Everything I Know About Pork Chops

Mar 15, 2019 | Cooking Tips, meat

If you don’t love pork chops you have probably never had them cooked to perfection… Or you just don’t eat pork which is completely possible but not at all what we are talking about today.

Let’s assume for arguments sake that you don’t like pork chops because whenever you eat them, they’re over cooked and dry. This is a very common problem, especially with the thin grocery store pork chops that we’re all used to.

So, what can be done? How can we prevent pork chops from becoming dry pieces of particle board that absorb all the moisture out of our mouths? How can we add flavour before we even cook them? How can we make something that seems so mundane, the star of any meal?

All of this and more because this is…

Everything I know about pork chops

Part of the problem with pork chops is the part of the pig that they come from. It is a very lean part of the animal. The less fat, the less flavour and the more likely to dry out while cooking. There is one bonus however, because these muscles don’t get a tonne of work compared to leg muscles, they are very tender.

The Fear of Pork

The big fear that people have with pork is that if they under cook it they will get trichinosis. With modern farming and butchering techniques this isn’t actually much of a worry. There has only been one case of trichinosis in Canada since 1980. This happened in 2013 and it was from a homegrown hog not a commercially produced one.

Having said that, I’m not suggesting that you start eating rare pork. What I am saying is that pork doesn’t have to be over cooked. It just has to be cooked to a final temperature of 165°F or 74°c. By final, I mean the temperature that it comes to after resting. So, cooking a pork chop to 160°f and letting it rest will bring it up the other 5° without over cooking it.

As a bit of a side note, you are much more likely to get trichinosis from under cooked game meat like venison then you are from pork. The most common occurrences in Canada come from bear and walrus meat.

A Bone To Pick

Another problem with pork chops is that they are often sold with either a rib bone or a piece of the spine attached. I prefer bone-in pork chops but, the meat nearest the bone takes longer to cook than the rest of the chop. So, by the time that meat is cooked, the rest is over cooked. This is a problem. Especially, when people are afraid of under cooked pork.

There are some ways to cook the pork chop completely through, including around the bone, and keep the meat tender. But these processes can be complicated like confit or require special equipment like a sous vide cooker.

So, what we have to think about is either eating the pork with the meat around the bone a little underdone. Or, finding away to keep the meat tender while still cooking it through around the bone.

Brining and Marinating

The difference between a marinade and a brine can be kind of hard to pin point. The key is that they serve different purposes. We will get into that in a second but I think an easy way to think of it is that a brine is salty, a marinade is acidic.


A brine is a solution of water and salt. Usually, sugar and other flavourings are added as well. I actually talked about this a bit and gave a recipe in Wednesday’s post when I was talking about ribs.

The traditional purpose of a brine was to preserve meat over a long period of time. We don’t often use a brine for this any more because we have fridges and freezers.

Today, there are two main reasons to use a brine. The first is to impart flavour through herbs and aromatics. The second purpose is two fold:

Brining has a tenderizing effect because the salt breaks down certain muscle filaments. The salt also causes the proteins to absorb and hold more moisture. What that means is that brining pork chops makes them more flavourful, more tender, and more juicy.

Brined pork chops are more forgiving than un-brined ones. They can stand to be a little over cooked and still be juicy and tender. This means that the meat around the bone can be cooked without sacrificing the rest of the chop.


Because marinades are by their nature acidic they break down muscle fibers making meat more tender. The problem with marinades is that they are slow to penetrate the meat. This can cause an overly acidic exterior with an untouched interior.

Due to the nature of marinades they are generally suggested for smaller pieces of meat or even meat cut into thin strips.

Marinades can absolutely be used for pork chops. There is no question about it. For my money a brine is much more forgiving and the better option.

Cooking Pork Chops

When cooking pork chops (BBQ excluded) I prefer a two stage cooking process. All that means is that I start them in a pan and finish them in the oven or in liquid like a sauce.

Starting them in a pan or skillet allows me to brown the surface of the pork chops. This adds depth to the flavour of the pork. This also cuts down on my cooking time.

Imagine I have two identical pork chops. I put one directly in the oven. The other, I sear on all sides in a pan and then put it in the oven. Which one will cook quicker?

The seared one will cook quicker, even when taking the time to sear into account. The seared pork chop still takes less time to cook compared to the one that went directly in the oven.

Direct heat vs. indirect heat

The reasoning behind this little experiment is pretty straight forward. Cooking in pan on a burner is a direct heat transfer cooking method. Meaning, the heat is coming from the element which is in contact with the metal pan which is in contact with the pork chop. This contact allows for a fairly smooth and consistant transfer of heat from the burner, through the pan, to the pork chop.

An oven is an indirect heat source. The heat coming off of the elements have to travel through the air present in the oven. Air is a terrible conductor of heat. By the time the heat reaches the pork chop it has lost a lot of it’s energy and heating ability.

So then, why not cook the pork chop fully in the pan?

Although direct heat is an efficient way to transfer heat energy, it isn’t great at evenly distributing that heat throughout the item being cooked. So, you can cook a pork chop completely in a pan. It is however, fairly difficult to get a nice even cook on the chop.

The other problem with completely cooking in a pan is heat management.

Imagine I have a pork chop that is 1 inch thick that I’m cooking in a pan. There is going to be a very large temperature variance from the part of the pork chop that is in contact with the pan, and the part that is contact with the air. Every time I flip the pork chop there is going to be this heating and cooling cycle.

An oven, though not really efficient, holds a fairly stable temperature. This means that there will be less of a temperature variance from the top to the bottom of the pork chop. This makes for a more even cook. This is why I prefer a two stage cooking process for pork chops.

pork chops

Put a lid on it

There is the option to put a lid on your pan and create a little oven inside. This still raises the issue of the direct vs. indirect heat transfer. The only real way to avoid this is liquid. If I were to add some wine, stock, cream of mushroom soup (as we are all probably familiar with) or sauce to the pan this could balance out the heat. There is a danger in using liquid in this way.

If you are using liquid to finish your pork chop it is important that you don’t boil the meat. Boiling will toughen the pork chop and quickly over cook it.

Ideally, when finishing your pork chop with a liquid this would be the process you would follow:

  • Sear the pork chops on all sides.
  • Remove them from the pan.
  • Drain off any excess fat.
  • Add your liquid.
  • Bring it to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and add the pork chops back in.
  • Put a lid on the pot and simmer for five to ten minutes.

This liquid process has the added benefit of a more even distribution of heat. This will cook the meat closest to the bone along with everything else.


Grilling is an entirely different ball game. And one that I unfortunately don’t really have time to get into today. In the spring I will do a whole grilling post to answer any questions that you may have.


There is one more benefit of the two stage cooking method. I can develop that nice sear on the surface, and then add sauce to the pork chops when they go in the oven.

The sauce doesn’t have to be BBQ sauce. It could be some white wine, stock, brandy and cream, any number of things. This allows me to develop that deeper flavour that a sear provides while still enjoying my favourite sauce.


A well cooked pork chop is a thing of beauty. It’s flavourful, succulent, and delicious. In all honesty, a really good pork chop beats the hell out of a decent steak any day of the week.

I didn’t talk much about sauces because it’s not nearly as important as the actual cooking process. But use whatever sauce you like. That’s up to you.

I know that this is a lot of information. Most of which you don’t need to really think about too much. But I think it is good to have this somewhere in the back of your mind. Hopefully, it will help you fall in love with pork chops all over again.



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