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The Best Pork Chops Aren’t Actually Chops

Category: Food & Drink,Lifestyle

Why relegate pork shoulder to the braising pot when you could put tender, juicy shoulder steaks on the grill? Alison Roman makes the case.

Meet the new hero of summer grilling: pork shoulder steaks. Paired with herbs and citrus, they're irrisistible.CreditMichael Graydon & Nikole Herriott for The New York Times

What if I told you the best grilled pork chop in the world is actually not a chop at all, but sliced pork shoulder? Marbled with and surrounded by fat, the crown jewel of winter braising could soon become the hero of summer grilling. No, not by smoking a large hunk of meat for 64 hours in an extremely expensive grill, though that would be delicious. You’re going to slice the shoulder into thick steaks, then grill them hot and fast to a perfect medium-rare, and it’s going to be revelatory.

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Grilling the steaks hot and fast gives them a nice char, while leaving them juicy inside.CreditMichael Graydon & Nikole Herriott for The New York Times

Slicing pork shoulder into steaks about one-inch thick allows you to cook them quickly over hot coals or in a cast-iron skillet, just like a piece of red meat, letting the bits of fat (of which there are many) char and crisp. The inside is left pink, juicy and tender, never chewy or dry.

I know the idea of anything less than well-done pork can take convincing, but truly it’s fine — the United States Department of Agriculture has deemed pork safe to eat at 145 degrees Fahrenheit (or 63 degrees Celsius), which is medium-rare meat.

Just like a braised pork shoulder, these steaks are excellent with just salt and pepper — but with minimal effort, they can be more than excellent. Giving them a dip in a spicy, sweet and tangy bath made from citrus juice, chile paste and a bit of fish sauce seasons them from the inside out and helps them caramelize on the grill, getting as charred and flavorful as possible. Feel free to marinate them up to 24 hours in advance, but I, for one, am never thinking that far ahead, and know that they are good left to sit for even 20 minutes, about the time it takes to get your grill scorching hot.

Grilled citrus and the remaining marinade round out the flavors.CreditMichael Graydon & Nikole Herriott for The New York Times

From there, you can eat them as is, alongside other grilled vegetables, but I am a huge fan of laying the just-sliced pork over a bed of rice or noodles and leaves of crunchy lettuce to let the juices from the pork dress everything below, then topping the whole thing with fresh herbs and lightly pickled shallots. (Think of it as a very inauthentic and possibly lazy version of the classic Vietnamese dish bun cha.)

Squeeze some grilled citrus over everything, along with some marinade you’ve reserved to use as dressing. Then let the juices from the pork mingle with all that to create what is maybe the best-tasting sauce in the world — a good fit for what is surely the best pork chop in the world.


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