The primary problem with grilling thick-cut pork chops is that the exterior of the chop will often burn before the inside of the chop cooks through. Sugary marinades, rubs and sauces can make this problem even worse. However, by using a two-stage cooking method -- part direct high heat and part indirect low heat -- you can avoid this problem so that you end up with a juicy, flavorful pork chop.
1. Opt For Bone-In Chops
For flavor and tenderness, opt for bone-in, thick pork chops. The bone serves two beneficial purposes when grilling a thick chop. First, the connective tissue and fat around the bone have a delicious flavor that will permeate your finished chop if you have cooked it properly; unfortunately, most butchers remove this beneficial fat and tissue when cutting boneless chops. Second, the bone also acts as a natural thermal shield on the grill, which is beneficial during indirect grilling.
2. Brine Your Chops
Regardless of the cooking method, white meats like pork always turn out better, if you allow them to brine before cooking. Brining flavors the meat and creates a pleasant, firm texture in the final cooked product. Brine your chops in a solution of salt and sugar for at least an hour before cooking and you will definitely notice a difference in taste and texture.
3. Charcoal Grill Two-Level Fire
To make a two-stage fire in a charcoal grill, prepare your coals as usual. Once your coals are ashed over and ready to cook, move the coals to one half of the bottom of the grill and leave other half empty. Replace your cooking grate and you are ready to cook. The half of the grill that is over the coals is your searing zone; the other half is your zone for indirect cooking.
4. Gas Grill Two-Level Fire
As long as your gas grill has multiple burners, you can create a two-level fire on a gas grill. With your gas grill, heat the entire grill for 15 minutes with all burners on high. Then, turn off the burners in one half of your grill and leave the rest on high. If you have a three-burner grill, leave one of the outer burners on high and turn off the other two. Much like the charcoal grill, the part of the grill that is over the direct heat of the burners on full is your searing zone; the part of the grill over the turned-off burners is your indirect cooking zone.
5. Cooking Method
Regardless of whether you use a charcoal or gas grill, the method for cooking the pork chops is essentially the same. Start by removing the pork chops from the brine and then pat dry. Place the pork chops on the searing zone of your grill and sear for two to three minutes per side, until a dark brown (but not burnt) crust develops. Once you have seared each side of the chop, move each chop to the indirect zone of your grill setup with the bone side facing the searing of the grill. Continue to cook, flipping every five minutes or so, until the chops reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the chops from the grill onto a cutting board, tent with foil and allow them rest for at least five minutes per inch of thickness before un-tenting and serving. The bone-in chops will continue to cook a bit while they are tented.
6. Save the Cooked-On Sauce for the End
Some people love a caramelized, cooked-on sauce with pork chops; in fact, this is a classic method used on pork chops in many parts of the American South. Unfortunately, the sugar bases for many barbeque sauces will quickly burn because of the high heat of direct grilling. If you like a caramelized, cooked-on sauce, try inverting the two-stage cooking method. Start by cooking the chops over the indirect part of the grill until they reach about 125 to 130 degrees F. Then, baste one side of the chop with sauce, flip the chop-sauce side down and sear over the searing zone of your grill for two to four minutes until the sauce is caramelized. Then sauce the other side, flip and repeat the sear for another two to four minutes. At this point, check the chops for doneness. If the center of the chops read at least 140 degrees F, remove from the grill and tent for 10 minutes before serving. If the chops are not at least 140 degrees F, move them back to the indirect portion of the grill to finish cooking.
- Cooks Illustrated: Summer Grilling 2011 Special Issue; pg 16-17
- Cooks Illustrated: Why Should I Take the Time to Brine My Food
- Serious Eats: How to Grill Perfect Pork Chops
- Bob Scott/Photodisc/Getty Images