We love grilling pork chops. The meat is mild-tasting, cooks quickly, and pairs well with a number of marinades, rubs, and sauces. But if you can’t find them, or if you would prefer not to eat pork at all, what can you use as a substitute for pork chops?
Substitute For Pork Chops
The pork tenderloin, which bisects the loin of the hog, makes an acceptable substitute for pork chops. Pork steaks, cut from the shoulder, are another option. For those of you who want to forgo pork altogether, turkey breast cutlets and chicken thighs can be substituted for chops in many recipes.
About Pork Chops
The cuts that butchers refer to as pork chops are taken from the loin of the hog, often the rib section. As such, they’re usually rimmed with fat, which provides moisture and flavor. There may also be some intramuscular fat, also known as marbling.
Pork chops are sold bone-in and boneless. Bone-in chops come with a curved bone along one side, and their meat is flavorful and juicy. When the bone is removed, the chops are still delicious, but the meat might be a tad drier once it’s cooked.
Boneless pork chops are great on the grill because they require minimal preparation. If you want to grill bone-in chops, you’ll probably be in for a longer wait, but you’ll also be rewarded with pork that’s rich-tasting and moist throughout.
Substitute for Pork Chops: A Guide
Let’s say you have your heart set on pork tonight, but can’t find boneless or bone-in chops anywhere. A nice pork tenderloin might help you power through your disappointment.
The tenderloin doesn’t have quite as much flavor as the loin itself, but it’s prized for its lean, buttery texture. When you cook it over an open fire, the charred exterior will provide a nice counterpoint to the tender flesh.
You can grill pork tenderloin whole, but it cooks through more quickly if you carve it crosswise into medallions first. Ask your butcher if they’ll take care of that part for you.
Take care not to marinate your pork tenderloin for too long. Because the meat is so tender to begin with, it can cross the line into mushy territory if you leave it in the marinade for longer than a couple of hours.
Remember that pork loin and pork tenderloin are two different cuts. You can buy a whole loin and cut it into chops yourself, but that wouldn’t really count as a substitute for pork chops, since those are essentially what you’d be getting.
Contrary to what some amateurs believe, pork steaks aren’t the same thing as pork chops. While the chops come from the loin, pork steaks refer to cuts that are taken from the shoulder section of the hog.
If you’ve ever prepared pork shoulder before, you’ll know that the meat is extremely fatty and well-marbled. When the shoulder is cut into steaks, it retains these qualities, but you’ll need to alter your preparation technique.
While a whole pork shoulder needs to cook low and slow, it’s better to season pork steaks with a simple salt and pepper blend, then sear them quickly over high heat. Thanks to the high fat content, they should hold up well even when they’re slightly overcooked.
As a bonus, pork steaks typically carry a lower per-pound price than pork chops. So you might want to seek them out as an alternative even when chops are available in abundance.
Turkey may be a white meat, but it has a richer taste than chicken, for which it’s commonly substituted. In fact, some studies indicate that turkey is closer to pork in terms of flavor. That may be why turkey sausage is such a popular alternative.
The best way to substitute turkey breast for pork chops is to look for boneless cutlets. Whole bone-in turkey breasts are widely available, but in addition to being pricey, they’re too big to work as substitutes for chops.
You should be able to prepare turkey breast cutlets the same way you would prepare pork chops. The lean, mild-tasting meat will pair well with most marinades and seasoning rubs. Just remember that you’ll need to cook the meat to a higher temperature (see below).
We would suggest swapping turkey breast cutlets for boneless pork chops when using herb-forward recipes. Turkey goes great with rosemary, thyme, sage, and tarragon.
Like pork chops, chicken thighs are available either boneless or bone-in. When the thighs are sold with the bone in, the skin is usually still attached as well, providing an interesting contrast in textures when the meat is grilled.
While we think chicken breast is a shade too lean to work as an acceptable pork chop substitute, the thighs are meatier and more flavorful. If you had planned to grill bone-in pork chops, choose bone-in thighs for the recipe.
Chicken thighs pair excellently with teriyaki marinades and barbecue sauces, especially thicker and sweeter sauces like the Kansas City-style variety. The meat is robust enough to stand up to acidic citrus marinades, but restrict the marinating time to 3 or 4 hours.
It’s a good idea to par-cook the thighs in a low oven before adding them to the grill. Otherwise, the outsides might develop a thick char before the insides have reached a safe temperature. For more information, see the section below.
A Word About Internal Temperature
It’s safe to consume pork chops when they reach an internal temp of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the meat should have a slight pink tinge in the center, but any potentially dangerous bacteria has been destroyed.
If you’re still clinging to the antiquated belief that pork needs to cook to 160 degrees in order to be safe, rest easy. The risk of contracting trichinosis from infected pork is very slight these days.
Pork tenderloin is at its best when cooked to 145 to 150 degrees. It’s also acceptable to serve pork steak at these temperatures. However, if you use one of our suggested poultry substitutes for your pork chops, you’ll need to cook the meat a bit more.
Turkey breast cutlets are classified as lean white meat. Keeping that in mind, you should cook them to 165 degrees before pulling them off the grill. At this temp, the meat will be cooked through, but it will still have plenty of moisture.
Chicken thighs, meanwhile, fare better when cooked to a higher temperature. In fact, we think the meat is more succulent and flavorful if you “overcook” it. 180 to 185 degrees is standard for thighs, but don’t worry if you go overboard by a few degrees.
No matter what you use as a substitute, don’t add any sugary sauces—such as barbecue sauce—until the meat has nearly finished cooking. The sugar will burn when exposed to the heat, which can impart a bitter taste to your grilled meats.
Since pork chops have such a mild flavor, it’s not difficult to swap them out for other cuts.
The next time you feel like a change, try experimenting with the substitutions we’ve mentioned. You might also opt for turkey breast cutlets or chicken thighs if you’re entertaining guests who can’t consume pork for dietary or religious purposes.