Grilling pork chops can seem intimidating for home cooks. Getting the timing right is crucial so the chops come off the grill juicy and flavorful, not dry or undercooked. When working with pork chops that have been pre-tenderized, either mechanically or through brining or marinating, the cooking times can be a bit different than grilling a regular raw pork chop. Here are some tips on grilling times for tenderized pork chops to help you turn out perfect chops every time.
What is a tenderized pork chop?
Pork today tends to be leaner than the pork of decades past. While this can be great for health, it does mean that pork can turn out a bit tough and dry if not cooked carefully. To combat this, many commercial pork producers use mechanical tenderizing processes on pork cuts like chops. This involves using thin needles or small blades to penetrate the meat and break down the tough muscle fibers. Tenderized pork will show lots of tiny slits across its surface.
In addition to mechanical tenderizing, brining or marinating pork chops can also help break down muscle fibers and yield more tender, juicy meat. Brining involves soaking the chops in a saltwater solution before cooking. The salt helps denature and dissolve tough proteins. Marinades work in a similar way, using acidic ingredients like citrus juice or vinegar to tenderize the meat’s surface.
How does tenderizing affect grilling time?
Tenderized pork cooks faster than non-tenderized chops because the broken-down muscle fibers require less time to heat through and firm up. If you grill tenderized pork using the same timings you would use for a regular raw pork chop, it will likely end up overcooked.
Mechanically tenderized pork chops and chops that have been brined or marinated will cook in about 75% of the time needed for a raw pork chop. This means you need to reduce your grilling times to avoid overcooking the tender meat.
Suggested grilling times for tenderized pork chops
Here are some general guidelines for grilling times based on the thickness and preparation method of your pork chops:
|Chop Thickness||Raw Chop Grill Time||Tenderized Chop Grill Time|
|1/2 inch||4-6 minutes per side||3-5 minutes per side|
|3/4 inch||6-8 minutes per side||4-6 minutes per side|
|1 inch||8-10 minutes per side||6-8 minutes per side|
|1 1/2 inches||10-12 minutes per side||8-9 minutes per side|
Keep in mind these times can vary based on your grill temperature. The times above are based on a medium-high grill heat, around 400°F. Use higher heat for thinner chops and lower heat for thicker cuts to prevent burning the outside before the interior cooks through.
Adjusting time for marinated/brined chops
Chops that have been soaked in a brine or marinade need slightly less time on the grill than mechanically tenderized pork. Since the brining solution does not penetrate quite as deeply into the meat, the reduction in grilling time is not as much.
For brined or marinated pork chops, use about 85% of the recommended grilling time for a raw pork chop.
Signs of doneness
Using a food thermometer is the most reliable way to determine if your pork chops are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Pork should reach 145°F on a thermometer for safe consumption. However, you can also use visual and textural clues to judge when tenderized pork chops are done:
- The exterior surfaces will show grill marks and take on a browned, slightly charred appearance
- Chops will firm up and feel firmer when pressed
- Interior meat should show no traces of pink color
- Chops will feel firm but still juicy when pierced with a fork
If your chops are getting dried out or charred on the outside but still look underdone inside, try moving them to a cooler part of the grill or reducing the heat to gently finish cooking through without burning the exterior.
Remember that the interior temperature of pork chops will continue rising 5-10°F after removing them from the grill. This carryover cooking means you should pull the chops just before they reach the target temperature so they don’t end up overcooked. If you prefer your pork at the FDA recommended 145°F, aim to pull tenderized chops off the grill around 135-140°F.
Let chops rest before serving
As with any grilled meat, pork chops need a 5-10 minute rest after grilling and before cutting into them. This allows juices that were forced toward the center during cooking to redistribute back out toward the edges. Slicing into chops immediately can cause a huge loss of flavorful juices.
Tenting chops loosely with foil while they rest will help keep them warm and prevent cooling too much before serving. The short rest allows the interior meat to relax and finish cooking gently through carryover cooking.
Tips for maximizing juiciness
In addition to proper grilling times and resting, there are a few other tips to keep tenderized pork chops as juicy as possible:
- Pat chops dry before grilling – excess moisture on the surface can cause steaming which dries out the meat
- Use direct heat only at the very end if chops need more browning – avoid overcooking by minimizing direct heat
- Flip only once during grilling if possible – flipping repeatedly can dry out the meat
- Brush with glaze or sauce only in the last few minutes to avoid charring or burning
- Choose chops of equal thickness so they cook evenly – avoid having to overcook thinner chops to accommodate thicker ones
Choosing the best tenderized chops
Look for pork chops with good marbling or fat streaking throughout. While very lean pork stays tender through brining or marinating, fattier chops tend to stay juicier after grilling. Other signs of high quality pork include:
- Pale pink color
- Firm, white fat cap if present
- No strong pork odor
- Sell by date as far in the future as possible
For brined or marinated chops, make sure there is no seasoning or spice rub baked onto the surface that will burn during grilling. Rubs can be added just before grilling instead.
Best woods for flavor
The smoke from different wood chips or chunks can complement pork’s flavor beautifully. Some top woods to use with pork include:
- Maple – gives a mild, sweet, fruitwood smoke
- Apple – similar to maple but slightly more mellow
- Cherry – infuses a sweeter, fruity smoke flavor
- Pecan – imparts a rich, buttery smoke with nutty hints
- Mesquite – blends a bold, earthy smoke flavor
Soak wood chips for 30 minutes before using to prevent excess burning. Place soaked chips or 2-3 chunks of wood off to one side of the coals so smoke can circulate gently around the chops as they grill.
Marinade and brine options
Pork takes very well to marinades and brining thanks to its mild flavor. Some easy options include:
- Basic salt, sugar, water brine
- Apple cider brine
- Wine or beer brine
- Herb brine with bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns
- Southwest – cilantro, lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder
- Asian – soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic
- Fruit-based – pineapple juice, ginger, brown sugar
- Herb – rosemary, thyme, parsley, Dijon
Aim for at least 30 minutes soaking time for thinner chops, and 1-2 hours for thicker cuts to allow the brining solution or marinade to penetrate and work its magic.
Topping and sauce options
Glazes, mops and sauces offer lots of possibilities for adding flavor. Apply these during the last few minutes of grilling to avoid charring or burning:
- Hoisin and five spice
- Cherry cola
- Spicy pineapple
- Honey mustard
Mops and sauces:
- Basic BBQ sauce or spicy BBQ sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Bourbon and brown sugar mop
- Citrus mojo
Tender, juicy grilled pork chops make a stellar entree, and pair well with lots of sides:
- Twice baked potatoes
- Sauteed or grilled veggies like zucchini, peppers, mushrooms
- Creamy grits or polenta
- Macaroni and cheese
- Grilled pineapple slices
- Green salad with vinaigrette
For a show-stopping presentation, go for double-cut bone-in ribeye chops and serve with a knife still in the chop for a classic steakhouse feel.
One of the bonuses of grilling a batch of tenderized pork chops is having leftovers handy for other meals. Leftover grilled pork works great for:
- Tacos – dice and add to tortillas with onion, cilantro, lime
- Pasta – slice and toss with sauce, veggies and pasta
- Sandwiches – pair with BBQ sauce on buns or rolls
- Salads – dice and add to lettuce, greens, vinaigrette
- Omelets or breakfast burritos – dice and combine with eggs
Refrigerate leftover pork within 2 hours of cooking, and use within 3-4 days for best quality and food safety.
With the right grilling times and a few simple tricks, you can turn out incredibly tender, juicy pork chops perfect for any occasion. Tenderized chops just need that 25-30% reduction in grill time compared to raw pork. Follow the guidelines here based on thickness, marinating and your preferred degree of doneness. Soon you’ll be able to masterfully grill tender pork chops to delight family and friends. Pair your chops with sensational sides and enjoy!