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On many restaurant menus, grilled or pan-seared pork chops typically fly under the radar. Rarely do they get the attention that they deserve. Such is also the case at home, where pork chops are often deemed satisfactory, though usually unexciting, dinner options. However, that doesn’t have to be — nor should it be — the reality.
The secret to a remarkable pork chop is a well-balanced brine, so says Chef Eric Shelton, who works at Fieldstone Golf Club, a property that for a long time served a double-cut pork chop that was first smoked, then pan-seared, and later basted with butter.
“The brine is key,” Shelton says, explaining that pork chops don’t have much fat structure. “To keep it moist, you have to do the osmosis effect with the brine, which pumps up the muscle with some good moisture, so when the chop does heat up, all that moisture locks into the protein and keeps it juicy.”
We’ve shared Chef Shelton’s recipe below, and he recommends brining a pork chop for at least 12 hours, though a full day may be necessary depending on the thickness of the meat. (For a 3-inch-thick cut, Shelton recommends a 12-hour brine.)
Once the chop is properly brined, Shelton likes to pan-sear it in a hot cast iron skillet, creating a medium- to dark-brown crust on all sides, then finish it in a pre-heated oven set at 400 degrees until the meat reaches a temperature of 145 degrees (about 8 to 10 minutes). From there, he’ll remove the pan from the oven, add some room-temperature butter, crushed garlic, and fresh thyme, then baste the chop with that herb-accented melted butter for about a minute. “That’ll help fortify the flavor that you’re already looking for,” he says. “It’s like a flavor punch at the finish to tie everything together.”
The basting step in the hot pan should bring the chop’s internal temperature up another 5 degrees, which is a perfect medium degree of doneness. At that point, all you need to do is let the meat rest 8 to 10 minutes. At which point, you’re ready to cut into a piece of meat that is certain to change your perspective on pork chops.
Chef Eric Shelton’s Pork Chop Brine
1 gallon of water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
In a large pot, combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, add mixture and pork chops to a large freezer bag, making sure the meat is submerged in the liquid.
Seal and store in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.