Everyone loves the idea of a grilled pork chop, but they often fall short of expectations. And I blame the butcher!
Many chops and steaks are cut so thin it is almost impossible not to overcook them, even for a seasoned griller like me. When chops and steaks are cut thin, say 1/2 inch or less, the price is appealing but the end result may not be to your liking. It is far better to buy one thicker steak or chop and split it than buy two thinner cuts.
I have found that a boneless centre-cut pork chop is the answer. And it always exceeds expectations. You can buy the chops from your butcher or cut them yourself from a pork loin. Just make sure that they are a generous 1-inch thick.
The next secret is to brush the chop all over with olive oil. My motto: Oil the food, not the grill! The olive oil not only helps prevent the meat from sticking to the grates, it also promotes caramelization, which in turn helps lock in the meat's juices. If you don't brush the chop with oil, the natural juices will evaporate as the meat cooks.
A quick sprinkle of kosher or sea salt and you are ready to grill. I recommend a medium direct heat and 5 to 6 minutes per side.
Finally, it is essential that you let the pork chops rest at least 5 minutes so the juices will redistribute, making your chop tender and juicy. This means no cutting into the chop — even to test for doneness! Use an instant read meat thermometer or learn visual clues for doneness. It is much better to serve a warm pork chop that has had time to rest than a piping hot chop that hasn't had time to rest and loses all of its juices once you cut it.
Now that you've mastered grilling the chop, you are ready to take your outdoor cooking repertoire to the next level by making a compound butter. A compound butter is simply softened (unsalted) butter that is flavoured with herbs, spices and almost any flavour ingredient and seasoning. I love compound butters so much that I devoted a whole chapter to them in one of my cookbooks.
Compound butters can be sweet or savory and are a quick and easy way to dress up any meal. The beauty of a compound butter is that when it melts on hot food, it seasons the food like a complicated sauce, but without any of the time needed to make one. Even better, the flavours are much brighter because they haven't been cooked.
Since pork chops are synonymous with fall for me, I like to serve a chipotle-pumpkin seed butter on top of my chops. The autumnal orange-red colour of the butter studded with green pumpkin seeds smiles with Halloween colours, making this a perfect dinner for all your ghosts and goblins.
The butter balances and rounds out the smoke and the heat from the chipotle chili and the adobo sauce, and the toasted green pumpkin seeds add texture and eye appeal to the butter. I use fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt in all of my butters to add a nice little crunch to the butter and the finished dish.
The butter can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use. I like to refrigerate the butter until it is hard, slice it into medallions and freeze them in an airtight container. That way, I have "coins" of compound butter any time I need them. The butter also is really great on grilled or baked squash, almost any vegetable, and any fish, poultry or meat, so I usually double the recipe.
PORK CHOPS WITH CHIPOTLE-PUMPKIN SEED BUTTER
Start to finish: 1 hour
For the chipotle-pumpkin seed butter:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 small chipotle chili in adobo sauce, drained and chopped finely
1 tablespoon lightly toasted and cooled hulled pumpkin seeds (often called pepitas)
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt flakes or fleur de sel
For the pork chops:
4 boneless centre-cut pork chops, 1-inch thick
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
To make the butter, in a medium bowl mash or stir the butter until it is smooth and slightly fluffy. Add the chipotle, pumpkin seeds, chili powder and salt. Mix together, mashing with the back of a fork to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Taste, then adjust with additional salt, if needed.
Set a 6-by-12-inch sheet of kitchen parchment or plastic wrap on the counter. Spoon the butter onto it to form a log. Roll the butter up, then smooth out to form a round log about 5 inches long. Refrigerate until firm and easy to cut into rounds, about 15 minutes. The butter can be made in advance and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week (or in the freezer for up to 3 months).
When ready to prepare the pork chops, prepare the grill for direct, medium heat cooking.
Remove the butter from the refrigerator and cut four 1/2-inch slices off of the log (you will have some butter left over) and set aside.
Meanwhile, use paper towels to pat the pork chops dry. Brush with a thin coat of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
Place the chops directly on the cooking grate and grill for 5 to 6 minutes per side. The chops will be done when they feel "firm" to the touch and register 140 F at the centre. Remove the chops from the grill and top immediately with a piece of the butter.
Let the chops rest for 5 minutes before serving and allow the butter to melt over the top as it rests. If desired, serve with a second round of butter.
Nutrition information per serving: 410 calories; 300 calories from fat (73 per cent of total calories); 33 g fat (17 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 125 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 26 g protein; 450 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."