The absolute best way to make juicy pork chops

According to so many tests . . .

By Ella Quittner

Published March 30, 2022 3:30PM (EDT)

 (Ty Mecham / Food52)
(Ty Mecham / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

In Absolute Best Tests, our writer Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of the truth. She's boiled dozens of eggs, seared more porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall, and tasted enough types of bacon to concern a cardiologist. Today, she tackles pork chops.


My fiancé and I disagree about a lot of things, but none comes up more regularly than the pork chop. To Nate, it is the perfect dinner. To me, it is usually a disappointment.

When we first encountered an unstoppably juicy and impeccably sauced double-cut chop just blocks from our apartment, it felt too good to be true. As it approached our table, so plump it was nearly NSFW, so tender it was basically wiggling atop a shallow pool of sauce, Nate began to huff and salivate like a well-meaning dog.

I, however, remained skeptical, until I took a bite. It beat every last thing the pork-lovers in my life had promised me about the elusive Perfect Chop™. It had an exterior so caramelized, I could have balanced a glass on it. The meat was extremely soft to cut, which prompted me to write in an iPhone note: "like butter crossed with clay." And most importantly, the pork chop was juicy as a Gusher. It was the pork chop that changed me — that showed me what was possible, if only I opened my mind, my heart, and allowed it in.

Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. The next week, it was off the menu. And so this latest installment of Absolute Best Tests is an ode to that chop I'll probably never have again.

Controls

For each test, I used bone-in, inch-thick pork chops. Except in extenuating circumstances (e.g., breaded chop, milk-braised chop), I seasoned with only brown sugar, kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal), and freshly ground black pepper. I used high heat–friendly avocado oil for all methods that called for cooking fat.

My chops weren't particularly fatty, so I didn't need to render the fat cap, but should you like to, simply lift each chop with tongs and press the thick fatty ridge into your skillet a few minutes, twisting it so the full cap renders down, before completing your cook method

Round 1: Brining

Whether to dry brine, wet brine, or not to brine at all is an internet wormhole. A lot of accounts suggest that dry brining — merely rubbing salt and seasonings onto your meat and letting it chill, uncovered overnight in the fridge — is superior. This has certainly been my experience with whole birds.

So I was shocked when the wet brine, which involved soaking the chops overnight in seasoned saltwater, produced the juiciest chop, by a landslide. (Of pork juice. Landsliding out of my mouth every time I took a bite.) Most complaints about the wet brine suggest that the method produces blander meat, because it essentially packs extra water into the cut. I suspect because the chops I used were so flavorful to begin with, and because I brined with a high concentration of salt and sugar, the water-flooding of the chop only served to complement its flavor, with the added effect of So Much Moisture.

Next juiciest was the no brine chop, which was perfectly fine, juicy enough, just not so shockingly juicy I beckoned a neighbor to come have a look. Least juicy was the dry brine chop, which also had a slightly tougher texture. Initially, the dry brine chop felt a little juicier to the touch than the no brine chop, but it wept a lot of liquid as it rested before serving.

As far as caramelized exterior, though, dry brine pulled through hard. My dry brine chops came out with deep brown, crispy exteriors that I would have been proud to photograph and brag about on social media were my fingers not covered in pork grease. The no brine chops had the next best crust, and the wet brines had the worst, because moisture is the enemy of crispiness.

All that said, I would still recommend wet brining. Just diligently dry out your chops before searing as best you can. Like, more diligently than whatever I did.

Dry Brine

Adapted from The KitchnFood52, and Serious Eats.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil 

 

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Dry the pork chops, then rub the sugar mixture all over. Transfer the chops to a wire rack set in a rimmed sheet pan. Refrigerate the chops, uncovered, for 8 to 24 hours.
  2. When you're ready to cook, heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the oil to the skillet and, once it starts smoking, lower the heat to medium-high and add the pork chops. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, flipping midway through when the bottom develops a caramelized crust, until an internal thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Wet Brine

Adapted from Food52.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup kosher salt 
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (granulated sugar will work fine, too) 
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 4 cups ice cubes 
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil 

 

Directions

  1. Combine 2 cups of water plus the salt, sugar, and peppercorns in a saucepan. Heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the ice cubes. Let cool completely.
  2. Place the pork chops in an airtight container, pour the brine on top, cover, and get in the fridge. Brine for 4 to 12 hours. If the pork chops are stacked on top of each other, shuffle them partway through to encourage even brining.
  3. When you're ready to cook, heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the oil to the skillet and, once it starts smoking, lower the heat to medium-high and add the pork chops. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, flipping midway through when the bottom develops a caramelized crust, until an internal thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

No Brine

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil 

 

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper.
  2. Heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, dry the pork chops then season all over with the salt mixture.
  3. Add the oil to the skillet and, once it starts smoking, lower the heat to medium-high and add the pork chops. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, flipping midway through when the bottom develops a caramelized crust, until an internal thermometer registers about 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Round 2: Cooking

The juiciest, by far, was the roasted pork chop. It came out of the oven anemic and gray, easily the least appetizing of the bunch, like something a cartoon villain would devour in a cartoon hospital. To the touch, it was plump and juicy, but not excessively so — most similar to the no brine chop from the first round of trials. But when I cut into it, I could tell immediately that it was perfectly cooked, and that it would be weeping pork tears into my mouth. (Pork tears of happiness.)

While I tested this round all with unbrined chops, I suspect that a wet-brined + roasted chop would be unstoppable, Niagara Falls, tears at my sister's wedding. The obvious downside was the utter lack of a crust. Despite getting the same seasoning as the other specimens, the roasted chop took on no color and no caramelization. But it may have convinced me that caramelization is unnecessary for a pork chop, and that optimizing for juicy meat is preferable. I never said you couldn't serve crispy fries on the side.

For a juicy chop with a caramelized crust, the most effective method turned out to be the simple sear + roast chop, closely followed by the sous vide chop. The reverse-seared chop was also comparably juicy — a tiny bit drier than the sear + roast and the sous vide — but with way less browning.

The milk-braised chop was so tender I could've mistaken it for filet mignon, blanketed as it was in its saucey disguise.

Honorable mention to the battered + fried chop and the pound + sear. The battered + fried chop was easily the most satisfying to cut into, with its crispy shell and delicious meat. The pound + searhad the best flavor because it had the most surface area, though the meat wasn't particularly juicy.

Skippable: the air-fried chop came out firm and shrunken and browned only around its edges, with a grayish center. The meat was on the tougher side with no added flavor from the cooking method. The  grilled chop was totally fine, but not better than any other method, so I would say not worth firing up your grill.

Sear + Roast

Adapted from The Spruce Eats.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola 

 

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops and season all over with the salt mixture.
  3. Heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for 3 minutes. Add the oil to the skillet and, once that's hot, turn the heat to medium-high and add the pork chops. Don't move them for 3 minutes, or until the bottom layer is a deep caramelized brown.
  4. Flip the chops over with a pair of tongs and transfer the pan to the oven. Roast 5 to 7 minutes, until the internal temperature registers about 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Pound + Sear

Adapted from Bon Appétit.

Ingredients

  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola) 

 

Directions

  1. Lightly pound pork chops with a meat mallet, rolling pin, or the heel of your hand to 1/2-inch-thick.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar and pepper.
  3. Heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, dry the pork chops and season all over with the salt mixture.
  4. Add the oil to the skillet and, once that begins to smoke, add the pork chops and use tongs to press them against the hot surface. Don't move them for 3 minutes, or until the bottom layer is a deep caramelized brown.
  5. Cook chops, continuing to press down as you turn them every minute, until very browned, charred in spots, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F), 5 to 8 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

Reverse-Sear

Adapted from Umami Girl.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola

 

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops and season all over with the salt mixture. Place on a wire rack on a rimmed sheet pan.
  2. Heat the oven to 250°F with a rack in the center. Roast the pork chops (still on the wire rack on the sheet pan) for 20 to 30 minutes, until an instant meat thermometer reads 110°F.
  3. Heat a large preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Add oil, which should immediately begin to smoke. Add pork chops and sear for 2 minutes on the first side, without tinkering, until deeply golden-brown. Flip and sear another 2 minutes or so until the other side is deeply golden-brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Grill

Adapted from Food52.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola) 

 

Directions

  1. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, mix together salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops dry and season all over with the salt mixture.
  3. Brush the grill grates with oil. Place the pork chops on the grill. Grill, turning once, for 10 to 12 minutes, until browned and cooked through and an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Roast

Adapted from Food52.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 

 

Directions

  1. Adjust an oven rack to an upper-middle position. Heat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops, then season all over with the salt mixture.
  3. Lay the chops on a rimmed sheet pan, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Air Fryer

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola) 

 

Directions

  1. Heat the air fryer to 400°F.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops and season all over with the salt mixture.
  3. Place the chops in a single layer in the air fryer basket and cook for 8 minutes. Flip the chops and cook for 4 to 6 more minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F). Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

Sous Vide

Adapted from Serious Eats.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt  
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar  
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper  
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola) 

 

Directions

  1. Place an immersion circulator in a water bath and set the circulator to 140°F.
  2. While that comes to temperature, in a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops and season all over with the salt mixture. Place in vacuum-seal or zip-lock bags. Seal the bags and place in the water bath for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  3. Remove pork from the water bath and bag, and dry with paper towels.
  4. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the oil to the skillet and, once that's smoking, add the pork chops. Cook for about 45 seconds to 1 minute until the chops have a deep brown crust, then flip and repeat on the other side. Remove from the pan and let rest a few minutes before serving.

Milk-Braised

Adapted from Lodge.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola) 
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk 
  • 1 cup heavy cream 

 

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper. Dry the pork chops and season all over with the salt mixture.
  2. Heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the oil to the skillet and, once that begins to smoke, add the pork chops. Don't move them for about 3 minutes, until the bottom layer is a deep caramelized brown. Flip and sear on the other side for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Lower the heat to medium and add milk and cream. Use a wooden spoon or fish spatula to deglaze as you bring to a simmer. Cook for another 15 to 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145° F).
  4. Remove chops from pan and let rest while you simmer sauce, uncovered, until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Breaded and Fried

Adapted from Food52.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup neutral oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola) 
  • 1 large egg 
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 (1/2-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops 

 

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a shallow bowl or rimmed plate, whisk the egg. In another shallow bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and pepper. Dredge the pork chops in the egg, then firmly press it into the seasoned flour mixture, coating on all sides, shaking off any excess.
  3. When the oil is up to temperature — you can check by tossing in a few flecks of flour into the pan and listening for a slow to moderate sizzle — add the pork chops and cook about 4 minutes until golden, then flip and repeat, until an instant-read thermometer registers 135°F (or if you like them more well done, 145°F).

Ella Quittner

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