Brined + Grilled Chops
Far too many people think of pork chops as a grayish, gristly form of cardboard.
This has everything to do with the story of modern pork.
Unless someone you trust is clearly telling you otherwise, the pork you buy in the supermarket has been raised to be lean and fast-growing and suited to the conditions of intense confinement. Most of the pork grown in the US, including pork sold under familiar American-sounding brands such as Smithfield, are owned by a huge Chinese conglomerate.
The animals live their entire lives inside huge barns called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.
Two thirds of all the antibiotics used in the United States today go to keeping livestock alive inside these CAFOs. Constant, low levels of antibiotics are added right in with the animals’ feed. This helps them pack on weight faster than animals that are given no antibiotics.
There’s a public health concern there. Ask anyone who’s ever worried about a loved one contracting a drug-resistant infection inside a hospital. There’s an environmental concern, too. Concentrated wastes produced by these concentrated populations of animals are a major problem for the health of rivers and people and wildlife in the vicinity of modern CAFOs.
But let’s return to that gray, cardboardy pork chop. Is there really any wonder that the conditions described above produce meat that is not delicious?
It doesn’t have to be that way, and certainly not for you. Fortunately, Northern Michigan is blessed with a number of farmers who raise hogs right, in conditions that are worlds away from what’s described above. Bluestem Farm is one of them.
Bluestem Farm pork is grown humanely in a pasture, under the sun. The pigs live out normal lives, raised in family groups. Even better, the hogs we raise are special breeds such as Mangalitsas from Hungary and Large Blacks from England. They’re called heritage breeds. You can think of them as the heirloom tomatoes of the pig world. If you eat pork, the difference is truly obvious.
At our house, grilled pork chops is what everybody wants to have for birthday meals. Here’s how we make chops that are more tender and flavorful than a perfect steak.
1 pound pasture-raised pork chops
2 1/2 teaspoons fine grind sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Dissolve the salt and sugar in a little boiling water, then mix with cool water to cover your chops. It works well to thaw the chops in the fridge while they're soaking in the brine solution. Soaking the chops in this salty water for a few hours before grilling makes them more flavorful and juicy—plus they're way harder to overcook. The chops can stay in the brine for as little as a few and as many as 24 hours.
(If you need to skip this step, that's okay. You'll just need to be a little more vigilant about not overcooking them.)
To cook the chops, preheat the grill to high. When it is very hot, pat the chops dry with a paper towel, then throw them on the grill.
Grill them on the first side for 7 to 10 minutes, then flip them over for another 7 or 10 minutes. You're looking for an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Allow the chops to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
You can also read this article in full in our Eat Like a Farmer column of the Petoskey News-Review.