Triple Thick Pork ChopsSteven Raichlen
Start with thick chops (each tips the scale at over 1 pound), which increases the ratio of interior meat to surface area. (The surface is where the chop dries out.) Cure the chops in a brine of salt, sugar, and pink curing salt. This loosens the strands of proteins, allowing the chops to retain more liquid. After smoking, coat the chops with olive oil and a chile powder rub and sear over a hot wood fire. This seals in moisture, sets the crust, and intensifies the flavor. Don’t be deterred by the seemingly long preparation time. You’re looking at less than 30 minutes of actual work.
Triple Thick Pork Chops
For the pork and brine:
- 4 double-thick bone-in pork chops (1¼ to 1½ inches thick and 1 to 1½ pounds each)
- 1 cup coarse salt (sea or kosher)
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons pink curing salt (Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1)
- 1 quart hot water
- 1 quart cold water
- Vegetable oil, for oiling the smoker rack
For the rub (optional):
- ¼ cup pure chile powder (such as ancho)
- ¼ cup dark or light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons coarse salt (sea or kosher)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
Step 1: Place the pork chops in a nonreactive baking dish just large enough to hold them, or a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag.
Step 2: Make the brine: Place the coarse salt, sugar, and curing salt in a large bowl. Add the hot water and whisk until the salts and sugar dissolve. Whisk in the cold water and let the brine cool to room temperature. Pour the brine over the pork chops. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, or squeeze out the air and seal the bag and place it in an aluminum foil pan or roasting pan to contain any leaks. Brine the chops in the refrigerator for 12 hours, turning them over once or twice.
Step 3: Meanwhile, if you intend to grill the chops after smoking, make the rub: Place the chile powder, brown sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl and mix well, breaking up any lumps in the brown sugar with your fingers.
Step 4: Drain the pork chops, discarding the brine. Rinse under cold water and blot dry with paper towels.
Step 5: Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225° to 250°F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer.
Step 6: Oil the smoker rack. Place the pork chops directly on the rack and smoke them until lightly browned and the internal temperature reads 145°F. (Insert your instant-read thermometer through the side of the chop.) This will take 1½ to 2 hours. You can serve the chops at this stage; if you do, cook the chops until the internal temperature is 150°F.
Step 7: But you’ll get more flavor and crust if you rub and grill the chops as described in these next steps. Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. Brush and oil the grill grate.
Step 8: Rub or brush the chops all over with olive oil. Sprinkle the rub on all sides of the chops, rubbing it into the meat with your fingertips.
Step 9: Direct grill the chops until sizzling and browned on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Give each a quarter turn halfway through grilling to lay on a crosshatch of grill marks. Be sure to grill the edges of the chops, too.
You can certainly serve the pork chops hot out of the smoker without the extra steps of rubbing and grilling. Imagine a pork chop channeling a hot-smoked ham. But you’ll get even more fire and spice if you sizzle the chops on the grill just before serving. There’s an added advantage here: You can smoke the chops several days ahead, then heat them on the grill just before serving. (Cool to room temperature after smoking, then cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to grill.)
Mustard Seed Caviar makes a great accompaniment.
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