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We Tried 5 Methods for Cooking Juicy Pork Chops and the Easiest Won by a Landslide

published Dec 13, 2023
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell | Design: The Kitchn

A thick, juicy pork chop can rival a good steak. This weeknight staple is affordable, easy, and deeply satisfying when cooked properly. The meaty, center-cut chops that you can find at most grocery stores are more forgiving than the thin ones we grew up with, but it can still be a little tricky to get them just right.

Over the years, we’ve cooked a lot of pork chops — brining, frying, and baking them with mixed results. That’s why we decided to put five of our favorite methods to the test to see which would give us our platonic ideal of a pork chop: golden on the outside and incredibly juicy on the inside. To our great delight, the winning method is also the easiest. (We love it when that happens!)

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell | Design: The Kitchn

How We Tested These Methods

For each of the five recipes we selected, we used two center-cut, bone-in pork chops that were about 3/4- to 1-inch thick and weighed roughly a pound. We tested all five methods back to back on the same day. We seasoned each pork chop according to the recipe directions, but excluded any additional ingredients — like onions in the slow cooker recipe and herbs in the pan-fried recipe — that might affect the flavor of the pork.

Our rankings considered prep time, ease of cooking, browning, and juiciness. (Okay, now we’re hungry.) Here are our results.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Pork Chop Method: Slow Cooker Pork Chops

  • Rating: 5/10
  • Timing: 2 to 6 hours (ours took 4 hours, including brining)

About This Method: Slow cooking is a wonderful hands-off cooking technique for many cuts of meat. This particular method includes a short, optional brine as well as an optional sear and has you cook the chops in broth to prevent them from drying out. To give the method the highest chance of success, we brined the chops for 30 minutes and seared them on the stovetop.

Results: These pork chops had the lightest color of the bunch, as if the 3 hours in the slow cooker washed away the golden-brown crust. While the broth-cooking method kept the pork chops moist, it also gave the meat a slightly weird texture: It was somehow both tender and chewy. The long cooking (anywhere from 4 to 6 hours) was supposed to keep us out of the kitchen, but we found that we had to spend more time than expected monitoring the chops. This technique might be OK for cooking a big batch of pork chops and keeping them warm for feeding a crowd, but for small-batch weeknight cooking there are definitely better methods.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Pork Chop Method: Instant Pot Pork Chops

  • Rating: 5.5/10
  • Timing: 45 minutes (including searing and the pot coming to pressure, natural release, and cooling)

About This Method: It’s a little tricky to find an Instant Pot pork chop recipe that doesn’t call for cooking the meat in a sauce or broth that includes onions, mushrooms, or apples, including Kitchn’s own recipe, but for the purposes of this test we skipped everything but the broth. You start by browning the pork chops using the Instant Pot’s sauté function and then you cover the meat partially with broth before sealing and pressure cooking on high for just 10 minutes. The pot takes between 12 and 15 minutes to come to pressure and then you use the Instant Pot’s natural release for 10 minutes, which finishes cooking the chops.

Results: One of the downsides of the Instant Pot’s sauté function is that it doesn’t heat evenly, which gave us pork chops with a pale, uneven appearance. Without the aid of soft onions or apples, Instant Pot pork chops ended up being a bit dry for what is essentially a quick braised dinner. These results were almost as lackluster as the slow cooker chops, but the Instant Pot did a marginally better job of cooking the meat and did it in less time, so that’s how this method landed in next-to-last place.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Pork Chop Method: Brined and Baked Pork Chops

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Timing: 1 hour (including brine time)

About This Method: This is one of Kitchn’s most popular recipes, and for good reason — it’s almost foolproof, thanks to a quick brine and preheated cast iron skillet. After brining the meat for 30 minutes, you pat the pork chops dry and throw them into the skillet that’s been preheated in a 400°F oven and then set over high heat. The ripping-hot metal helps brown the pork chops quickly. (There will be plenty of sizzling and some smoke.) Once the meat is browned, you put the skillet in the oven to finish cooking the chop. For a perfectly done piece of pork, you’re looking for an internal temperature of 140°F to 145°F.

Results: If you like a pork chop with a crispy crust, this is the method for you. While the recipe says brining is optional, don’t skip that step. You really need the moisture and salt from the brine to keep the pork chops juicy in the hot pan. These pork chops were juicy but pretty messy to cook. Go for this method if you want an easy-to-follow recipe that won’t result in dry pork chops and you’ve got time to dedicate to brining and cleanup.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Pork Chop Method: Air Fryer Pork Chops

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Timing: 18 minutes (including preheating the air fryer)

About This Method: The air fryer crisps food using convection, which just means that it cooks your food using fast-moving hot air. It cooks everything from frozen tater tots to steak in less time than you can preheat most ovens. Air-frying a pork chop is ridiculously simple. Just season the chops, heat the air fryer to 380°F, and then cook the meat for 12 to 18 minutes. You can rotate the chops about halfway through, which is also a good time to check their internal temperature with a probe thermometer. Again, the goal is 145°F for rosy, juicy meat.

Results: Air frying was the fastest method by a long shot and it produced a surprisingly delicious, juicy pork chop with a crispy crust. Would we suggest you run out and buy an air fryer just for pork chops? No, but if you have one consider it your new go-to for weeknight chops.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Pork Chop Method: Pan Fried Pork Chops

  • Rating: 10/10
  • Timing: 45 minutes (including 30-minute brine)

About This Method: You remember when we said that a well-cooked pork chop can rival a juicy steak? Well, it turns out that the secret to getting that is cooking your chop like a steak. Using this method, you brine the chops in a simple brown sugar and salt brine before pan-frying the pork. You sear the chops in a cast iron pan that has been preheated over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and cook the pork, flipping often, for 8 to 10 minutes. But the final step is the best step: You take the pan off the heat, add some butter to the pan, and baste the finished pork chop for another 5 minutes.

Results: We can’t overstate how delicious this simple method is for cooking pork chops. The high-heat sear give you a wonderful browned crust, and that butter basting at the end keeps the the meat super juicy. Sure, you do need at least 30 minutes of brining (or you can brine overnight) but the actual hands-on cooking takes less than 20 minutes.

Final Takeaways

Pork chops once had a reputation for being dry and chewy, but now that more home cooks know how to cook them well, they can be faster and more cost-effective than a good steak. Our testing showed that low-and-slow cooking isn’t ideal for pork chops (despite working well for other cuts of pork). Instead, make sure your chops get a quick brine in salt water, cook them using high heat, and finish them with a big pat of butter to ensure they are golden-brown and juicy every time.

This post was originally published on The Kitchn. Read it there: We Tried 5 Methods for Cooking Juicy Pork Chops and the Easiest Won by a Landslide