When the goal is a tender and juicy pork chop, how to prepare and cook that pork chop becomes the challenge. As a general rule, the more expensive the cut of meat, the more naturally tender it is. But when purchasing a budget cut or in dishes where extra tenderness is needed, a pork chop may need extra tenderizer.
Meat labeled pork chops vary in the level of tenderness. Blade chops come from the shoulder area and contain more fat than other cuts; they may require tenderizer. Center-cut pork chops are divided in half by a bone. On one side of the bone, the loin meat cooks more slowly than the tenderloin on the other side. Center-cut pork chops may need tenderizer depending on the cooking method. Rib chops with adequate marbling stay tender naturally during cooking.
When pork chops are roasted, braised or stewed, they rarely need extra tenderizer since those methods use liquid to penetrate the protein and bring out the natural tenderness in meats. However, fast-cooking methods such as frying or pan-searing may require that thick-cut pork chops be tenderized before cooking for best results. Tenderize cuts of pork chops not directly from the loin before cooking them over dry heat or using oil instead of water-based fluids.
Tenderize pork chops using shake-on seasoning, marinades or manual tenderizing. Shake-on seasoning contains an enzyme from fruit, papain, that denatures the proteins in the pork, creating a more tender chop before cooking. Marinades also tenderize pork chops. Mix an acid such as lemon juice or balsamic vinegar with a fat such as olive oil, and add salt and seasoning. Marinate pork chops at least 30 minutes and up to several hours before cooking. For manual tenderizing, use a mallet to lightly pound boneless pork chops to an even 1/2-inch thickness between sheets of plastic wrap before frying.
Marinade works best on pork chops less than 1 inch in thickness because the acid only touches the surface of the pork and can't penetrate deeply. Use a shake-on tenderizer for thicker pork chops because the enzyme tenderizes more deeply. Manually tenderize chops with a mallet before breading them. Because the mallet creates tiny dimples in the surface of the pork, they hold the breading and seasoning better than completely smooth chops.
- The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook; Jack Bishop
- Foodsafety.gov: Marinades: The Busy Cook's Friend
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images