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 email@example.com or (727) 893-8586. Read her blog at www.blogs.tampabay.com/food or follow her on Twitter (@keelerstircrazy).