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Pork Chops: They're What's for Dinner

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The pork chop is one of the most perfect parcels of protein known to man (or woman), possessing a rich intense flavor (in the way all meat attached to a bone is flavorful). It's affordable, costing a fraction of what you'd pay for a comparably sized veal chop or beef rib steak. It's respectable enough to eat with a knife and fork, but equally at home being raised to your mouth with your fingers (especially when it comes to gnawing the meat off the bone).

Pork chops come in four major types, each with unique characteristics, yet they're similar enough to be interchangeable for most pork chop recipes.

  • Rib chop: Cut from the front ribcage section of hog. Includes a section of rib and a meaty medallion of pork loin. Available pencil-thin, two-fingers thick, and everywhere in between. As far as I'm concerned, the thicker, the better.
  • Loin chop: Cut from the back section of the hog. Includes a piece of loin and tenderloin connected by a T-shaped bone. When cut thick, it's sometimes called a pork porterhouse.
  • Boneless loin chop: A lean round slice of pork loin with the rib removed. You could think of it as the pork version of a skinless boneless chicken breast.
  • Country-style rib: A long slender pork chop cut from the neck—technically, not a rib. May or may not contain a bone. This is one "rib" that's so tender you can cook it by direct grilling. And its per pound price is super attractive.

So what's the best way to cook pork chops? You've got my number—on the grill. Today's pork is tender and quick-cooking enough to be directly grilled—preferably over a wood fire or charcoal or gas fire enhanced with wood chips.

You can also smoke pork chops low and slow, in which case, you want to start with chops at least 1-1/2 inches thick. For wood, the sweet meat of pork has a special affinity for hickory, apple, maple, or cherry.

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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is www.barbecuebible.com.