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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Follow @RoadEats on Twitter.