When you're trying to get a meal on the table for your family, anything that makes your life easier is a plus. For example, baking your pork chops in the oven is a lot more convenient than grilling or pan-frying them. The only downside is that baked chops often have an unappetizing gray color when they're done. You can use one of a variety of ways to counter that grayish cast and make your baked chops more appealing.
Part of the reason why your baked chops turn gray is cooking time. Most traditional recipes for pork call for it to be cooked well-done to minimize the risk of trichinosis. However, the parasite is uncommon in present-day commercially raised pork thanks to improved farming techniques, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture now says pork can be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 Fahrenheit like any other meat. If you reduce your cooking time accordingly, the surface of your chops will be white rather than gray, and they'll be pink and juicy on the inside. Invest in a meat thermometer if you want to be sure.
To avoid gray pork chops, brown the surface of your chops before baking. Sear the chops quickly in a pan; then transfer them to your oven to finish. Alternatively, brown the chops under your oven's broiler element and then bake them until they're done, or bake them until they're nearly done and finish them under the broiler. Either way, the browning -- called a "Maillard reaction," if you want to sound like a serious foodie -- creates rich, complex flavors and makes your chops look better. That's never bad.
A third way to avoid gray, bland-looking chops is to use a sauce on them. For example, you could brush them with barbecue, teriyaki or tomato sauce before you bake them. The sauces cook the on the pork during baking and glaze the chop, giving it an appetizing appearance. Alternatively, spoon a rich-looking sauce or brightly colored salsa over the chops when you serve them, which adds flavor as well as visual appeal.
Of course, your chops should never be gray before they're cooked. A gray color is a sign that the juices within the pork's tissues have oxidized and broken down, and the pork is past its prime. Any "off" smells or a sticky feeling on the surface of the pork should also warn you. Keep your chops refrigerated until you're ready to start cooking, and wrap your leftovers and put them away as soon as they're cooled.
- Cook's Country: How to Make the Best Pork Chops
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Fresh Pork From Farm to Table
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.