A little care, a little brine can produce stellar pork chops
Let’s face it, a cookout on Labor Day, that bittersweet farewell to summer, tends to attract the hedonistic hordes. Your challenge as host is to come up with something that’s simple to prepare, but not boring. These pork chops do the job splendidly.
Once upon a time pork chops were pretty rich. These days they’re lean enough to be marketed as “the other white meat.” Health-wise, you can’t beat them. Flavor-wise and texture-wise? You’ll have to baby them a little so they don’t dry out. And I find the best bet to ensure that chops turn out moist and toothsome is to brine them before you cook them.
When meat is brined — that is, when it is marinated in a solution of salt and water — the salt not only deeply penetrates and seasons the meat, it also changes the structure of the meat’s proteins, enabling it to retain liquid during cooking.
Typically, a brine is comprised of salt and water. But here I’ve swapped out the water for beer and further flavored it with fresh rosemary and garlic. The barbecued onions consist of nothing more than onions and barbecue sauce. Just be sure to cook the onions until they’re very brown and soft before adding the barbecue sauce. And try to pick a sauce that’s not too sweet; the onions alone will be plenty sweet after they’ve browned.
As mentioned, you don’t want to overcook the pork. Well-done pork is a no-no, even if it has been brined. Until fairly recently, the government recommended cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 F to guarantee the killing of the parasite called trichinosis, which was prevalent in pork. Thankfully, these days health officials say 145 F is plenty hot to get the job done. And that’s a good thing for flavor.
The best way to determine a pork chop’s doneness is to insert an instant thermometer into the side of the chop, not straight down from the top. To get the most accurate reading, be sure the thermometer penetrates the meat a couple inches at least. As soon as the chop reaches 140 F, pull it off the grill and let it rest for 8 minutes before serving it. The meat finishes cooking during this rest. It also gives the meat’s juices time to redistribute.
If you don’t let the chop rest after it cooks, most of its juices will stream out willy-nilly, leaving a dry pork chop, which is almost as sad as the fact that the days are getting shorter.
Beer-Brined Pork Chops with Barbecue Onions
If you prefer, skip the cheese. It’s a wonderful indulgence, but it’s hardly essential. If you skip it, let the chops cook to 140 F, then pull them off.
Start to finish: 4 hours 45 minutes (45 minutes active)
4 cups dark lager beer (or your favorite beer)
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
Four 1-inch thick bone-in pork chops (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing the chops
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Ground black pepper
4 ounces (about 1 cup) coarsely grated sharp cheddar (optional)
In a large bowl or gallon zip-close plastic bag, combine the beer, 3 tablespoons of salt, the rosemary and garlic. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Add the pork chops, then refrigerate, turning the chops every so often, for 4 to 6 hours.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the onions and a hefty pinch of salt. Saute until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in the barbecue sauce and set aside.
When the chops are almost done marinating, heat one side of the grill to medium, leave the other side off.
Use paper towels to pat the chops dry, then brush them with oil and season with pepper. Grill over the flames until nicely browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to the cooler side of the grill and cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 138 F. Top each chop with a quarter of the barbecue onions and a quarter of the cheese. Cover and cook, until the cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer the pork to a plate and let it rest, covered, for 8 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving: 470 calories; 200 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 110 mg cholesterol; 770 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 38 g protein.
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