There are too many times when pork chops simply don't get the praise they deserve. When cooked right, this lean cut carries its weight (and then some) as a tender, flavorful main course. It can serve as a simple supper yet also has a place on the table at a nice holiday dinner.
Whether you cook them on the stovetop, bake them in the oven, or grill them, be sure you're not making one of these common mistakes the next time pork chops are on the menu.
1. Not knowing the kind of chop you're cooking.
A pork chop isn't just a pork chop. There are actually a few different cuts, and depending on which cut you buy, the meat may be tender, lean, and quick-cooking; or it may be tough, requiring braising and a longer cook time.
Follow this tip: Look at the label on the package you buy or talk to your butcher. The more familiar you are with the meat you're about to cook, the better equipped you'll be to cook it well. Take a look at our Complete Guide to Pork Chops — it has a quick rundown of everything you need to know.
Know your shops: A Complete Guide to Pork Chops
2. Not seasoning the meat before cooking.
On their own, pork chops are a lean, bland cut of meat. Seasoning with salt before cooking is an essential step in bringing out the meat's natural flavors. Season generously, and remember that even a very short brine (30 minutes!) will improve the taste and texture of the meat.
Follow this tip: There are two ways to season pork chops before cooking. You can simply season them with salt and pepper, or you can take it one step further (which I highly recommend!) and brine the chops before cooking. A quick brine takes as little as 30 minutes, or if you have more time, you can leave them for up to four hours. The brine will season the meat (without it tasting salty), both inside and out.
Start pork chops right: How To Brine Any Meat
3. Cooking pork chops straight from the refrigerator.
Taking pork chops from the fridge and immediately placing them in a hot pan or into a hot oven is generally considered no-no. It puts you on the fast track for unevenly cooked meat. This approach all too often yields a chop that's overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside.
Follow this tip: You've got a good piece of meat, so treat it well. Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you plan to start cooking. Bringing the meat up to room temperature helps it cook more evenly throughout.
4. Under or overcooking your pork chops.
There is nothing good about under or overcooked pork. Undercooked pork, like all meat, carries the risk of food-borne illness, which I think we can all agree does not sound like a good time. And, if you've ever encountered a dried-out, tough, chewy pork chop, that's a telltale sign of overcooked meat.
Pork should be cooked until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the meat reaches 145 degrees. As the chops continue to cook past this point they become increasingly tough, chewy, leathery, and all around unappetizing.
Follow this tip: The most reliable way to test the doneness of pork chops is by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the chop. According to the USDA, the pork chops should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
You may need to adjust the cook time for your pork chops, depending on the type of chop and their thickness. If you're working with a thinner chop, try reducing the cook time by a few minutes, then test with a meat thermometer.
Remember this: The Right Internal Temperature for Cooked Pork
5. Not resting the meat.
It's tempting to want to dive straight into a pork chop fresh out of the pan, but it's best to wait. Giving the chops a few minutes to rest so the fibers of the meat relax. This means a more tender bite and a juicier piece of meat.
Follow this tip: After taking your chops off the stove or grill, or out of the oven, transfer them to a separate plate, tent with foil, and let the meat rest for five minutes.