Monday, June 15, 2009

To Brine or Not to Brine: That is the Question

This is my rebel yell
in recipe form in support of the pork chop. For some reason it just doesn’t get the respect it deserves. And it’s no wonder, when you see the pitiful displays of wafer-thin chops laid out in grocery store meat cases across the country. It doesn’t do much to inspire gastronomic creativity or debunk the myth that pork chops are dry, chewy and generally flavorless. I can’t pretend I haven’t been the recipient of a few tough, overcooked pork chops that could have passed as shoe leather in my day, no matter how much shaking and baking was involved! However, in my never ending pursuit of culinary enlightenment I’ve figured out a few things along the way that make all the difference.

1. Forget those wafer-thin pork chops in your grocer’s meat counter. Pork is bred so lean these days that it’s nearly impossible to cook something that thin without drying it out. Instead, become fast friends with the guy behind the meat counter. Ask him to cut you some nice, thick (I’m talking 2-inch thick) center-cut chops. This is the first step to changing your relationship with pork chops. I know it can be a bit intimidating talking to the gruff-looking guy behind the counter wielding the meat cleaver and sporting the bloody apron, but he doesn’t bite and special requests are actually a part of his job.

2. Brining is key. Admittedly, this requires a bit of foresight in your menu planning since the chops need to hang out in the brine for a minimum of 8 hours, but 24 is preferred to get the maximum flavor and benefit. If you’re not familiar with brining it’s an uber simple process of creating a salty solution infused with aromatics that not only give the meat big flavor from the inside out, but keep it incredibly tender and juicy. Trust me: once you’ve used this method you’ll never go back. (See recipe below).

3. What ever you do, DO NOT overcook your meat! You can brine your pork chops for a week, but if you overcook them, it's not going to matter. A perfectly cooked pork chop is actually (lean forward people) still slightly pink in the center. It should be cooked to 145° to ensure tender juiciness. I know that some of you are still adhering to your Grandma's rule that pork has to be well done otherwise, "You could end up with trichinosis!" Hmmm, perhaps now we know where pork chops that bear more of a resemblance to footwear than food came from. I know it's hard to question Grandma's wisdom, but not unlike the moment you came to grips with the truth about Santa Claus, you'll come to accept this one too. Sorry, Grandma.

If I’ve done my job effectively, hopefully I’ve convinced you to get out there and try pork chops again for the very first time. Especially when they're Brown Sugar-Brined Pork Chops with Caramelized Onion and Peach Marmalade. And for the record, the brining question? Strictly rhetorical.

Grilled Brown Sugar-Brined Pork Chops
with Caramelized Onion Peach Marmalade

Serves 4

7 cups warm water
¼ cup kosher salt
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 teaspoons black peppercorns
4 boneless, center-cut pork chops (each about 2 inches thick)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups sliced sweet onions (Vidalia or Maui)
2 cups chopped peeled peaches, fresh or frozen
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

In a large bowl combine the salt, brown sugar, rosemary sprig and peppercorns. Add the warm water and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Allow water to cool slightly and place pork in brine and set a plate on top to keep meat completely submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.

To peel the peaches, bring a pot of water to the boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water to have at the ready. Plunk the peaches into the boiling water and let them go for roughly 45 seconds to a minute. Remove the peaches and immediately plunge into the ice bath. When they're cool enough to handle gently peel away the skins.

To make the marmalade, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook over low heat, stirring often, until transparent and starting to caramelize, 15 to 20 minutes. Add peaches, granulated sugar and vinegar. Cook, stirring often, until the peaches start to break down and the marmalade is caramelized and sticky, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rosemary and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high heat.

Remove pork from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Brush pork lightly with olive oil and season generously on all sides with pepper. Extra salt isn’t necessary because of the brining process.

Grill pork chops, covered, turning once, until meat is done, but just slightly pink in the middle (145° on an instant read thermometer). Transfer pork to a platter, tent with foil, and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with marmalade.

Print Recipe


  1. This dish is love, baby! I can almost taste it. I can't wait to try it. :)

  2. I brined my husband last night... he's much juicier that way. I'm just saying ;-)

  3. OK, all I can say is ....yuuuummmm! Brined turkey, hadn't thought of pork chops. Next on the list of to dos. And Costco sells pretty decent size porkchops.

  4. Sounds good, but pork is already so salty isn't that over kill? Here we have the opposite problem, the pork chops are huge, and I'm always looking for the thin ones. I think they grill up nicer and have better flavor. I like thick ones for winter, in the oven...I don't turn the oven on much in the summer.

    Found my way here via blogupp, hope you'll swing by for a visit

  5. This look gorgeous and sounds yummy, but mostly, I'm thrilled to learn that you can ask your butcher for special stuff! They always look so intimidating to me. And LOVE the peach photos!

  6. And regarding "pork always being salty." you just mean bacon? Or, what?

  7. We cooked your recipe tonight and the results were forking awesome. We did a 24 hour brine and that really helped provide great moisture, and the brown sugar really kicked up the flavor of the meat nicely.

    We grilled the pork on our Wolf indoor grill. While that always gives great sear marks, some idiot at Wolf decided to have only extremely high as a temp and that means it leaves the center of everything raw. So we usually finish things off in our oven, which is what we did this time.

    The marmalade - which I believe is actually a relish (marmalades don't use vinegar as far as I know) - was a great compliment to the brined pork. I used only a touch of the rosemary as I didn't want to take too much away from the delicate flavor of the peach, which really enhanced each bite.

    We also made a baked mash potato for our starch, which was a nice addition to this tasty meal.

    I look forward to cooking more of your delicious food interpretations.