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Celebrate Memorial Day with Dr. BBQ and pork chops

ST. PETERSBURG

Grill a pork chop like a steak.

What? Won't that kill you, eating pork that's even the slightest bit the color of a pink piglet?

In case you haven't heard, that's how we are supposed to eat pork now. A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved new guidelines for cooking pork, dropping the minimum internal temperature for safety from 160 to 145 degrees. That's quite an adjustment for those of us who cooked pork until it was leather just to make sure we annihilated even the hint of bacteria.

"Pink is acceptable. You've got to get over that," said Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe, barbecue guru and author of Pork Chop: 60 Recipes for Living High on the Hog (Chronicle Books, 2013).

Lampe is a former Chicago trucker who has made a name for himself on the nation's barbecue circuit. When the family trucking business ran out of steam, he moved south. First to Lakeland, and then St. Petersburg about three years ago. He has written a handful of cookbooks, Slow Fire: A Beginner's Guide to Barbecue (Chronicle Books, 2012) and Ribs, Chops, Steaks & Wings (Chronicle Books, 2010), among others.

He's on a different circuit now, attending events as a guest celebrity chef. Lampe's a spokesman for the Big Green Egg line of ceramic grills and the National Pork Board. Both groups send him all over the country, and even internationally, for demonstrations. In June, he heads to Grillstock BBQ and Music Festival in Bristol, England, to show them how it's done. He has been featured on the Food Network's Best Thing I Ever Ate and as a barbecue expert on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

In short, Lampe, 57, knows barbecue, and he is especially fond of pork chops. They take him back to those days around the family table.

Over burgers at downtown St. Petersburg's Engine No. 9 recently, he reminisced about some classic TV sitcoms where chops figured prominently. Happy Days patriarch Howard Cunningham gets buttered up on one episode with pork chops and pineapple. On The Andy Griffith Show, the best meal that came out of Aunt Bee's kitchen was always pork chops, he said.

And they were big at Lampe's home, too.

"Who doesn't like pork chops?" he asked, getting ready to launch into a messy "Heart Attack" burger. That beefy behemoth has a fried egg tucked between the buns, which might prove problematic for a guy with a silver soul patch that has grown into a 3-inch long thicket. No problem, he negotiates the burger and drippy yolk just fine.

Pork chops are something of a forgotten cut, but could prove worthy centerpieces for a Memorial Day cookout. To make them more sexy, the National Pork Board has given the different chop cuts new names. What we used to call a boneless loin chop is now a New York chop, and the center-cut rib chop gets the label rib eye. (Check out photos and names, plus recipes, on the pork board's website, pork.org.)

That goes back to Lampe's message to cook chops like steaks. (Never bloody rare, but medium rare is okay.) The new labels sound more bovine than porcine.

For a party, Lampe recommends his Grilled Coffee-Crusted Pork Chops. He would serve them with a cheesy potato dish, but I recommend the Penne With Tomato, Cream & Five Cheeses from Al Forno restaurant in Providence, R.I., made famous by many blogger variations. (Recipe accompanies this story.)

The coffee-crusted pork chops have oodles of flavor without the fear of overpowering morning-drink overtones. Cleverly, Lampe uses the coffee from a K-Cup, which is the perfect measurement.

A plate of these chops could easily be served for a party and the cheesy pasta is a nice foil. I like his Grilled Romaine and Pork Chopped Salad as a party dish, too. And his Chicago-Style Pork Chop Sandwiches with sauteed onions are also worthy of a crowd. (Make the onions in advance so you have time to spend with guests.)

A week after we talked over burgers, the discussion moved to Lampe's St. Petersburg back yard. He prepared a plate of coffee-crusted pork chops on one of his Big Green Egg ceramic grills. He has 11 grills stashed around the property, four in a trailer he can haul to events.

"That's nothing," he said. "I know a guy with 100 grills and he uses them all."

The porterhouse chops — the cut formerly known as a center-cut chop from the loin end — were done in a matter of minutes. That was good news since a tornado warning required a move indoors.

"Don't be afraid of the pink," Lampe said as we tore apart the chops with our fingers. (He did provide utensils, but what the heck.) The coffee, plus other spices slightly sweetened by Sugar in the Raw and cinnamon, melded into the meat. I imagined how well the rub would complement beef, too.

"Pork chops have really been taken for granted," Lampe said. "Not sure why because we all love them."

Time to institute Pork Appreciation Day?

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586. Follow @RoadEats on Twitter.

>>MODERATE

Grilled Romaine and Pork Chopped Salad

4 boneless pork chops, about ½-inch thick

Olive oil

Salt

Black pepper

3 large Romaine hearts, split in half lengthwise

1 small red onion, quartered

1 small red bell pepper, cut into quarters

1 ear corn, shucked

½ English cucumber, cut lengthwise into quarters

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:

½ cup sweet barbecue sauce

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons apple juice

1 tablespoon honey

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Prepare an outdoor grill to cook directly over medium-high heat.

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients and whisk vigorously to blend. Set aside.

Brush the chops lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Brush the Romaine, onion, bell pepper, corn and cucumber lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the chops on the grill and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cook another 4 to 5 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Put the onion, bell pepper, corn and cucumber on the grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly charred. Flip and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly charred. Leave the corn on until it's lightly charred on all sides. As the vegetables are done, transfer them to a plate and set aside. Place the Romaine halves on the grill, cut-side down, and cook to 4 to 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip and cook another 2 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned and wilted. Transfer the Romaine to a plate and set aside.

With a sharp knife, cut the chops into bite-size pieces and set aside. Cut the onion, bell pepper and cucumber into large dice and set aside. Cut the kernels from the ear of corn and set aside. Split the Romaine halves down the middle, then chop them into bite-size pieces. Place the Romaine in a large salad bowl. Add the pork chops, onion, bell pepper, corn and cucumber. Whisk the dressing well again and pour half of it over the salad. Toss well. Add half of the remaining dressing and the Parmesan and toss well. Add the rest of the dressing if desired and check for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed. Toss well before serving.

Serves 6.

Source: Pork Chop: 60 Recipes for Living High on the Hog by Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe (Chronicle Books, 2013)

>>EASY

Grilled Coffee-Crusted Pork Chops

For this recipe, Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe uses the coffee grounds from one "K-Cup" for coffeemakers such as the Keurig.

1 tablespoon ground coffee

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons Sugar in the Raw (see note)

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon granulated onion

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 bone-in pork chops, about ¾-inch think

Prepare an outdoor grill to cook directly over medium heat. In a small bowl, combine the coffee, salt, sugar, cayenne, granulated onion, granulated garlic and cinnamon. Mix well. Season the pork chops on both sides, dividing the seasoning evenly and using it all.

Place the chops on the cooking grate and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until deep brown. Flip the chops and cook for 4 to 5 minutes more, until deep brown and cooked to an internal temperature of 145 to 150 degrees. Transfer to a platter and let rest for five minutes, then serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Large-grain turbinado sugar can also be used. A fine-grain sugar, like what you would use for baking, is too sweet.

Source: Pork Chop: 60 Recipes for Living High on the Hog by Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe (Chronicle Books, 2013)

>>EASY

Chicago-Style Pork Chop Sandwiches

¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed

2 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

6 boneless chops, about

½-inch thick

6 hamburger buns

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil. Add the onions and season them with half of the salt and pepper. Toss to mix well and cook until they are soft and well browned, about 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a bowl and set them aside.

Preheat the broiler on high. Season the chops with the remaining salt and pepper. Add a little more oil to the pan if needed, then raise the temperature to medium-high. Add the chops and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until they are golden brown.

Under the broiler, toast the buns on the cut sides only, until lightly browned. On each bun, place a pork chop and then top it with one-sixth of the onions. Serve immediately.

Makes six sandwiches.

Source: Pork Chop: 60 Recipes for Living High on the Hog by Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe (Chronicle Books, 2013)

>>MODERATE

Penne With Tomato, Cream & Five Cheeses

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in puree

½ cup (1 ½ ounces) freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese

½ cup (1 ½ ounces) coarsely shredded Fontina cheese

¼ cup (1 ½ ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 tablespoons ricotta cheese

¼ pound thinly sliced mozzarella cheese

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta water

6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

1 pound penne rigate or conchiglie rigate (seashells)

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, thinly sliced

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the pasta and butter. Stir well to combine.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water and parboil for 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine.

Divide the pasta mixture among 6 to 8 shallow ceramic gratin dishes (1 ½ to 2 cups in capacity) or place in a shallow (1-inch) layer in larger baking dishes. (A 9- by 13-inch dish will do.) Dot with butter, and bake until bubbly and brown on top, 7 to 10 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Adapted from Al Forno restaurant, Providence, R.I.

Hot books

Pork Chop: 60 Recipes for Living High on the Hog

by Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe (Chronicle Books, 2013)

Lampe pays homage to the humble pork chop with recipes fit for both entertaining and Sunday night dinner.

Low & Slow: The Art and Technique of Braising, BBQ and Slow Roasting

by Robert Briggs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Briggs, a longtime instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, packs decades of passion and research into a helpful book. This is a logical next-step book for an accomplished, quick griller who wants to learn how to master more involved barbecuing techniques.

Smokin' in the Boys' Room

by Melissa Cookston (Andrew McMeel Universal, 2014)

Advice from the "winningest woman in barbecue" on main dishes, sides and desserts. She's known for smoking a whole hog, but she's got good ideas for home cooks using only parts of one.

Marinades: The Quick-Fix Way to Turn Everyday Food Into Exceptional Fare, With 400 Recipes

by Lucy Vaserfirer (Harvard Common Press, 2014)

Lots of great, global ideas for flavoring any kind of meat, fish or vegetables that you want to toss on the grill. Its only downfall is the lack of photos. Good for beginners.

Celebrate Memorial Day with Dr. BBQ and pork chops 05/19/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2014 3:52pm]

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