Thick-cut chops and steaks are a substantial and impressive center to any meal. Pork is notorious for easily becoming dry and tough if it’s overcooked, and working with an extra-thick cut of meat only compounds this dilemma. So how do you cook it to perfection? With an expert recipe from Diva Q and specific thermal tips, we have the tools you need for your next outdoor cook.
Two-Zone Fire for a Two-Stage Cook
A pork chop cut 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick is kind of like a small roast and needs to be handled differently than a steak or thinner chop. Large roasts are typically cooked at low to moderate temperatures, then quickly seared at a high temperature. Two-stage cooking methods using both direct and indirect heat work best. In the gas grill setup below, we have the burners on the left-hand side of the grill on high and the burners on the right-hand side of the grill off. We will sear the pork chops first over direct heat and then move them to the indirect heat side of the grill to continue roasting until done.
You can also set up your charcoal grill for a two-zone fire. See our post, Indirect Heat: Sweet Stuffed Pork Loin, for detailed instructions on how to set your grill up for a two-zone fire.
Thermal Keys for Perfect Pork Chops
Grilling a thick cut of meat over the high heat of a grill the entire time will result in a charred exterior, overcooked meat just underneath, and an undercooked center. The solution is a two-stage cooking method, as follows:
- Sear over high, direct heat. The initial sear over high heat gives the meat its colorful, flavorful crisp exterior. At high temperatures, a few minutes is all it takes for the Maillard reaction to do its work.
- Finish cooking gently over moderate, indirect heat. Moving the thick pork chops to the indirect heat side of the grill allows the rest of the meat to more slowly come to its pull temperature. The result is meat with a seared exterior and an interior with edge-to-edge juicy doneness.
- Rest the meat. Don’t skip this step! The latent heat on the outside edges of the meat continues to travel toward the lowest temperature area of the meat (the center), increasing its internal temperature. Protein fibers relax slightly during this time, reabsorbing some of the moisture that was expelled during the cook.
Use Bone-In, If You Can
Many people swear that bone-in steaks and chops are juicier and more flavorful than those that are boneless. But why? In Master of the Grill, America’s Test Kitchen gives three reasons why bones can make a difference with the way meat cooks.
- Bones are a poor conductor of heat. Bones do not conduct heat very well, causing the meat around the bones to cook more slowly.
- Bones provide insulation for the meat next to it. The meat next to the bone would be left exposed if the pork chop was boneless. Since the bone insulates it from the air, it is able to retain more moisture rather than losing it to evaporation.
- Fat deposits next to the bone. Fat contributes to both flavor and juiciness in cooked meat. The fat deposits next to the bone are gone in boneless meat, sacrificing flavor.
A perfectly cooked pork chop should have a crisp sear on its exterior with tender, succulent meat from edge to edge. Tracking the internal temperature of pork is absolutely critical to avoid a dry, tough chop.
…a chop can lose up to 30% of its moisture when cooked to 150°F [66°C] or higher.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, SeriousEats.com
The USDA‘s recommended doneness temperature for pork’s food safety is 145°F (63°C). At this temperature, pork is completely safe from any foodborne pathogens, and it is still rosy pink, tender and juicy. Pork is often overcooked for the sake of being sure it’s safe to eat. Thing is, many cuts of pork are very lean and can be very dry and tough if overcooked just a few degrees past 145°F (63°C).
Effects of Temperature on Muscle Fibers
At about 120°F (49°C) the muscle fibers in the meat begin to denature, making the meat more firm and opaque. The fat in the meat begins to render at about 130°F (54°C). Once the temperature of muscle fibers reaches 150°F (66°C) it shrinks, becomes even more firm, and starts rapidly expelling moisture. It’s important for the pork to reach 145°F (63°C) and no higher to develop the proper texture with the muscle fibers and fat and to be safe to eat. Stay away from the higher temperature ranges that will leave the pork irreversibly tough and dry.
Recommended Temperature Tools
- DOT® (On Sale Now!): Use DOT to track the internal temperature of the pork chops while they’re over indirect heat, and to track the temperature of the inside of grill on the indirect heat side.
➤ Thermal Tip: We DO NOT recommend using alarm thermometer probes over high, direct heat. We are using our DOT and Pro-Series probes on the indirect heat side of the grill ONLY. Pro-Series probes have enough range to withstand regular use in low to moderate heat environments such as smoking, BBQ, oven roasting, and this two-stage grill-roasting project with indirect heat.
- Pro-Series® 2.5″ High Temp Penetration Probe: This new probe is the perfect length for tracking the temperature of small roasts and thick-cut steaks and chops.
- Pro-Series High Temp Air Probe with Grate Clip: Use the air probe to monitor the ambient temperature of the indirect heat side of your grill.
- Thermapen® Mk4: A Thermapen is always our first choice when spot-checking the internal temperature of foods.
- TimeStick® Trio: Keep track of multiple timers on one device. It comes in handy with this recipe!
Pork Chops with Mango Glaze Recipe
From Diva Q’s Barbecue by Danielle Bennett
*For an impressive presentation, ask your butcher for tomahawk pork chops (not shown here).
- 3 cups water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp. finely ground black pepper
- 4 bone-in, rib-cut pork chops (1-1/2 to 2″ thick)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and sliced
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- Half small white onion, minced
- 2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Brine the Pork Chops
- Trim any excess fat and connective tissue from the pork chops and rinse well.
- In a container large enough to hold the pork chops, whisk all the brine ingredients together until the salt and sugar dissolve.
- Place the pork chops into the brine, cover with a lid, and refrigerate for 4 hours. Keep track of the brining time with a TimeStick Trio!
Make the Mango Glaze
- Place all of the glaze ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer the glaze, stirring occasionally, until the mangoes have softened.
- This takes about 15-20 minutes. Set the second timer on your TimeStick Trio!
- Set the glaze aside to cool.
- Remove the pork chops from the brine and discard the brine.
- Pat the chops dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill.
Fire Up the Grill
- Prepare your grill for a two-zone fire.
- Brush the grill grate clean and oil well.
- Attach a Pro-Series air probe to the indirect-heat side of your grill’s grate with a grate clip to track the temperature of the grill.
- Close the grill’s lid and maintain an ambient temperature of about 360°F (182°C) on the indirect heat side of the grill.
- Set your DOT’s high alarm temperature to 365°F (185°C). Adjust your grill as necessary to maintain the proper cooking temperature.
Grill the Pork Chops
- Place the brined, seasoned pork chops on the direct-heat side of the grill to sear well on each side (about 5 minutes per side).
- With thick pork chops, it’s good to sear the outside edges too. Holding the chops with long-handled grilling tongs, grill the outside edges of the chops.
- After the pork chops have been well-seared, glaze both sides of each pork chop with the mango glaze.
- Transfer the chops to the indirect heat side of the grill to allow them to gently reach their pull temperature.
- Place a Pro-Series 2.5″ High Temp Straight Penetration Probe into the center of the thickest area of one of the pork chops, avoiding bone.
- Set the high alarm on the DOT thermometer that is tracking the pork chop’s temperature to 140°F (63°C).
- Close the grill’s lid to grill-roast the pork chops over the moderate heat.
- Set your TimeStick Trio for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, glaze both sides of the pork chops again and flip them.
- Continue cooking until the pull temperature is reached. It will take them approximately 12-15 minutes.
- When the pork chop’s high alarm sounds, use a Thermapen Mk4 to spot-check the internal temperature of the pork chops in multiple areas.
- If a lower temperature than 140°F (63°C) is found, replace the 2.5″ probe to track the lowest temperature found and continue cooking until the high alarm sounds.
Rest and Serve
- Once a lowest internal temperature of 140°F (63°C) is verified, remove the pork chops from the grill. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil and let them rest for 5 minutes.
- During the 5-minute rest, carryover cooking will bring the pork chop’s internal temperature to a food-safe 145°F (63°C).
- Also during the rest, some of the effects of cooking on the protein fibers are reversed. The protein fibers relax and reabsorb some of the liquid expelled during cooking. Don’t skip the rest!
- After the 5-minute rest, serve the pork chops with any remaining glaze.
A two-stage cook is the secret to cooking these pork chops, or any thick-cut meat, to edge-t0-edge tender, juicy perfection. Tracking and verifying temperatures is essential to be sure your pork chops are cooked right every time, and not a bit dry.
Diva Q’s Barbecue, by Danielle Bennett
Master of the Grill, by America’s Test Kitchen
The Food Lab’s Guide to Pan-Seared Pork Chops, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, SeriousEats.com