Pork chops can be effortless and delicious, but first you need to understand a few things about the pork that’s sold in supermarkets. Pigs in the US have been selectively bred to be very lean over the past fifty years. According to the National Pork Board, a 3 ounce serving of pork tenderloin has 3 grams of fat, which is .1 gram LESS than skinless chicken breast! It also has 15% less cholesterol than chicken breast.
While all this might make your cardiologist happy, it comes at the expense of flavor and moistness. I’m sure you’ve all had a pork chop at some point that was like eating damp cardboard: dry, mealy and flavorless. That’s because today’s lean pork doesn’t cope well with the high internal temperatures recommended by traditional pork chop recipes.
This was probably in large part due to the fact that until recently, the USDA recommended cooking pork until it reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. According the USDA, Trichinella spiralis (one of the main concerns of eating undercooked pork), is neutralized after 1 minute at 140 degrees F, so why on earth would they tell you to cook it 20 degrees higher? Thankfully they seem to have seen the error in their thinking, and last year, they revised the safe cooking temperature of whole cuts of pork down to 145 degrees F, that’s still 5 degrees higher than it really needs to be, but it’s understandable that they’d err on the safe side.
So what can you do to ensure you get a moist, tender, flavorful pork chop?
- Brine it – One of my secrets to getting a flavorful juicy pork chop every time, is to brine it in a solution of salt and sugar. In the same way that it benefits lean meats like turkey, brining your pork adds flavor and moisture to the meat, lending a helping hand to even the leanest of chops.
- Don’t overcook it – While you have to decide for yourself what temperatures you’re comfortable cooking your meat to, I tend to cook pork chops to 141 degrees and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.
- Buy heritage pork – If you can afford it, try finding pork chops that come from a heritage breed of pig such as Berkshire(a.k.a. Kurobuta) or Ibérico. Heritage breeds haven’t undergone the selective breeding aimed at reducing the fat content of pork. They’re expensive, and may not be as healthy, but they certainly taste better.
- Use rib chops – As with most meats, tenderness in pork chops often comes at the cost of flavor. I like using pork rib chops because they have more fat than a loin chop, but less connective tissue than a blade chop, helping them strike a great balance between the two ends of the spectrum.
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