Getting great pork chops is all about the size
Everyone loves the idea of a grilled pork chop, but they often fall short of expectations. And I blame the butcher!
Many chops and steaks are cut so thin it is almost impossible not to overcook them, even for a seasoned griller like me. When chops and steaks are cut thin, say ½ inch or less, the price is appealing but the end result may not be to your liking. It is far better to buy one thicker steak or chop and split it than buy two thinner cuts.
I have found that a boneless center-cut pork chop is the answer. And it always exceeds expectations. You can buy the chops from your butcher or cut them yourself from a pork loin. Just make sure that they are a generous 1 inch thick.
The next secret is to brush the chop all over with olive oil. My motto: Oil the food, not the grill! The olive oil not only helps prevent the meat from sticking to the grates, it also promotes caramelization, which in turn helps lock in the meat's juices. If you don't brush the chop with oil, the natural juices will evaporate as the meat cooks.
A quick sprinkle of kosher or sea salt and you are ready to grill. I recommend a medium direct heat and 5 to 6 minutes per side.
Finally, it is essential that you let the pork chops rest at least 5 minutes so the juices will redistribute, making your chop tender and juicy. This means no cutting into the chop — even to test for doneness! Use an instant-read meat thermometer or learn visual clues for doneness. It is much better to serve a warm pork chop that has had time to rest than a piping hot chop that hasn't had time to rest and loses all of its juices once you cut it.
Now that you've mastered grilling the chop, you are ready to take your outdoor cooking repertoire to the next level by making a compound butter. A compound butter is simply softened (unsalted) butter that is flavored with herbs, spices and almost any flavor ingredient and seasoning. I love compound butters so much that I devoted a whole chapter to them in one of my cookbooks.
Compound butters can be sweet or savory and are a quick and easy way to dress up any meal. The beauty of a compound butter is that when it melts on hot food, it seasons the food like a complicated sauce, but without any of the time needed to make one. Even better, the flavors are much brighter because they haven't been cooked.
Since pork chops are synonymous with fall for me, I like to serve a chipotle-pumpkin seed butter on top of my chops. The autumnal orange-red color of the butter studded with green pumpkin seeds smiles with Halloween colors, making this a perfect dinner for all your ghosts and goblins.
The butter balances and rounds out the smoke and the heat from the chipotle chile and the adobo sauce, and the toasted green pumpkin seeds add texture and eye appeal to the butter. I use fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt in all of my butters to add a nice little crunch to the butter and the finished dish.
The butter can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use. I like to refrigerate the butter until it is hard, slice it into medallions and freeze them in an airtight container. That way, I have "coins" of compound butter any time I need them. The butter also is really great on grilled or baked squash, almost any vegetable, and any fish, poultry or meat, so I usually double the recipe.
Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."