Pork chops generally turn out one of two ways: moist and succulent or dried-out, tough and chewy. Because they're loin cuts, they're naturally tender. But since hogs are bred for fairly lean meat, pork overcooks quickly with significant negative effects. Cooking pork chops only as long as necessary for safety is the most important factor in preventing dry meat. Pan searing, then roasting, allows you to get a desirable crust and moist meat in minimal time. If you like, first brine your pork chops to impart extra moisture and flavor and to help ensure against the drying effects of cooking.
Brine if You Have Time
Fill a nonreactive dish -- glass, ceramic or stainless steel -- with water. Choose a dish large enough to hold the pork chops, and use enough water to submerse them completely. As a flavoring option, replace half to all the water with wine, beer, bourbon or other liquor, fruit juice or cider, any sort of vinegar, tea or another liquid.
Stir in approximately 1/3 cup of kosher salt and 1/3 cup of sugar or brown sugar per 4 cups of liquid to dissolve. Or, replace the sugar with honey, molasses or real maple syrup if one complements the dish you're preparing. Include herbs, spices or aromatics in the brine as optional flavoring additions.
Place the pork chops in the brine and put the dish into the refrigerator. Soak the meat for up to 12 hours.
Turn Out Tasty, Tender Chops
Turn on the oven to preheat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit at least 20 minutes before you start to cook. It's a common mistake for home cooks to not allow their ovens enough time to fully heat up, which extends cooking time and yields drier pork chops.
Dab all the surface area of the chops dry with paper towels. Surface moisture impedes browning and crisping when you sear, extending cooking time and risking drier meat; the sizzling you hear at first is moisture cooking off, which must be completed before a nice sear can develop.
Make a few cuts about 2 inches apart through the layer of fat and the underlying connective tissue running along one side of the pork chops. This prevents the chops from curling up when they hit the pan, which detracts from the presentation, but, more importantly, it prevents parts of the chops from searing. Pat salt, pepper and any other desired seasonings onto both sides of the pork cuts.
Heat a cast-iron or other heavy pan over medium-high heat until you can flick water in, and the drops immediately sizzle and evaporate. Coat the bottom with cooking oil and let it become shimmering hot. If you don't have an oven-safe pan, line a baking tray with foil and grease it with cooking oil.
Place the pork chops in the pan and don't move them around. Don't crowd them; pan sear in two or more batches if necessary. Cook each side for about 2 minutes, just until they develop a well-browned, crispy coating.
Move the pork chops into the oven, either in an oven-safe pan or on the lined baking tray. Roast them to 145 F, using a food thermometer to know when the meat is safely cooked. This should take between 5 and 8 minutes, depending on whether the chops are on the bone, how thick they are, how well your oven maintains the set temperature and other factors.
- Store pork chops below 40 F and never leave them out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Raw pork contaminates the surfaces it touches with potentially harmful bacteria. Sanitize your hands, kitchen tools, cutting board and other surfaces after contact.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, travel, and lifestyle writer living with his family in Orlando, Florida. He has professional experience to complement his love of cooking and eating, having worked for 10 years both front- and back-of-house in casual and fine dining restaurants. He has written print and web pieces on food and drink topics for Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and other publications.