The oven is one avenue for avoiding dried-out pork chops, but that can take more time than I am willing to devote on a weeknight. When I’m hungry, cooking pork chops on the stove can get them onto my plate in minutes, but without the right care these weeknight warriors can easily turn into shoe leather.
For fast, moist and juicy pork chops on the stove, here’s what you need to know.
Choose the right pork chop cut
Cooking great pork chops starts at the grocery store. They come in a variety of cuts and thicknesses, but the best choice for searing in a skillet is bone-in, thick cut chops. The bone slows down the cooking process ever so slightly, which can be a lifesaver for lean cuts of meat. My personal favorite cut is shown in the photos accompanying this article, with the curved bone on one side. These can be labeled rib or center cut chops, but porterhouse or loin chops, which have a T-shaped bone, also work for quick-cooking meals. (Sirloin chops require braising.)
In terms of thickness, I find one inch to be the sweet spot. “Thin cuts easily dry out, because by the time you get the outside sufficiently seared, the meat inside is overdone,” my colleague Becky Krystal wrote, and they are better reserved for frying. “Thick cuts can be hard to get an even cook on, because you may overcook the outside before the inside can even finish.” So unless you’re confident in your cookery, save the extra-thick, double-cut pork chops for the pros.
Brining pork chops is not necessary
In a quest to find “the absolute best way to make juicy pork chops,” food writer Ella Quittner wrote in Food52 that a wet brine “produced the juiciest chop, by a landslide” in a comparison against dry-brined and un-brined meat. However, when it came to a caramelized exterior, the wet-brined chops “had the worst, because moisture is the enemy of crispiness.”
I find brining to be completely unnecessary — and I’m not alone. “Not only is brining unnecessary for making tender pork chops, it can also introduce a lot more water to your meat, which will not improve its texture,” Joe Sevier wrote in Epicurious. Plus, brining adds to the prep time that I don’t have when I want to eat dinner imminently, so I say skip it. If you must brine, be sure to thoroughly pat the chops dry with a towel before searing them in the pan.
Rest the meat on the counter before cooking
Removing the pork chops from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking leads to a more even cook. Admittedly, it wasn’t very noticeable in the 1-inch-thick chops that I experimented with, but I posit it makes a larger difference for thicker chops.
A more distinct difference is that letting the meat sit a room temperature before searing reduces the overall cook time by a few of minutes. So when it’s time to prepare a meal, simply take the pork chops out of the fridge first before starting on your other dishes. Once those are well underway, you’ll have knocked the chill off the meat and you’ll get more even results.
Fat is key to keeping pork chops moist
The leanness of pork chops is what makes this cut a weeknight favorite, but it also means they can easily become tough and dry. The solution? Basting them with fat, such as butter. Add in aromatics while basting for more flavor — similar to how you might cook a steak — and then you have the added bonus of browned butter and crispy garlic and/or herbs to serve with the meat. (Yum!)
Don’t overcook the pork chops — and let them rest
Perhaps the most important tip is not to overcook your pork chops. Growing up, I was taught that pork must be well done to be safe to consume, but the USDA has since lowered the recommended safe cooking temperature from 160 degrees to 145 degrees with a three-minute rest, meaning that you can enjoy a medium pork chop just as you might a medium steak. (I prefer taking pork chops out of the pan at 135 degrees before resting, loosely tented with foil, for 5 minutes where the temperature should rise to 145 degrees, which is considered medium-rare.) If you don’t have one already, now would be the time to invest in an instant-read thermometer, and before you know it you’ll be enjoying juicy, tender pork chops in no time.