Even though they're a weeknight staple in many homes, pork chops can be intimidating: All too often they end up tough, dry and drab.
However, there's really no need to fear the chop: We've found that the way to cook it to perfection is to treat it like a T-bone steak: with care and attention—and butter basting (see the recipe). And speaking of that T-bone, forget boneless options: You're going to want a thick, bone-in cut.
"My favorite pork chop ever is at The Little Owl in NYC," Jenn Louis, chef of Lincoln in Portland, Oregon, says. "It's the perfect neighborhood restaurant, and they serve a huge cut on the bone, perfectly seared and cooked." Of the chefs we talked to, she wasn't the only one who waxed poetic about the ideal chop—take their advice (and ours) and find our why our chops are tops.
Lay it on thick. As much as keeping the bone in is important to flavor, thickness also plays a key role in mastering the pork chop. "I don't love those super, super thick ones, and typically not a thin cut either," Ford Fry, chef/owner of The Optimist in Atlanta, explains. "One inch is good for me, as it has enough time to caramelize on the outside, while resulting in a juicy medium interior." We took his advice and settled on a one-inch thickness, because it's the ideal width for cooking the chop completely on the stovetop. Any thicker and the outside would burn before the center was cooked. And any thinner, the meat would dry out before it reached a golden brown exterior.
Use the right pan, man. As for which type of pan to cook our chops in, every single chef we reached out to said without hesitation that cast iron is the way to go. Providing even heat, the cast iron allows for the surface of the pork to sear without burning. Just make sure to use a 12-inch pan to allow for enough space for two chops. If they crowd the pan too much, the chops will sweat instead of sear—and trust us, nobody wants beige chops.
Oil before butter. Matt McCallister of FT33 and Filament in Dallas recommends oil to start the sear of the chops without burning, explaining, "I prefer rice bran or grapeseed oil, because both have very high smoke temperatures." Alternatively, you can use pork fat like they do at The Bywater in San Francisco for an intense pork flavor and golden color.
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After searing, finish with butter to flavor the pork and serve as a medium to evenly finish cooking. Add whatever you want with the butter to season the pork chops. The resulting pork takes on the fragrance of the herbs added but also the nutty flavor of browning butter.
Just like our recipe, Louis recommends classic herbs like sage and thyme. On the other hand, Fry uses bright herbs like Thai basil and mint to cut through the richness of the pork.
Think pink. Don't be afraid if the center is pink—it should be. "Yes, medium always!" Louis exclaims. We couldn't agree more. Many cooks make the mistake of serving chops well done (read: dry and chewy). But you actually want a medium, perfectly pink center.
Your thermometer is your friend: Cook the chops to 140 degrees, then let them rest to carry them to 145 degrees, the perfect rosy medium doneness.
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