Monday, 13 April 2015
Brining & Grilling Pork Chops
A good barbecued pork chop is juicy, smoky and full of flavour. Unfortunately, pork chops usually dry out on the barbecue because they're quite lean. Similar to skinless, boneless chicken breasts there's not much fat to keep the meat moist while it cooks. Luckily there is a trick you can do at home to keep them plump and juicy off the grill. That is by keeping the pork chops in a brine before cooking them. A brine is a solution of water, salt and usually other flavourings. The high salt content encourages the meat to absorb more liquid and flavour. This past Christmas we brined our turkey for the same effect.
In this post I'm going to share a basic recipe for the brine plus a great technique for cooking pork chops on the grill. The cooking process uses indirect heat. I have a gas barbecue (which rightfully is my roommate's). If you have a charcoal barbecue (which in my opinion is the better option anyway) all you need to do is gather the hot coals on one side of the grill. At first the pork chop will be seared briefly on the hot side and then gently cook through on the cooler side.
After you've brined your pork chops there's nothing stopping you from grilling the chop as is. If you really want some nice flavour though, I recommend a dry spice rub. You could brush some barbecue sauce on the pork chops near the end of the cooking process and that would be great too. I don't recommend a wet marinade after the initial brine though. The seasoning in a marinade could actually extract some of the liquid which the brine worked so hard at putting in. Whatever you do, do not add any additional salt. Brining requires quite a bit of salt to work effectively. This process seasons the meat throughout. This creates a beautiful flavour, but it takes care of all the salt required. If you add any salt to your spice mix you're probably going to overseason your pork chops. If you're using a store brought mix, make sure there isn't any salt added.
Basic Ingredients for the brine
2-4 bone-in pork chops
4 cups colder water
4 tbsps coarse kosher salt
*This is a sugar-free version, but you could add 2 tbsps of sugar for sweetness
Get yourself 2-4 pork chops. Bone-in is preferred because it looks nice, cooks more evenly and gives the meat flavour. Your best option is a thick cut (at least an inch) rib chop.
In a shallow dish or container, add 4 cups of cold water and 4 tbsps of coarse kosher salt. Whisk to dissolve.
Add whatever additional flavourings you wish. Here I've added a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, crushed garlic, dried habanero peppers and bay leaves. Other ideas that you could use are fresh chilies, lemon, ginger, whole spices, woody herbs or slices of onion.
Place the pork chops in your flavoured brine solution. The brine should completely cover the chops. Place them in the fridge. The chops need to sit in the brine for about 4 hours. If you like, you can take the chops out of the fridge for the last hour or two. The closer the meat is to room temperature before you grill it, the better.
Remove the chops from the brine and dry them thoroughly with paper towel. This will remove excess salt as well as moisture which would prevent the chop from getting a good sear. You'll notice at this stage that the chops will feel heavier than they were before the brine. That's because the chops are full of flavourful juices.
If your chop has a cap of fat on the side, score it with opposing diagonal lines. Make sure to do this just to the fat and not the meat. This will help to render while grilling, adding flavour and keeping the chop moist as it cooks.
Lightly oil the pork chops and apply the dry rub of your choice. I toasted up some cumin and fennel seeds in a dry pan then ground them up with paprika, dried thyme and cayenne pepper. Cajun, Chinese 5-spice or jerk seasoning also works very nice. Whatever you like so long as it has no salt.
Heat up your barbecue on one side. If you're using a gas grill turn the heat to high. Leave the lid down for a few minutes while it preheats. Then brush the grill and place the chops over the heated side. Close the lid and let them sear for one minute.
Then flip the pork chops and close the lid for another minute to sear the other side.
Then transfer the pork chops to the cooler side of the grill. Close the lid and leave them for about 3 or 4 minutes.
Flip the pork chops and close the lid for an additional 3 or 4 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on your barbecue and your pork, so rather than focusing on cooking time, aim for an internal temperature of 160 F/71 C. A pork chop doesn't cook like a steak. Only a slightly rosy center is perfect and safe to eat. If you overcook it, the meat will be a grey colour throughout.
Remove the pork chops from the grill. Let them rest at room temperature for at least 5 minutes. This will ensure an even juicier result.
This next step is optional but I recommend cutting off the scored fat. Now that the cooking is over, it has done it's job. Unless you consider it a delicacy, you don't need extra hog fat in your diet anyway.
Serve up your pork chops while they're still warm. Pork chops are great with roasted potatoes, fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, mac and cheese or wilted greens to name a few. Here I just plated it alongside a green salad.
There's only so much a photo can do, but can you see how beautifully tender and juicy this pork chop is? You won't even need a sauce. Banish the thought of dried out, chewy, barbecued pork chops. This brining technique is the best way to get maximum flavour and juiciness.
Spring is finally here which means sunny, barbecue weather is just around the corner. This is a great grilling experiment you can try at home. Very simple to do and there aren't even that many ingredients either. This is the most effective way to get delicious, restaurant-quality pork chops.
I hope you enjoyed this post and hopefully learned a thing or two. Lots of exciting new techniques and dishes are in store for the blog, so be sure to check back soon!
Until next time,