Everything About Pork Chops: How to Buy It and Cook It to Perfection

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Our cooking lesson on preparing pork chops is consistently one of our most popular recipes, so it comes as no surprise that this weeknight favorite is the most popular cut of pork, according to the National Pork Board. Whether pork chops already have a regular spot in your weekly meal plan or you’re new to making them, we want to help you master this versatile cut of meat. From buying and storing to prepping and cooking, here is what you need to know to make perfectly tender, juicy pork chops every time.

What Are Pork Chops, and Why Should You Cook Them?

Pork chops come from the loin, which runs from the hip to the shoulder (it’s also where you’ll find the tenderloin). You may have noticed pork chops labeled with a variety of names — loin chop, center-cut loin chop, rib chop, blade chop, and sirloin chop, among others — which is an indicator of where on the loin they were cut from, with some cuts being more lean and others containing more fat.

Overall, pork chops are a tender, lean cut of meat with a really great, mild flavor. And because they’re quick-cooking and super-versatile, it’s no wonder they are a top pick for weeknight dinners.

Buying and Storing Pork Chops

Here’s what you need to know when you head over to the meat section at the grocery store, along with information on what to do when you get home with your chops.

1. Know your pork chop cuts.

Pork chops aren’t just pork chops — there are actually several different cuts. All chops come from the loin, which runs from the hip to the shoulder. The most common chops you’ll find at the grocery store or butcher are rib and loin chops, with loin chops being the most popular overall.

2. Prepare to spend more for pork chops.

Think of chops as pork’s version of beef steaks. It’s a premium cut, typically with a mild flavor. In fact, they’re even quite similar in how they’re cut, priced, and even cooked.

3. Choose pork chops with a pinkish color and some marbling.

Regardless of the variety of pork chops you’re buying, use visual cues to help you select the best pieces of meat. Look for chops that are pinkish-red in color with some marbling in the meat (remember: fat equals flavor!). Steer clear of pork chops that are pale in color or have a dark-colored bone or dark spots on the fat.

4. Store fresh pork chops in the fridge for up to two to three days before cooking.

It’s best to cook pork chops soon after buying them, although they will keep for two to three days in the fridge. Any longer than three days and it’s best to store them in the freezer, where they’ll keep for up to six months. Plan to give one-inch-thick pork chops 12 to 14 hours to thaw in the refrigerator before cooking.

Make a Quick Brine for Perfect Pork Chops (Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Cooking Pork Chops

Cooking pork chops is quite easy. These are the essential things to know to get them perfect every single time.

1. Brine for more tender, flavorful pork chops.

Brining pork chops in a simple mixture of water, salt, and herbs — even for just 15 minutes — adds extra flavor to this mild cut and keeps the meat extra tender. Best of all, this is your insurance policy against overcooked, dry meat.

2. Allow pork chops to sit at room temperature.

Instead of jumping straight into cooking, let pork chops sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes after pulling them from the fridge. Giving the meat a chance to warm up will ensure more even cooking.

3. Don’t fear the bone-in chop.

If you’ve been hesitant to break from your familiar boneless pork chops, I encourage you to try bone-in. The cut might be slightly thicker than you’re used to, but they can be cooked the same way you’d cook boneless chops, requiring just a few extra minutes of cook time.

4. When searing, start with a screaming-hot pan.

For the coveted seared crust that makes any pork chop taste special, make sure the meat is patted dry and give the pan or skillet ample time to heat up before cooking.

5. Account for thickness when cooking.

Determining the cook time for pork chops can be tricky because not all chops are the same thickness. They can range from as thin as 1/2-inch up to a big 2-inch-thick chop. Regardless of the type of chop, thickness is the primary factor that dictates total cook time. Thinner chops will cook more quickly and can benefit from a shorter cook time, while thicker chops may require more time.

6. Cook pork chops to 145°F.

Measuring internal temperature with a probe thermometer is the best way to test the doneness of pork chops. Cooked to 145°F, the meat is tender, juicy, and just a touch pink.

6 Essential Ways to Cook Pork Chops

Because they’re a lean cut with little fat content, pork chops are quick-cooking and lend themselves to a variety of cooking methods.

1. Cook them in the oven.

Whether you have boneless or bone-in, brined or not, rib or loin chops, this is the method that delivers tender, juicy pork chops every single time. It starts with a quick sear in a screaming-hot pan on the stovetop, and then the pork chops go into the oven until the meat is cooked through.

Recipes to Cook Pork Chops in the Oven

2. Stuff them.

Once you’ve mastered the basic method for cooking pork chops in the oven, consider stuffing them with a flavorful filling for a fast and fancy riff. Stuffed pork chops are seared on the stovetop and then finished in the oven, just like their unstuffed counterparts. Depending on the filling, this version may need an extra minute or two of cook time. Size matters, so choose chops at least one-inch thick when making stuffed pork chops.

3. Cook them on the stovetop.

Fire up your skillet. This quick and simple method works for bone-in and boneless chops alike, and is best reserved for pork chops that are no more than an inch thick. Pork chops are cooked on one side in a super-hot, oiled skillet, and then flipped and cooked on the other side. Consider adding a rub to the chops, making a simple pan sauce once they’re done, or serving with a sauce.

Recipes to Cook Pork Chops on the Stovetop

How To Cook Pork Chops in the Slow Cooker (Image credit: Emma Christensen)

4. Cook them in the slow cooker.

Because there are few things your slow cooker can’t do, you can also use it to get your pork chop fix. This method works best for bone-in blade, sirloin, or rib chops. Save the boneless chop for the stovetop or oven, as they can get chewy in the slow cooker. Sear the chops (if you like) and then layer over veggies in the cooker, and cook for two to six hours for a one-pot meal.

Pro tip: Use bone-in blade chops for the best result when opting for the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Pork Chop Recipes

5. Stir-fry them.

If you’re ready to change up your pork chop game, consider a stir-fry. Boneless pork chops are your best bet for stir-frying. Depending on the thickness of the chops, slice them in half or thirds before cutting them into thin strips. Or let convenience guide you, and start with pork loin cutlets.

Pro tip: Boneless pork loin or rib chops, or even thinner-cut pork cutlets, are the best choice for stir-fries. You can also swap in pork chops or cutlets in stir-fry recipes that call for pork tenderloin.

Stir-Fried Pork Chop Recipes

6. Simmer them in soup.

With a little prep work to slice the meat into thin strips, pork chops also lend themselves to making a quick and hearty weeknight soup. No need to pre-cook the chops. Once sliced, the raw meat can simmer and cook directly in the soup.

Pro tip: Use boneless loin or rib pork chops or pork loin cutlets for the best results when making soup.

Get a recipe: Hot and Sour Soup

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

7. Cook them until tender in the Instant Pot

The latest pork chop cooking method we’re adding to our tool box is the Instant Pot. While you won’t be able to replicate the crispy exterior you get from a deep skillet sear, you do get a pork chops and sauce two-fer. This recipe gives you a creamy caramelized onion sauce you’ll dream about.