If you’ve ever wondered how to cook thin pork chops without drying them out completely, you’ve come to the right place. Our guide will help you turn out chops that are perfectly moist, even if they’re very thinly sliced.
How To Cook Thin Pork Chops Without Drying Them Out
When pork chops are dry, it usually means they’re overcooked. You can avoid this pitfall by cooking the meat to an internal temp of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Other tips for avoiding dryness include marinating the pork and bringing it to room temperature before you cook it.
About Pork Chops
More often than not, pork chops are cut from the loin primal. This is the segment that runs along the animal’s backbone.
The meat from the loin is relatively lean when compared to tough, fatty cuts like Boston butt and pork shoulder. That means it’s easy to overcook, especially when cut into thin slices.
Pork chops may be sold boneless or with the bone still attached. When sold bone-in, the slightly curved strip of bone provides diners with something to hold on to while they nosh on the meat.
Boneless pork chops are more likely to be sliced very thin. However, we’ve seen our share of thinly sliced bone-in chops as well. The bone gives the meat more flavor and moisture, but it’s still important not to overcook the chops, or they’ll be too dry.
If you’ve purchased a pork loin roast and want to cut the meat crosswise into chops yourself, try to ensure that each one is at least 1 inch thick. The thinner the chop, the more likely it is to overcook.
One more important note: Pork loin and pork tenderloin aren’t the same thing. The meat from the tenderloin is even softer and leaner. When the tenderloin is sliced crosswise into medallions, those pieces are generally not considered to be pork chops.
What Causes Pork Chops To Dry Out?
As we mentioned, lean meat is easy to overcook. The lack of fat means that it’s hard for the meat to retain moisture when it’s exposed to high temperatures.
When meat is overcooked, it has a dry, tough consistency similar to that of shoe leather. The key to moist pork chops—or any lean cut of meat—is to remove them from the heat as soon as they reach the target temperature.
What’s The Ideal Temperature For Pork Chops?
We would suggest a target temperature of 145 degrees when making pork chops. At this temperature, the meat is considered medium rare. When you allow the chops to rest for about 5 minutes, their internal temp will rise slightly, ending up at about 150 degrees.
It’s fine to cook pork chops to 160 degrees if you prefer them well done, but be careful. When the temperature climbs past 165, the meat can go from succulent to dry in a hurry.
What’s The Standard Thickness for Pork Chops?
Pork chops can vary in thickness from less than 1/2 inch to a full 2 inches. Most of the time, the boneless chops you’ll encounter will measure about 1 inch thick, while their bone-in counterparts should be a bit thicker—perhaps 1-1/2 inches.
You can fend off the probability of overcooking extra-thin chops by purchasing thicker ones in the first place. Aim for chops that measure at least 1 inch thick. Of course, that might not always be possible, which is why we’ve put together this guide.
How To Cook Thin Pork Chops Without Drying Them Out
Opt For Bone-In Chops
As we pointed out earlier, bone-in chops are better able to retain moisture. Select chops that are well-marbled—that is, with flecks of creamy white fat throughout.
Pork chops should be bright pink in color. The darker the meat, the higher the myoglobin levels, which translates into better flavor. Some people are turned off by pork that’s so dark it’s almost purple, but trust us—the dark meat tastes much better.
The bone helps to prevent overcooking in another way: The bone is a natural heat conductor. That means it will help distribute the heat more evenly to the meat itself.
Marinate The Chops
Let’s say you want to stick with boneless chops, and the only ones you can find are sliced just 1/2 inch thick. You can still help to boost the moisture content by using a brine or marinade.
Brine solutions help the meat’s muscle fibers retain moisture. They consist of salt, water, and sometimes other ingredients. You can also opt for a dry brine, which involves coating the meat in salt and skipping the water bath.
In addition to imparting moisture, marinades provide a welcome lift in the flavor department. The process is largely hands-off, especially if you opt for a store-bought marinade. Since they’re easy to put together, though, we would recommend making your own.
Basic marinades are made from an acidic ingredient, oil, and a few seasonings. Vinegar and citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, are popular choices for the acid base. Since pork and apples are a great combo, try using apple cider vinegar.
For the oil, we prefer a combination of olive oil and a neutral oil like peanut or canola. Olive oil has a lovely flavor, but its lower smoke point can cause charring. The neutral oil helps to offset this effect while allowing the other flavors to shine.
If you want to add a stronger-flavored oil such as sesame, use it sparingly. Otherwise, it might overwhelm the other ingredients, not to mention the natural pork flavor.
As far as seasonings are concerned, try starting with kosher salt, black pepper, and crushed garlic. Dried herbs, especially sage and rosemary, also make excellent additions.
For best results, marinate thinly sliced pork chops for 2 to 4 hours. If you leave them in the marinade for too long, the acid will break down the protein fibers in the meat and turn the chops to mush.
Bring The Meat To Room Temperature
When you grill pork chops, take them out of the mixture and allow them to come to room temperature before firing up the grill. If the pork is too cold when it makes contact with the hot grill, the protein fibers will seize up, leading to moisture loss.
Remember not to leave the meat at room temperature for longer than two hours, or one hour if the weather is hot. This will turn the pork chops into miniature breeding grounds for bacteria. 20 to 30 minutes should be sufficient.
Also, be sure to pat the meat dry before putting it on the grill, especially if it was in a marinade beforehand.
Grill-Roast The Chops
To use this method, you’ll need to create a two-zone fire in your grill. Sear the meat over medium-high heat for a minute or two per side, then transfer it to the cooler portion of the grill. Cover the lid and cook until the chops reach the desired temp.
Depending on how thin the chops are, this entire process may take just 5 to 7 minutes. Bear in mind that if you’re using a pellet smoker, you may need to remove the pork from the heat to allow the unit’s temperature to go down before you finish the process.
Baste The Meat
During the last minute or so of cooking, try applying a glaze or sauce to the pork chops to add flavor and moisture. Don’t be tempted to add it too soon, or the sugars in the sauce will burn, making the pork taste bitter.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have any pre-made sauce on hand, try mixing together 1/4 cup of dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. The mixture will provide just the right balance of heat and sweetness to the savory pork.
Use A Thermometer
It can be tough to insert a meat thermometer into a thin pork chop, but this is your best bet to avoid overcooking. Invest in an instant-read thermometer, and make sure to calibrate it regularly.
Remove the chops from the heat at 145 degrees. Let them rest at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.
The Bottom Line
Thin pork chops might cook quickly, but that doesn’t mean they’re destined to have the texture of a baseball. By following these tips, you can enjoy moist and tender pork chops no matter how thinly they’re sliced.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!