Some years ago, pork producers altered their breeding and feeding techniques to yield leaner meat. That’s a nutritional plus, but it makes it a challenge keep pork chops from drying out during cooking.
One strategy is to brine the meat first. Soaked in a solution of water, salt and sometimes sugar, the pork absorbs moisture that stays with it during cooking.
To brine four chops, for example, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup kosher salt and 6 cups water in a self-sealing, gallon-size food bag. Add the chops, and refrigerate for one to four hours. Pat them dry and season with pepper before cooking. (Choose bone-in center or rib chops that are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick for the best flavor and uniform cooking.)
Cook the chops over medium-high heat until they are nicely browned on both sides, taking care not to overcook. Once the chops register 140 to 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally in the thickest part, remove them from the pan. Tent with foil about 10 minutes before serving. The internal temperature will rise a few degrees, yielding perfectly moist pork.
Brining is not necessary for braised pork chops because they are cooked in liquid at a low temperature for an extended period. It’s not advisable, either, because the retained brining liquid would make the pan sauce or gravy too salty.
Braised pork chops cook until they are tender enough to cut with a fork, and the braising liquid turns into a delicious sauce that you’ll want to soak up with mashed potatoes or crusty bread.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”