, try to buy a thicker chop. Stay away from those paper thin chops that overcook in 2 minutes. My preference is to have one at least an inch thick. I’ve had a number of great chops lately from Omaha Steaks. My favorite are the Bone-in King Cut Pork Chops. These massive and glorious chops weigh in at 16 ounces per chop! If you aren’t into giant chops like these, they have a nice selection of other size pork chops as well.
The last bit of pork chop perfection insurance I can sell you is to brine your pork. What is a brine though and why is it important? A wet brine is a mixture of at minimum salt and water in which you meat in to make it more tender and moist when cooked. By the process of osmosis, that piece of meat will absorb some of the brine and when you cook it, you’ll have more moisture in the meat compared to if you didn’t brine at all. A brine in addition to the salt and water can contain sugar, herbs and other aromatics to help pull some extra flavor within the meat. I’m going to keep this brine pretty simple for this recipe however. There is a lot of information available on brining meat and it’s actually quite fascinating. Many different types of recipes and methods are available if you are interested in researching the topic more.
Seasoned pork chops
Please note: the finished temperature of pork should be 145F and the pork may have a slight pink hue and that is completely normal. The USDA guidelines were changed in 2011 to show that pork can be consumed safely at this temperature. I know the temperature of a big chop like these 16oz chops is going to increase after I’m finished searing them so I actually temp them when searing to make sure they are at 140F then pull them off as the temperature will rise as they rest. I cannot stress this enough, please don’t overcook your pork. Not only is it unnecessary but you will ruin the piece of meat you bought. This is why having an instant read thermometer is so important.
The last step and my favorite part if you have a kitchen torch or blowtorch is to cover the top and sides of the chop with sugar and using sweeping motions of the flame, caramelize the sugar on the surface. The contrast of the sweetness and the bit of the spice from the rub is just wonderful. I finish it with a dab of garlic butter and then you are ready to devour it.
To summarize, for this recipe we will:
Defrost the chop if necessary
Prepare the brine
Rinse the brine from the pork
Season the meat (use your favorite sweet and spicy rub or follow my rub recipe below)
Put meat on the smoker at 250F (or oven if you don’t have one) until internal temp of 115F
Quickly sear the pork chop on both sides (be careful not to burn the outside of the chop as there is sugar in the rub)
Make sure chop is 140F after the sear
Caramelize sugar on the outside of the chop
Top with garlic butter
My motivation to create this recipe came after speaking to a friend about a restaurant in Texas that makes a giant pork chop that people rave over. I haven’t had that pork chop so I can only create a recipe based on what people describe to me. I have no idea if my pork chop is anything like the restaurant’s version however I do know that it is one fine pork chop and that’s what matters in my book.
Make the brine
In a non-reactive container (glass, stainless steel etc), mix enough brine to make sure the chops are covered.
Pick and measure the right amount of salt. Kosher salt and table salt are much different in crystal size and weight per tablespoon of salt. For this brine use ¼ cup of kosher salt OR 2 TBSP of table salt for every quart (4 cups) of water. In addition, add 2 TBSP of brown sugar (if you do not have brown sugar you may use white), 1 tsp of black peppercorns, a couple cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed open (no need to chop). If you would like to add juniper berries (about 10 berries), or fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary, a few springs will do. I only used salt, sugar, peppercorns and garlic for mine because that is what I had on hand.
Boil brine until salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Chill brine then add pork. If you don’t have much space in the refrigerator, brining in a plastic freezer bag is quite handy. Brine for the appropriate time, then remove pork from the brine, rinse with cool water and pat dry.
Season the pork chop
For this recipe I love a rub that is both sweet and spicy. But you can use anything you like that compliments pork. Making your own rub is really easy if you have the ingredients on hand. I don’t like anything overwhelmingly spicy, but it’s nice having a slight heat to compliment the sweetness of the sugar. Don’t stress if you don’t have the ancho chile powder or the smoked paprika. Regular paprika can be used in place of the smoked and will still give great color as a replacement. Ancho chile powder is delicious but not crucial to the success of the recipe.
2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt or sea salt
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground mustard
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
I personally like to always mix up multiple batches of rub at the same time and keep it on hand for when I use it next. This rub will go great on both pork and chicken. Apply rub liberally to all sides of the pork chops.
Smoke the pork chop
Set up your smoker for indirect cooking at 250F with wood of choice (pecan, hickory, apple, cherry etc.). Smoke the pork chops until the internal temperature of the meat is 115F. The temperature will rise further when you sear the pork so you want to pull it off much lower than the finished cooking temperature of 145F. How long will it take to cook? That depends on the size of the chop. You are looking at anywhere from maybe 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on thickness. Remember, smoke to temperature, not time.
Time to sear the chop. You can either sear the chop quickly over direct heat on your grill, sear it in a suitable hot pan for a minute or so on each side, or place the chop in the oven at 450F for a couple minutes. Please note when searing: the brine has sugar in it as does the rub. Keep a close eye on the color of the chop as you are searing it as the sugar will burn if it gets too hot. I would rather you take a little time longer to sear at a slightly lower temperature rather than burn the rub on the outside of the pork chop. Using an instant read thermometer, pull the chop off of the heat when it reads 140F. The internal temperature of the meat will continue to raise a few degrees as it is resting for a few minutes.
Searing on cast iron pan
Caramelize the Sugar
Bust out your kitchen torch or your blowtorch for the most fun part of the whole cook! Sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of white sugar on the top and sides of the pork chops. Using your torch, using a sweeping motion, torch the sugar until it is caramelized nicely all over. Stay a few inches back from the surface of the meat and judge how effective the flame is melting the sugar prior to moving closer. You want it to caramelize, not burn. If you ever had creme brulee that they went a bit too crazy with the torch on, you know exactly where I’m coming from. Don’t have a blow torch, that’s okay. You can omit this step or sprinkle the sugar on the chop and pop it under the broiler in the oven. Watch it closely though because it only takes a few seconds.
Caramelizing the sugar
Lastly, I top my pork chop with a dab of garlic butter. I soften a stick salted butter then add a teaspoonful of minced garlic and stir it all up. Alternatively, roasted garlic in butter would be fabulous as well. Put a generous dab of the butter on chop right as you are serving. If you have a sizzle plate, this would be an ideal way to serve this stunning chop.
Just remember the number one rule of cooking pork chops: do not overcook the pork chop and you’ll be just fine. Enjoy!