How to Cook Pork Chops in a Smoker

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From ribs to shoulder, pork is at its finest after a low and slow session in the smoker. In the case of pork chops, the method is one of the most effective at sealing in the moisture for a cut that can otherwise be dry and tough.

Chop Preparation

Pork chops have a substantial fat rind running along one side, but it imparts little flavor to the meat so can be trimmed away. This will also expose a fine sheen of silverskin beneath. Cut this away with the tip of a sharp knife to stop the chop from curling during cooking.

Dry Rub

Even though pork chops and pork steaks are both bone-in cuts, their flavor is relatively neutral. In fact, the meat itself is lean enough to resemble white meat. As a result, infusing the pork with seasoning before cooking is essential. The salt in a dry rub will also keep the pork moist and tender.

Typically, you want to start with a pork chop or steak that is at least an inch thick, measuring in at around a pound. Any thinner and the cut could dry out on the grill.

A simple kosher salt and black pepper rub is sufficient, but there is nothing to be gained by holding back on the seasoning. Prepare a dry rub of onion and garlic powder for saltiness, brown sugar for sweetness, and paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper and chili powder for spice.

Mix the dry rub with a little olive oil and massage it all over the chop, then leave to marinate for at least three to four hours in the refrigerator, or overnight if time allows.

Wet Brine

Marinating the pork in a wet brine might turn the meat an uninspiring shade of gray, but the flavors will linger long after the color returns on the grill.

A standard brine is between 5 and 10 percent salt by weight, roughly equivalent to a cup of kosher salt per gallon of water.

  • Transfer the pork chops or steaks to a resealable bag and
    add the brine solution, along with apple cider vinegar, mustard, honey and
    herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme for seasoning.
  • For a more aromatic finish, crush some of the more exotic herbs and spices for inclusion in the brine, ranging from star anise and lemon
    grass to peppercorns and juniper berries. 
  • Seal the bag, work it gently with your hands to distribute
    the ingredients, and leave to marinate for at least an hour in the
    refrigerator.
  • Before transferring the pork to the grill, remove the chops
    from the marinade, pat dry and allow them to return to room temperature.

Warning

  • Do not add marinade to the pork once it’s on the smoker or you will be cross-contaminating raw and cooked meat.

Smoker-Ready

Prepare a two-zone grill, with the coals or burner lit on one side, and a cooler zone on the other. If you're using charcoal, soak wood chips first for an hour in water, then arrange on top of the burning coals. For propane, transfer the chips to a smoker box, which can be as simple as an aluminum tray with a pierced foil lid.

Apple makes a natural pairing with pork, but pecan and hickory are also complementary wood aromas for the smoker.

Sear the pork first on the hot side of the grill with a direct heat from the rack, then move to the cool side and leave to smoke for at least two hours at around 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, pork will take around 90 minutes to reach a safe internal temperature, set at 145 degrees by the USDA.

  • Test the meat with an instant read thermometer, bearing in
    mind it might still appear pink in the center, and add a sweet barbecue sauce
    to balance the residual salt and spice.
  • Remove the chops from the grill and allow them to rest for
    at least five minutes, during which the meat will lock in the remaining
    moisture.

Pork Steaks

Cut from the shoulder, pork steaks have more fat and collagen than chops and benefit from an additional step to seal in the moisture.

Marinate and smoke the steaks the same as for the chops, but remove from the grill after about 90 minutes.

Transfer the steaks to an aluminum tray greased with a stick of butter and douse with apple juice, light beer or even a few shots of bourbon whiskey. A layer of sliced onion or apple on top also add sweetness.

Place the tray back on the cool side of the grill, cover with foil and leave for two more hours, or until the meat is fork tender. The smoke will already have penetrated the meat during the first passage through the grill, so covering with foil will not sacrifice flavor but will seal in moisture.

Remove the cover for the last 15 minutes and put the chops back on the grill to caramelize the sauce.

Tip

  • This method, which is also perfectly acceptable for chops, can also be used for individual steaks, wrapping them instead in aluminum foil along with the basting marinade.

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