Are smoked pork chops already cooked when you buy them, or do you need to cook them to a safe internal temperature? In this guide, we’ll explain everything you ever wanted to know about smoked pork chops—and maybe answer a question or two you never thought of.
Are Smoked Pork Chops Already Cooked?
The smoked pork chops you buy in the store have been at least partially cooked. If the meat was hot-smoked, it was already cooked to a safe temperature and only needs to be reheated to 125 degrees. Cold-smoked pork chops, on the other hand, still have a raw appearance and need to be cooked to at least 145 degrees.
What Are Smoked Pork Chops?
Smoked pork chops are just what they sound like—pork chops that have been exposed to smoke for long enough to impart a savory flavor.
Pork chops are lean and tender cuts, typically taken from the loin primal of the hog. Because of their lean nature, they don’t have a lot of flavor on their own. Smoking the chops can give them a real boost in this department.
Meat is usually hot-smoked at temperatures between 200 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower, and the meat might remain in the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees for too long. Higher temps, meanwhile, would cause the pork to cook through too quickly.
Are Smoked Pork Chops Already Cooked: A Guide
The answer to this depends on whether the meat is hot-smoked or cold-smoked. Hot-smoking uses heat in addition to smoke. Cold-smoking exposes the product to smoke at lower temperatures, and typically takes place at or below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
In order to be cold-smoked, the meat needs to be cured. The process takes a long time—often more than a day. If the meat weren’t cured beforehand, it would spoil during this time. To learn more about curing, see the section below.
Hot-smoked pork chops have been fully cooked to a safe temperature. These only need to be reheated to 125 degrees, though you might want to heat them a bit more according to preference.
When the meat is cold-smoked, however, the chops will look much the same as they did when they were completely raw. You’ll need to cook these to at least 145 degrees before they’ll be safe to eat.
If you’ve purchased a package of smoked pork chops from a grocery store or online retailer, check the label. It should indicate whether you need to cook the meat or just reheat it. When in doubt, cook the pork to 145 degrees anyway, just to be safe.
Smoking vs. Curing
What’s the difference between smoked meat and cured meat, anyway? Although the two share certain similarities, these terms refer to two distinct processes.
When food is hot-smoked, it’s exposed to low heat for a long time. This heat is essential to the process—it allows the meat to gain flavor while retaining a great deal of moisture and tenderness.
Cured meats are a different story. Curing uses salt to preserve the meat, inhibiting the growth of bacteria. The salts are typically a mixture of sodium chloride, or table salt, and sodium nitrite, which further extends the shelf life.
Manufacturers will typically add a red dye to curing salts to prevent them from being confused with regular table salt. It’s important not to get them mixed up because curing salt can be toxic when consumed in large doses.
Can You Make Smoked Pork Chops At Home?
Did you know you could buy raw pork chops and smoke them yourself? The process will take a while, but it’s an exciting skill to master. What’s more, you can choose the type of wood you use, giving you more control over the flavor.
Select bone-in pork chops measuring at least 1 inch thick. Thinner chops will cook too fast, meaning they might turn dry and tough before they can absorb enough smoke.
Oak is a nice choice when making smoked pork chops. If you like a sweeter flavor profile, try using maple instead. Steer clear of stronger woods like mesquite and hickory—their flavors will be too strong for the mild chops.
When you’re ready to start smoking the meat, set the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Since you’ll be enjoying the chops as soon as they’re ready, it’s fine to start the temp a bit higher than you would otherwise.
Trim the pork chops, if necessary, and pat them dry using paper towels. Wet-brined chops shouldn’t need a binder, but if you opted for a dry brine or no brine at all, try adding a slather of yellow mustard. This should help the spices cling to the meat.
In a small bowl, mix together kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, ground cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and a hint of brown sugar. Coat the pork chops all over with the seasoning mixture.
When the smoker is ready, set the chops on the cooking grate and close the lid. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chops registers 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take the chops off the smoker and set them on a clean plate. Tent the plate with foil. Increase the smoker temperature to 450 degrees. When the smoker is hot enough, return the pork chops to the cooking grate.
Continue to cook the chops until they hit 130 degrees. At this point, flip them over and allow them to cook until they’ve reached the target temp of 145 degrees.
Remove the meat to a clean plate. It’s important not to use the same plate as before, at least not without cleaning it first. The meat wasn’t fully cooked at that point, meaning the plate could be contaminated with dangerous bacteria.
Tent the chops loosely with foil and set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve as desired.
Tip: Some folks like to serve smoked pork chops with a side of barbecue sauce or applesauce, but we think they’re best enjoyed as is. That way, you’ll be able to better appreciate the subtle flavors of the wood and the spice rub.
The Bottom Line
All pork products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit before they’re consumed. Hot-smoked pork chops should have attained this safe temperature already, meaning they only need to be reheated.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!