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Grill pork chops for Memorial Day barbecue — but don't overcook them

Flavorful Grilled Pork Chops With Rosemary-Garlic Butter will be right at home on your Memorial Day menu.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Flavorful Grilled Pork Chops With Rosemary-Garlic Butter will be right at home on your Memorial Day menu.

Here's the worst crime you can commit against grilled pork chops: leave them on the heat too long. You've done it. I've done it. And the dinner guests suffer the consequences.

They don't look so terrible, the snazzy grill marks masking the toughness beneath. But they are. No amount of barbecue sauce or juicy mango relish can rescue them. When you've crossed the line from succulent to Sahara, there is no going back.

But cooked correctly, pork chops have tremendous appeal as backyard party fare for holidays such as Memorial Day, which is Monday. Cover the grill grate with chops if you're cooking for a crowd and keep a close eye on your watch. If they are 1 inch thick, they'll need about 6 minutes per side, 12 minutes total. Anything thinner, and you can pull them off in about half the time.

I am no master griller. And I am not the sort of person who quizzes the butcher. I want to pick up something from the freezer case and get on with it. I make do a lot and mostly it works. The three recipes I am touting today are the product of pantry staples and everyday grocery store finds, even the blood orange juice in Mario Batali's Grilled Pork Chops With Orange Barbecue Sauce. I spied it right there with all the other citrus juices.

But my grocery store didn't have 1-inch pork chops, and I wasn't about to start store hopping. Like you, I have limited time to get dinner on the table, and sometimes I bend the recipe to my will. The thinner loin chops would have to do. I am happy to report that each recipe turned out just fine. I recommend them all for your Memorial Day cookout, or even a weeknight dinner.

The trick with pork

The reason so many of us turn pork into chewy bits is that we are nervous about serving it undercooked. Unlike beef, which is served in various stages of doneness, pork needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees for safe eating. So, we figure, an extra few minutes on the grill will make the meat ultra-safe. Yes, and practically inedible. Dry, chewy, yuck.

An instant-read meat thermometer is invaluable for determining doneness. Use one rather than cutting into the meat to check, which allows juices to flow out, another way to dry out the chop.

Pork chops less than 1 inch thick should be cooked on a very hot grill, just like a steak. Avoid flipping the meat excessively. Place the chop on an oiled grate, let it cook for about 1 minute, then rotate 45 degrees. You want grill marks, don't you? Cook for another 2 minutes. Flip chops and repeat technique. They should be done in 5 to 6 minutes. Honestly.

Pork chops thicker than 1 inch should be cooked on lower heat, so they cook through without burning. Rotate chops in the same manner as thinner ones. Thicker chops need to cook about 12 minutes total.

Tent chops with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. This allows the juice to redistribute into the meat. Cutting into cooked meat as soon as it's off the heat allows juices to run out.

A trio of recipes

Grilled Pork Chops with Rosemary-Garlic Butter. This recipe is proof-positive that simple preparation can be impressive. The chops I bought were nothing special, but they were marbled well and then cooked correctly. With just a brush of olive oil, salt and pepper they were delicious.

What gave them zing was a dollop of rosemary-garlic butter added after cooking. The compound butter, spiked with fresh chopped rosemary, black pepper, minced garlic and orange zest, melted into the meat, giving it sheen and flavor. This was my favorite of the three.

Memorial Day serving suggestions: Waldorf Salad or store-bought coleslaw mixed with freshly chopped Granny Smith apples, plus corn on the cob.

Grilled Pork Chops with Orange Barbecue Sauce. Master chef Mario Batali's recipe combines the intense citrus sweetness of blood orange juice with the heat of jalapenos for the barbecue sauce. Do not be alarmed when the sauce doesn't get thick; it won't. Still, the sweet heat permeates the meat and has a surprising punch. Make sure some jalapenos slices adhere to the meat.

Pile chops on a platter and garnish with orange slices. Again, I used thinner chops than the recipe called for and felt the marinade was more effective. Even if you're having a party for two, make all the chops. They eat just as well the day after. And the day after that. Leftovers could be cut into strips and heated with onion and green pepper slices for fajitas.

Memorial Day serving suggestions: Corn bread with mild chilies (add a small can of drained green chilies to batter) and baked beans spiked with a few splashes of orange liqueur or juice.

Cuban Pork Chops with Mango Relish. This is the recipe I fiddled with most. It called for bone-in chops, but I wanted to try it with boneless. Also, the mango relish was originally a mango sauce, but the visual appeal of the vibrant mango struck me more than a sauce that would slither around the plate.

The boneless chops worked well, and I watched them like a hawk on the grill. Without the flavor from the bone, and the extra marbling, these little gems dry out the fastest of them all. Even the juicy relish wouldn't bring them back.

Ground sage was an interesting spice here, though the next time I might use cumin. The bright mango did bring out the best in the earthy meat.

Memorial Day serving suggestions: Black beans and rice and plantain chips.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586. Read her blog at www.blogs.tampabay.com/food or follow her on Twitter (@keelerstircrazy).

>>easy

Grilled Pork Chops With Rosemary-Garlic Butter

For compound butter:

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary

1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

For the chops:

4 bone-in pork chops, about 3/4 inch think

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

To make compound butter, combine all butter ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. This can be made well ahead, rolled into a log, wrapped and chilled. (It will make more than you need for this dish.) When ready to use, slice off the amount needed.

Heat grill to medium or medium-high. Brush both sides of chops with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place chops on grill and cook 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink inside, turning once. (The internal temperature should be 160 degrees.) During last minute of cooking time, top each chop with 1 tablespoon of butter.

Serves 4.

Source: Pillsbury

>>easy

Cuban Pork Chops With Mango Relish

6 to 8 bone-in pork chops,
1 inch thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

5 garlic cloves, peeled, minced and divided

3 tablespoons ground sage

Pinch of ground allspice

2 to 3 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 jalapeno or serrano chili, seeds and ribs removed, and diced

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Pat chops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper. Combine 2 garlic cloves, sage and allspice in a small bowl, then rub mixture on both sides of chops. Set aside while grill is heating to medium-high heat.

To make mango relish, combine mangoes, lime juice, remaining garlic, chili, orange zest and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir in cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate if not using right away.

Grill chops, uncovered, about 6 minutes per side. Allow chops to rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Garnish each with relish or pass the mango mixture at the table.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Adapted from Grilling in the Southeast by Ellen Brown (Lyon Press, 2009)

>>easy

Waldorf Salad

3 tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup seedless grapes

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 scallions, chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

3 tablespoons apple juice

1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

1 bunch watercress, trimmed and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, combine the apples and lemon juice. Add the grapes, celery and scallions; toss.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, apple juice and celery seeds. Spoon over the apple mixture and toss gently.

Wash the watercress and dry thoroughly. Arrange greens on individual salad plates. Mound the apple mixture on top and sprinkle with the walnuts.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com

>>moderate

Grilled Pork Chops With Orange Barbecue Sauce

1 quart plus 1/4 cup fresh orange juice, preferably blood orange juice

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ancho chili powder, or other pure chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

8 bone-in pork chops, about 1 inch thick

1 cup ketchup

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 jalapenos, thinly sliced crosswise (remove seeds and ribs for less heat)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Salt

1 orange, sliced crosswise
(8 slices)

In each of 2 large resealable plastic bags, combine 2 tablespoons of the orange juice, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon cumin. Seal the bags and shake to mix. Add 4 pork chops to each bag, seal and shake again to coat the chops. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the barbecue sauce, in a large saucepan combine the remaining 1 quart of orange juice with the ketchup, garlic, jalapenos, vinegar and fennel seeds and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 2 cups, about 30 minutes. Season the barbecue sauce with salt.

Season the pork chops with salt and grill over a medium-hot fire until nicely charred and just pink in the center, about 6 minutes per side. Brush a thick layer of barbecue sauce on each chop, cover the grill and cook until the pork is nicely glazed, about 3 minutes. Top each chop with an orange slice and serve.

Serves 8.

Source: Mario Batali

Grill pork chops for Memorial Day barbecue — but don't overcook them 05/19/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 3:50pm]

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