We all know that a properly cooked steak is not always easy to find when dining out, which is why we recommend cooking your own. But do you know what’s even harder to get cooked right in a restaurant? A pork chop. Notoriously dry and overcooked, there’s no dish that should be ditched when dining out like the pork chop. And when you can make them succulent, juicy, and delicious at home for a fraction of the cost, why not do it yourself? Why not reverse sear your pork chops?
We’ve devoted a lot of space on this blog to the theory and practice of steak cookery but have not given as much time to chops. Well, I intend to remedy that, to some extent, today. Here we’re going to talk about how to apply one of our favorite methods for steak cookery—the reverse sear—to bone-in pork chops. Plus, we’re going to give you a killer-tasty recipe that is sure to impress anyone you make them for. Thermal understanding is key, and it’s time we unlocked that door.
Why are pork chops dry?
Pork chops are dry for two reasons: modern hog-raising methods and overcooking.
The American desire for leaner, cheaper meat has led to a streamlined, skinny hog that is raised without developing much intramuscular fat. Less intramuscular fat means there is less of a buffer against overcooking, especially in tender cuts like, say the loin from which chops are cut. A heritage-breed pork chop is more likely to be juicy even if cooked a little too much because it has more fat in its tissues.
Now, I don’t have ear the ear of Big Pork, so that’s not likely to change by, say, dinner time tomorrow night. All I can do is work with what I have and not overcook the pork I’m given, and that means not overcooking it. That is, of course, where temperature comes in.
Pork chop doneness temperature—how to cook moist pork chops
According to the USDA, pork is cooked to a safe-to-eat temperature at 145°F (63°C), much lower than some people think. If you want to cook them a little lower than that (I often do) that’s up to your food-safety judgment, but if you stick to the USDA recommendation your chops will still be much juicier than most you’ve ever had.
But you should be aware of how you’re going to cook them. The method we present here will definitely have some carryover cooking, so we’ll want to pull back a little from that 145°F recommendation. I pulled our chops at 140°F (60°C) and they came out perfect. Using a fast and accurate thermometer like Thermapen® ONE is essential for getting that temp right—you can’t rely on the “palm squeeze” method for judging doneness! I know, I know, it’s like sacrilege to say, but if you don’t believe me, try checking your palm’s “doneness” against a few of your friends by squeezing your thumb muscle and squeezing theirs. You’ll find that you all have pretty different muscles that you’re trying to use as thermometers. An actual thermometer works much better!
Reverse searing pork chops
To reverse sear, you first cook something at a relatively mild temperature to get it within about 30°F (17°C) of its target final temperature, then move it to a very hot pan (or grill) to finish cooking and create Maillard browning. Without the high-heat step, the chops are wan and uninteresting; with it, they are tasty and delicious.
Use a leave-in probe thermometer like ChefAlarm® to track the chops as they cook in the oven until they reach 110°F (43°C), then use your Thermapen while they sear in the pan and you’re sure to get practically-perfect doneness.
Note that while we sear steaks like ribeye with no additional oil in the pan, we do add oil to the pan for searing pork chops. They are too lean to grease the pan themselves, so a good spritz with nonstick spray or a drizzle of oil will help them brown better at the beginning of their cook.
Reverse searing pork chops is a great way to cook them properly. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and you get fantastic results.
Basting with butter, basting with flavor
I should insert a note here on a great method that I recommend.
When pan-searing nearly anything—steaks, chops, fish, even tofu—I like to use a technique that chefs call poêler (PWAH-LEH). Technically this just means to fry, which seems a little reductive, but in the wider cheffing community, it applies to a process of adding butter to a very hot pan, tilting the pan towards yourself, and using a spoon to repeatedly collect the butter and baste it over the item being cooked.
The basting helps to “harden” the sear, giving you a better-seared crust. You are essentially drying the chop in hot butter. Flavorings such as sprigs of fresh herbs or crushed cloves of garlic are often added to the butter during a poêler, imbuing it with their essences and flavoring the food.
For pork chops, I like to use finely diced Granny Smith apple and fresh rosemary. When you flip your chop over, add 2–3 tablespoons of whole butter to the pan and tilt the pan towards you with one hand (and a hot pad!). As the butter melts, toss in a sprig of rosemary and start using a large spoon to toss/spoon the butter up onto the top of the chops. I usually spoon the herbs right onto the meat and run the melted butter down through them onto the meat.
After you’ve started to sear with the melted butter, toss in a tablespoon or two of finely diced apple and keep basting. The apples will caramelize in the hot butter and will also flavor the pork.
Use your Thermapen ONE to check the temperature of the chops after you’ve given them a good baste (30–60 seconds). Look for a temperature no lower than 140°F (60°C).
When you serve the chops, do so with the pan-caramelized apples atop each chop. It’s like serving apple sauce with your pork chops only way, way better.
There’s no reason you can’t have perfectly juicy, incredibly flavorful pork chops at home. With some thermal thinking and the reverse sear method, it’s easy enough to make these chops. Try it and make impressive, delicious chops for yourself and your loved ones without any worry. And the apple-rosemary topping is not going to hurt things one bit! Give this process and this recipe a try, then teach a friend how they can have better pork every time. Happy cooking.Print
Reverse searing pork chops for juiciness and perfect doneness. Flavored with pan-roasted apples.
- 2 bone-in pork loin chops
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- Non-stick cooking spray or some high smoke point oil
- 2–3 Tbsp butter
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, cut in half
- 3 Tbsp finely diced Granny Smith apple, plus apple slices for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 300°F (149°C).
- Season the pork chops liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Spray them with non-stick cooking spray on both sides.
- Place the chops on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Insert a probe into the center of the thickest chop. Set the high-temp alarm on your ChefAlarm to 110°F (43°C).
- Cook the chops in the oven until the ChefAlarm high-temp alarm sounds. Remove them from the oven.
- Preheat a cast-iron or other heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Spray the pan with nonstick spray or slick it with a little oil.
- Place your chops in the pan and start to sear them.
- After cooking on one side for about 2 minutes, flip them over. Add the butter to one side of the pan and let it start melting and bubbling.
- Use a hot pad to grab the handle and tilt the pan up toward yourself. Add the sprigs of rosemary to the pool of hot butter and start basting the chops with the sizzling butter by using a large spoon.
- After about 30–45 seconds of basting, add the minced apple to the butter pool and continue basting, moving spoonfuls of butter and diced apple up onto the chops.
- After 30–45 more seconds, start temping the chops with your Thermapen ONE.
- When your pork chops reach a lowest-internal temperature of 140°F (60°C), remove them from the pan, with apples still atop, and let them rest. Scoop out any more caramelized apple bits and top the chops with them.
- If you like, you can sear/caramelize the apple slices you reserved for garnish.
- Serve the chops and prepare yourself for sincere compliments.
If you want to cook more than two chops, cook them all in the oven together then sear them in batches of two, carefully pouring and wiping out your pan between batches. The chops will be fine sitting on the counter while you cook the ones closer to the front of the line. We cooked four chops with a photo session between the first and second batch, and both batches were equally tasty.
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