“Labor day” isn’t really accurate for describing how we spent our weekend. “Lazy day” is more like it. In fact, living in a college town, labor day weekend for us means locking ourselves indoors to avoid getting trampled by the back-to-school mob. Stock up on food and water, lock your doors, the students are coming!
Lucky for us, I had some massive pork chops hanging out in the fridge just begging to be thrown on the grill. As anyone who’s cooked pork chops knows, they can be a tricky meat to do right — they’re very lean, and can dry out fast. Fortunately, there are a few easy tricks to help ensure that doesn’t happen:
- Choose thick chops. When cooking chops on the grill, it can be dangerously easy for the high heat to dry them out… especially if your chops are thin. My favorite chops for grilling are bone-in, and at least 1 1/2 — 2 inches thick. If you can’t find any that thick, ask your butcher to cut some for you.
- Brine. I know that brining sounds like a major pain in the behind, but I promise you it couldn’t be simpler to do. All you need is a large bowl of water, sugar and salt, and about an hour before you’re ready to cook. You can take that time to get the grill hot, and prep a salad or side dish. Think of brining like a marinade, but instead of adding flavor to the outside of the food, it penetrates and season the inside of the food. In addition to adding flavor, the salt that enters the meat will help hold on to moisture as it cooks, which is one department where these chops need all the help they can get. Once the meat is done brining, drain off the water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Moisture inside the meat = good, moisture on the surface of the meat = bad.
- Sear high, finish low. For thick cuts of meat like this, the best way to get a flavorful crust on the outside without overcooking the inside is to start over super hot coals to sear, then move the meat to the cooler side of the grill to cook through. If you have a gas grill, get one side preheated over a high flame, and the other side turned to low. For charcoal, light and heat as you normally would, then scrape all the coals to one side.
- Use a thermometer. Even if you’re a skilled grill master, cooking a thick cut of lean meat can be tricky to get right. (I certainly don’t trust myself to do it!) To make sure the meat is done, but not over-done, I like to use a thermometer, inserted into the center of one of my chops. Look for the temperature to reach 130-135 degrees F., then pull the chops from the grill and let them rest for at least ten minutes before serving.
- Don’t skip the rest time! That meat is tired after being cooked, and it needs to take a nap before you dig in. During that ten minute siesta, the internal temperature will continue to rise another 5-10 degrees, resulting in a perfectly cooked piece of meat. Letting the meat rest also gives the proteins of the meat a chance to reabsorb some of their juices, which will keep them from running out onto the plate when you cut into it. While that meat rests, toss the salad, crack open a beer, and set the table. Your patience will be rewarded!
Perfect chops, every time!
One more tip: I made these particular chops with a sweet and spicy apricot glaze, but I’ve since made them with my Jalapeno Peach Jam and they are THE BOMB. Just one more reason to make a batch of jam before the peaches are gone!
- For the chops:
- 4 bone-in pork chops, 1 - ½ -- 2 inches thick (ask your butcher if you can't find any that thick)
- 4 cups water
- ¼ cup salt
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1-2 tsp. vegetable oil
- For the apricot glaze:
- ⅓rd cup apricot jam
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- ¼ tsp. freshly grated ginger, or powdered ginger
- ¼-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, to taste
- In a large bowl, stir together the water, sugar, and salt for the brine. Add the pork chops, and place another, smaller bowl on top to keep them submerged if necessary. Let them soak for 1 -- 1½ hours while you prepare the apricot glaze and preheat the grill.
- In a small dish, stir together all of the ingredients for the apricot glaze. If the jam is too thick, you can warm it in the microwave for a few seconds first. Set aside.
- Get your grill ready -- if you're using a gas grill, turn one side of the burners on to high heat, and the other side on to low. If you're using charcoal, light your grill as you normally would, then scrape all of the coals towards one side so there's a hot and cool side of the grate.
- When the grill is ready, remove the pork chops from the brine and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Rub lightly with vegetable oil on all sides, then place over the hottest part of the grill. Grill for 2-3 minutes per side, or until they are nicely browned.
- Once the chops are seared on both sides, move them to the cooler part of the grill. Brush the top side of each chop with apricot glaze, then insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of one of the chops (being careful the probe is not touching the bone). Close the lid of the grill, and let cook for 8-10 minutes, then flip the chops, brush with more glaze, and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes, or until the thermometer reaches 130-135 degrees F. (The cooking time will vary drastically depending on the thickness of your chops and the temperature of your grill, so I strongly recommend going by the thermometer, not the time).
- Remove the chops from the grill and let them rest for at least ten minutes. During this time, the temperature should rise to between 140-145 degrees F., right where you want it.
- Before serving, pour any juices that have accumulated around the chops into the dish with the remaining apricot glaze. Stir to combine, then spoon over the chops. Serve immediately.