SUMMER GRILLING: TAKING BACK THE PORK CHOP

As we find ourselves in the heat of grilling season, and frankly just the heat of the summer, I have been taking every chance I get to heat up the coals in my back yard to enjoy an outdoor meal. If for no other reason, it’s way better than heating up the stovetop in my already sweltering second story apartment.

This summer, my grill top has found a new recurring companion beyond the familiar burgers and sausages of past summers— this summer has been all about the grilled pork chop. Growing up, like many others I’ve spoken with on the subject of this cut, I was only exposed to poor quality pork, often poorly butchered and gristly, and usually grey and quite overcooked. Averted by the pork nightmares of my childhood, pork chops were never a “go-to” cut of meat for me. All that changed this summer, when I decided to face my fears and re-open the book on the pork chop.

I’ve started to think of the pork chop as essentially the “steak” of the pig, and like a good steak, the quality of the meat is extremely important. This makes getting your chops at Savenor’s the most crucial factor in the operation, as we are sourcing high quality Berkshire pork from Heritage Grazers in Bridport, VT. Compared to the chops you might find wrapped in the case at your local super market, the chops at Savenor’s are big, fresh, and artfully butchered, leaving you with a manicured cut of meat, with exactly the right amount of fat to hold up as a great piece of meat to throw on the grill. You’ll have a few options when you check out the case at Savenor’s— the pork chops all come from the loin muscle of the animal, which runs from the hip, along the ribs all the way to the shoulder of the animal. Our butchers understand the subtle difference in anatomy of each animal they work with. Because we start with the whole animal, they give individual attention each job, and are able to determine where the very best chops can be taken from. The chops that end up in the case are always going to be top quality.

Personally I like to go for a nice thick cut because it helps me avoid overcooking the chop and ending up with that dry hockey puck of my past. I also like to go for the bone-in chop because I think it adds a bit more flavor, a bit more fat, and again holds up really well on the grill and adds another element to avoid an overcooked chop. I also like a cut with a nice thick later of fat of around the perimeter – lets be honest, that pork fat is where the flavor is. It will render out nicely on the grill.

The quality of these chops is so great, that I don’t do too much to them. I like to take them out about twenty minutes before I’m going to throw them on my charcoal grill and give them a generous seasoning with salt, pepper, some chopped up thyme, rosemary and sage— mostly just because I have it growing in a pot on my porch— and a bit of olive oil just to help the herbs stick. To be honest, the meat doesn’t need much— just a good basic seasoning. The quality of the pork stands strong on its own, so what’s most important is getting the cooking right.

As I mentioned before, I like to think about cooking the chop more along the lines of grilling a steak. I think there is a bit of fear going around with pork, where we tend to worry about contamination more than we need to, which resulted in the overcooked pork nightmares of my past. The USDA deems that a pork chop is totally safe to eat between 145 and 160°F. Do not underestimate the utility of a meat thermometer to check the temperature! Taking that extra step is well worth it, instead of taking the lazier route of leaving it on for an extra minute “just to be safe.” Also, again like cooking a quality piece of steak, give your pork chop the respect of a good seven to ten minute rest after you take it off the heat, too keep those juices in. Remember – this is a quality pork chop! I’ve already taken so many measures to avoid that dry, bland piece of meat from my nightmarish past, that there is no sense in destroying things now. Your patience will be rewarded!

For me at least, these few basic realizations have completely turned me around on the pork chop. As I said, its become my new mainstay every time I fire up the grill. Next time you’re staring at the meat case at Savenor’s, trying to find something different, but quick and completely satisfying dinner solution for the grill night, take a chance on the pork chop. I promise you will be surprised at how simple and satisfying it can be!