Restaurant worthy Brown sugar pork chops for an easy, dinner win!
You will be AMAZED at just how easy and scrumptious these brown sugar pork chops are! The pork chops are spice rubbed and seared to golden glory, baked, then bathed in a garlic, herb, butter brown sugar sauce. The pork chops emerge seeping with intoxicating complex flavors and so tender and succulent you will be obsessed. Best of all, these brown sugar pork chops take less than 20 minutes of actual cooking time! I’ve also included tips and tricks on how to cook the juiciest pork chops EVER even if you’ve never made pork chops before. Serve your brown sugar pork chops with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots for a complete dinner with rave reviews.
Baked PORK CHOPS
These Brown Sugar Pork Chops will have you dreaming about dinner! They are a fabulous way break up the monotony of chicken, relatively inexpensive, easy to prepare and can emerge as juicy as a steak dinner when prepared correctly – and these pork chops are prepared correctly.
These brown sugar pork chops are crazy juicy by first being placed in a water/salt/ brine for 30 minutes. This step is optional but I promise this one technique will change how you cook pork chops forever – and what you think of them! The brined pork chops emerge super tender and juicy every time. Plus, this easy step takes minutes (or less) of prep, then just set your timer and walk away. This is a great time to prep whatever sides you’re going to enjoy with dinner- smashed potatoes, twice baked potatoes, rice pilaf, Fall salad, butternut squash, etc.
The pork chops are then rubbed in a flavorful paprika, chipotle spice rub and seared in a sizzling skillet before being popped in the oven to finish cooking. Starting your pork chops on the stove and finishing in the oven is just another way to ensure crazy juicy pork chops every time.
While the pork chops are baking, you can whip up your tantalizing brown sugar sauce made of brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice and Italian seasonings. Once the pork chops emerge from the oven, you’ll simmer the sauce for a minute or so, then bath your pork chops in its sweet, savory, tangy perfection
Then dig in, and drool.
WHAT KIND OF PORK CHOPS ARE BEST?
If you don’t have much experience cooking with pork chops, it might seem overwhelming to select which pork chops to use in this brown sugar pork chops recipe. Pork chops all come from the loin of the pig which runs along the back from hip, and are the most tender part of the animal but some cuts are better than others and some are just better for different cooking techniques.
I always recommend bone-in pork chops because they are juicer, cook more evenly and are slightly fattier which equates to more flavor. Pork rib chops are the most desirable cut (shown in these recipe photos). Sometimes packages will mix pork rib chops with bone-in loin chops which is also a good option. Here is a breakdown of the different cuts of pork chops:
PORK RIB CHOP – RECOMMENDED
- Other names: bone-in rib chops, rib pork chop, center-cut rib chop, pork chop end cut, pork rib cut chop, rib end cut.
- Where it’s from: This cut of pork comes from the center of the pork loin and is my recommendation for these baked pork chops. It is one of the best pork chops you can buy. It includes a T-shaped rib bone (actually baby back ribs) that has been cleaned which helps the pork cook evenly and makes the pork harder to overcook.
- About: These bone-in pork chops are the most desirable cut of pork chop. They are wonderfully tender and meaty with a mild pork flavor. I recommend them over boneless pork chops because they have a little more fat which = more flavor and the bone serves as a conductor which helps them cook evenly, keeps them wonderfully juicy and makes them hard to overcook.
- Other names: America’s cut, pork loin filets.
- Where it’s from: This cut of pork comes from the center of the pork loin and is essentially rib chops with the bones removed.
- About: The boneless pork chop is lacking all the benefits of the bone. Without the bone, the delicate pork is prone to overcooking because there is nothing conducting the heat within the meat for an even sear. It also contains less fat which means it is less flavorful. Even though boneless chops are the most common type of pork chop in American grocery stores, they are best reserved for slow cooking.
PORK LOIN CHOPS (BONE-IN AND BONELESS)
- Other names: center loin chop, pork loin end chop, center-cut loin chop, loin pork chop, top-loin chop, pork loin chops-bone-in, boneless pork loin chops.
- Where it’s from: This cut of pork comes from the hip and loin toward to the back of the animal. It can include the tenderloin or not, depending on where it’s cut. For example, top loin chops will not include the tenderloin.
- About: Loin chops are probably the most confusing because they include different types of loins: bone-in and boneless pork loin chops.
- Pork loin-chops, bone-in (also called loin chop or center loin chop): are a large cut of pork which comes from the hip part of the loin. It has a T-bone in the middle separating the loin and tenderloin sections.
- Pork loin-chops, boneless: is created by removing the tenderloin from the T-bone. The boneless pork loin is lean and not as flavorful/juicy.
PORK CHOP BRINE
The first time I ordered pork chops was at an excellent restaurant – I was so excited! But my excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I discovered the pork chops were SO tough and dry. I was frustrated I had paid for such pathetic pork chops!
This experience turned me off from making pork chops for a long time – and then I discovered brining. Brining creates the juiciest meat from turkey to pork tenderloin to chicken to pork chops – AKA you will be AMAZED at how tender your pork chops will become!
The pork chop brine actually changes the molecular structure of the pork by increasing the moisture capacity of the meat, resulting in melt in your mouth pork chops – every time without having to prep and plan ahead with an overnight marinade.
In a nutshell, here’s how the pork chop brine works: the salt in the brine: 1) hydrates the cells of the muscle tissues via osmosis and 2) allows the cells to hold onto the water while they are cooked by breaking down the proteins so they can no longer contract when cooking. This means less water will be squeezed out and lost, resulting in juicier pork chops.
The vinegar further tenderizes the pork chops by breaking down some of the protein and the brown sugar balances the acidity and helps the exterior caramelize in the pan. The salt, vinegar and sugar also flavor the pork chops from the inside out.
HOW TO BRINE PORK CHOPS
If you’ve never used pork chop brine before, don’t be intimidated – it literally takes 30 minutes and most of that time is hands-off. To brine pork chops:
- Combine warm water with kosher salt until the salt dissolves. The warm water dissolves the salt.
- Whisk in apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, ice cubes. The ice cubes bring the brine back to room temperature.
- Add pork and let rest 30 minutes while you mix the rub ingredients
Just a quick note about brining – Do NOT evenly swap table salt in your brining solution for kosher salt or your pork will be too salty. You will need half as much table salt as kosher salt. Also make sure to rinse your pork thoroughly after brining to remove excess salt.
Baked PORK CHOP ingredients
These baked brown sugar pork chops are easy to make with pantry staples. You will need:
- Olive oil: use quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
- Brown sugar: use light brown sugar.
- Soy sauce: use reduced sodium soy sauce. Soy sauce balance the sweetness and grounds the sauce.
- Lemon juice: balances out the sweetness of the brown sugar. Fresh lemon juice is best but you may also use pure bottled lemon juice.
- Butter: helps keep the pork chops juicy and adds a richness to the sauce. Use unsalted butter so we can control the salt.
- Herbs: dried parsley, dried basil, dried thyme, and dried oregano are added directly to the sauce. They are not added to the rub because they can burn when searing the pork.
- Spice Rub: paprika, kosher salt, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, black pepper, chipotle chile powder.
- Chipotle chile pepper might be the only seasoning you don’t keep stocked. I use it ALL the time in my Mexican recipes, so I highly suggest purchasing it. It is easy to find at your grocery store under any of the following names: “chipotle chile pepper,” “ground chipotle chile,” or “chipotle powder.” It is made of smoked jalapeno peppers so it’s not just spicy but smokey too!
- Swap citrus. Swap the lemon juice for orange juice or pineapple juice. Both of these are less tangy than lemon juice, so you may need more to taste.
- Swap brown sugar. Swap the brown sugar for maple or honey (I haven’t personally tried this).
- Fresh herbs. Use fresh herbs in the sauce; the rule is 3x fresh to 1x dried.
- Swap seasonings. Mix up the flavor profile and swap the seasonings in the recipe for Cajun seasonings, Fajita seasonings, or Asian inspired seasonings such as Chinese 5 Spice, ginger, garlic and toasted sesame oil.
- Make it spicy. Add additional chipotle chile pepper or add red pepper flakes to the sauce.
HOW TO COOK PORK CHOPS
Pork chops are easy to cook but they must be cooked the right way in order to not dry them out. Here’s a detailed look at how to cook the JUICIEST pork chops you’ve ever sunk your teeth into:
Use bone-in pork chops
Pork is much leaner than beef, so it is important to set yourself up for success by purchasing bone-in pork chops. The bone acts as a conductor and protects the pork chops from overcooking and helps the chops cook more evenly resulting in juicer pork chops. The bone also has some fat around it that makes it more flavorful and more moist than boneless pork chops.
Brine pork chops
I promise this extra step is SO worth it! Brining pretty much guarantees juicy pork chops, flavors the interior of the pork chops, and brings them to room temperature.
To brine pork chops, combine warm water and kosher salt together in a glass dish. Stir until the salt dissolves. Whisk in apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and ice, followed by pork. Add pork and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Remove pork from the brine, rinse thoroughly in cold water and pat dry.
Bring pork to room temperature before cooking
If you don’t brine the pork chops, you’ll still need to plan ahead to bring your pork chops to room temperature before cooking – so, I suggest, just brine them! Room temperature pork will cook more quickly and evenly if started at a higher temperature which means the outside is less likely to overcook and has less time for moisture to be released while cooking.
Season pork chops with a spice rub
Creating a spice rub is your chance to season the pork chops with TONS of flavor – so please don’t just use salt and pepper. For these brown sugar pork chops, we’re whisking together paprika, kosher salt, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, black pepper, chipotle chile powder.
Make sure thoroughly pat the pork chops dry after rinsing so the flavorful spice rub can stick and form a flavorful crust.
Sear the pork chops
Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large oven proof skillet over medium-high heat (turn down to medium if stove runs hot). Add the pork chops only once the pan is hot – you should hear the pork sizzle the second it touches the pan. Sear the pork for about 3 minutes on the first side and one minute on the second side.
It might be tempting to add the spice rubbed pork chops directly to the oven without searing, but this is a big no-no. Searing the pork chops creates a flavorful crust that seals in the juices and keeps your chops tender while cooking. This golden crust is the result of the Maillard reaction, also known as the flavor reaction, in which amino acids and reducing sugars produce browning and complex flavor that can’t be achieved any other way.
Bake pork chops – Don’t overcook!
Using oven mitts, immediately transfer the skillet to the hot oven and bake until the pork chops are cooked to an internal temperature of 140°F to 145°F.
You can get away with cooking pork chops solely on the stove if they are thin, but if they are thicker than ½-inch, then quickly searing the pork chops on the stove and finishing in the oven is crucial for juicy pork chops. As previously mentioned, searing insulates the chops and finishing in the oven evenly cooks the pork chops without the risk of drying them out.
How long do I cook pork chops in the oven?
The cooking time can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes due to several variables: how thick the pork chops are, the pork chops initial temperature, what pan you are using, whether or not they were brined, actual oven temperature, etc. Due to these variables, invest in an instant read thermometer and start checking the temperature at 5 minutes and continue checking every minute or two until the chops are ready.
Make brown sugar sauce
When the pork chops are cooked, remove them from the skillet but don’t wipe out the skillet – those golden bits left behind are flavor gold!
Heat the now empty skillet over medium heat on the stove. Add brown sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, and Italian seasonings. Whisk the sauce around and simmer 1-2 minutes.
Let pork rest
Nestle the pork chops back into the pan and spoon the sauce over the pork. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving so it has time to reabsorb the juices that have pushed towards the outside of the protein when cooked. If you cut into the pork chops immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
What Temperature Should Pork Chops be Cooked To?
It is crucial that pork chops are not overcooked or they can be dry and chewy. The brine makes them more forgiving, but for the best pork chops, cook just until done. According to USDA guidelines, pork chops are done when an internal thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat reaches 145 degrees F – this is the sweet spot for the juiciest pork. This temperature means the pork chops will be slightly pink inside which is OKAY.
This 145-degrees temperature is 15 degrees less than the old standards of 160 degrees F which would mean the pork would be completely cooked through without any pink. The research shows, however, that 145 degrees F is the same safety-wise as cooking pork to 160 degrees F AND yields much more tender pork.
TIPS FOR Cooking PORK CHOPS
- How to select pork chops. When choosing pork chops, look for ones with the most marbling because marbling = flavor. You can also ask the butcher for the most deeply marbled rib pork chops they have. Also look for pork chops that are deeply rosy rather than pale pink. Deeper colored pork chops mean deeper flavor and paler meat is generally means less quality.
- Fully dissolve salt. When making the brine, whisk the kosher salt in the warm water until it is dissolved before adding the rest of the ingredients.
- Rinse pork from brine. Rinse your pork chops thoroughly after brining to remove excess salt otherwise it will taste too salty. Do NOT substitute the kosher salt with equal amounts table salt.
- Pat pork chops by. After rinsing the pork chops from the brine, pat them very dry or the seasonings will not stick.
- Season in advance. I learned from a chef demonstration that you always want to let seasonings rest on protein, whether it’s pork chops, chicken or fish. This resting time allows the seasonings to penetrate the protein and enhance the flavor and the salt will further tenderize the meat. It also and helps the seasonings stick to the protein instead of sliding off once the pork hits the pan.
- Use a hot pan. A hot pan is not to be confused with “high heat.” Instead, don’t add the pork until the oil is shimmering hot.
- Don’t disturb pork chops. Resist the urge to move the pork chops or peak underneath them until a full 3 minutes has passed as this will disrupt the sear and can cause some of the seasonings to stick to the pan instead of the pork.
- Don’t overcook! Pork chops are lean and therefore can dry out if overcooked so it is important to use a meat thermometer to achieve the correct temperature. Cook pork just to 145 degrees F. You can’t depend solely on recipe cooking times to achieve the correct temperature because there are always variables such as pork chop thickness, their starting temperature, temperature of the grill and desired doneness/internal temperature. A meat thermometer will eliminate all of this guess work.
- Test individual pork chops for doneness. Pork chops are often different thickness, which means they can be done at different times. If this is the case, take care to check the temperature of each chop and remove them as they finish cooking.
- Rest before serving: Let the cast iron pork chops rest full 5 minutes before slicing into otherwise you will lose valuable juices.
- Adjust to taste. Pork needs a lot of salt, so I suggest tasting your pork first and if it’s not jaw-dropping delicious, it probably just needs a bit more salt. You can also adjust the brown sugar sauce to taste – add additional brown sugar for sweeter, additional lemon juice for not as sweet/tangier, or add a pinch of red pepper flakes for spicier.
HOW TO STORE and REHEAT PORK CHOPS
- Serve: don’t leave the cooked brown sugar pork chops at room temperature longer than 2 hours because they can start to grow harmful bacteria.
- Storage: transfer brown sugar pork chops to an airtight container along with sauce. Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.
- Microwave: transfer pork chops to a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 60 seconds then at 15 second intervals as needed.
- Skillet: drizzle some olive oil in skillet and heat to medium heat. Add pork chops, cover and cook until warmed through, flipping once.
- Oven: Transfer pork chops to a baking sheet, cover with foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or just until warmed through.
HOW TO FREEZE
- Cool pork chops to room temperature then transfer to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag along with sauce.
- Squeeze out any excess air.
- Freeze for 2 to 3 months.
These brown sugar pork chops are easy to make, but you are welcome to do all of the prep beforehand:
- Brine pork: the pork can be brined, rinsed and patted dry and stored in an airtight container 24 hours before cooking. You’ll still want the pork to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.
- Rub: whisk the spice rub ingredients together. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
- Sauce: whisk the sauce ingredients together and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
SIDES FOR PORK CHOPS
We love serving these brown sugar pork chops with either potatoes or rice, a sautéed or roasted vegetable, salad and bread. Here are some of our favorite pork chop sides:
- Potatoes. Potatoes and pork chops are a comforting match made in heaven! Always scrumptious are Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Hashbrown Casserole, Smashed Potatoes, Pesto Mashed Potatoes, Twice Baked Potatoes, or Mashed Sweet Potatoes.
- Rice. Pork chops and rice are a classic combo such as Rice Pilaf, Parmesan Risotto, Mushroom Risotto, Wild Rice Pilaf with Cranberries,
- Pasta. We also love pork chops with meatless pastas such as Creamy Mushroom Orzo, Creamy Mushroom Spaghetti, Mac and Cheese, and Cacio e Pepe.
- Vegetables: so many to choose from! Roasted Carrots, Roasted Parmesan Broccoli, Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Parmesan Asparagus, Roasted Root Vegetables, or Roasted Brussels Sprouts.
- Salad. Fresh salad is a delicious, vibrant healthy side to pork chops. We love Apple Salad, Fall Salad, Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad, and Beet Salad.
- Bread. Bread or rolls is a must to mop up any extra sauce. Garlic Bread, Breadsticks, Dinner Rolls or Hawaiian Rolls are all fantastic.
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