The Perfect Pan-fried Pork Chop

There are lots of great ways to enjoy pork chops. (We went over 7 of them here.) For us, a simple pan-fried pork chop is the favorite way to enjoy a pork chop.

This simple preparation is both convenient to prepare and highlights the natural flavor and quality of our pork chops. There are a few tips and tricks to pan frying a great pork chop that we discuss below in the step-by-step process.

Prepping for Pan Fried Pork Chops

If starting with frozen pork chops, pull them from the freezer a couple of days ahead of when you want to prepare them and place them in a container in the refrigerator.

If in a hurry, place the frozen pork chops in a large bowl in the sink and cover with cool water. Allow cool water to dribble into the bowl for a couple of hours to thaw the pork chops.

For the best flavor, it pays to salt the pork chops early. Generously sprinkle the thawed pork chops with salt anywhere from a half hour to a day prior to cooking, the earlier the better. We usually just add salt to our pork chops, but any other spices or herbs can be added at this time as well.

Adding salt early gives time for the salt and flavorings to absorb into the meat. Salting right before you put the meat in the pan can actually be detrimental, as it will pull moisture to the surface and leave you with a drier pork chop.

Given time to absorb, the salt will actually help the pork chop to hold onto moisture and result in a juicier eating experience. If you don’t get salt on early, you are better off cooking the pork chop and then adding salt after it is cooked.

Marinades are another great way to impart flavors into pork, but they do not work the best with pan frying. The added moisture from marinades can hinder getting a good sear. If sugar is used in the marinade, this can also lead to burning and bitter blackening on the surface that will take away from the eating experience. Grilling or broiling are better cooking options if a marinade is used.

Getting Set Up

When getting ready to make your meal, pull the pork chops from the refrigerator first thing to allow them to start to warm up. With thicker cuts (1 1/2 inch and thicker)it can be advantageous to use your oven to warm up the pork chops.

To do this, set your oven to the lowest temperature, usually 175 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pork chops laid out in a pyrex or ceramic dish and put in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping the chops over half way through.

The goal with this is to warm up the pork and start to bring the internal temperature up. With thicker cuts of meat, it can be difficult to bring the interior temperature up before the exterior is burnt or dried out.

Placing it in the oven at low temperature can assist by starting the temperature increase prior to searing. This also has the benefit of drying out the surface of the meat which will help to get a good sear when you pan fry.

One inch thick (which our pork chops are cut to) and thinner pork chops can skip the oven step as they will cook through with just the pan frying.

To start, place a large frying pan over a burner set to medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil, olive or avocado are good choices, and allow to heat. Butter can also be used, but it requires greater control of pan temperature to keep the solids in the butter from burning.

Pan-Frying the Pork Chop

While the pan is heating up, use a paper towel to pat dry the tops of the pork chops that will be placed down into the pan. Moisture is the enemy of getting a good sear.

If you happen to have an infrared thermometer, you can use it to measure the temperature of the pan. Place the pork chops in when it reaches between 350 to 375 degrees F.

If you don’t have a thermometer. the pan can be checked for heat by carefully flicking a tiny amount of water into the pan. If the pan is hot enough, the drops of water will sizzle when they hit the pan.

Place the dried faces of the pork chops down into the pan. Arrange the pork chops into the pan with space around each chop. It is better to cook in batches than crowd the pan.

Allowing space around the pork chop is important to allow moisture to escape. The surface of the pork chop needs to get over 300 degrees F to brown. If moisture is held under the face, it will create steam, which only allows the surface temperature to be at 212 degrees F.

Temperature Control

The largest skill that will lead to a successful pan fried pork chop is controlling the pan temperature. This takes some practice and using multiple senses.

The first sense to use is hearing. The pork chop should sizzle when it is placed into the pan and continue to steadily sizzle throughout frying. This indicates moisture is escaping and you are creating the conditions for browning. If the sizzling stops or slows down, this means the pan is likely too cool and heat needs to be increased.

The other thing to check if sizzling stops is to make sure there is enough oil at the bottom of the pork chop. A pork chop has a rough surface compared to the flat pan so it needs a medium for heat to transfer evenly between the two surfaces which the oil provides. The oil also repels moisture to help create the conditions for browning. When cooked at temperatures for browning, very little oil will absorb into the pork chop, so don’t worry about adding a little bit extra when needed.

On the other hand, if you hear a lot of spattering and loud crackling, the pan is likely too hot. Reduce the heat until you come back to a steady sizzling.

The sense of smell is your next helper in assessing pan temperature. When browning occurs, new and unique compounds are formed through the magic of the Maillard Reaction. So after a few minutes of frying, if you start to smell some wonderful browned meat smells, you know your pan is at the right temperature.

If you start to smell burnt or bitter smells, reduce the heat and flip the pork chop. You can always flip it back over if it needs to cook longer, but you cannot unburn something, so it is best to stop the heating on that side and cool the pan down while the other side browns.

Sight would seem like an obvious sense to use, but, as with anything, it helps to know what to look for. Tiny bubbling along the edges of the pork chop should accompany the steady sizzling sound. Watch to make sure this occurs around the whole perimeter of the pork chops. If it is only happening on one side or one of the pork chops, your pan may be heating unevenly and the pan may need to be moved or rotated 180 degrees to get an even sear on your pork chop.

Sight can also help you know when to flip over the pork chop. As meat cooks, it contracts and in the process squeezes some of the juices out of the meat. When you see moisture start to push up out of the top side of the meat, this indicates that heat is reaching up to the top side of the meat and can be flipped over.

When both sides have been heated and clear juices start to push out the top, this indicates that the pork chop has been heated through enough to cook and stabilize the proteins inside the meat such that they do not move out with the juices and only clear liquid escapes. This indicates that you can check the pork chop for doneness and remove from heat.

While you can’t use your sense of touch to directly check the meat (Please avoid directly touching any hot surface!), you can indirectly use your sense of touch to check the doneness of meat.

Use the corner of a spatula to gently press the center of the meat. If there is just a little give, the meat is likely close to done.

This does take some practice to get right. An instant read thermometer can help you calibrate what level of firmness correlates with the desired temperatures.

You can also get an idea about desired firmness by putting your thumb and ring finger together and then feeling the meaty part of your thumb. The firmness of the meat at medium well (a good target for pork) should match this firmness fairly closely.

The firmness with your thumb to middle finger and pointer finger will correlate with medium rare and rare respectively, which are important for beef but general considered not well enough cooked for pork. A barely yielding firmness, similar to firmness achieved by touching thumb and pinky finger, indicates well-done and means you should remove the pork chop from the heat as it is likely to start drying out at this point.

Cooking to Desired Doneness

For inch thick pork chops, you will need to pan fry for 4 to 6 minutes per side. For thicker pork chops, use a little lower pan temperature and increase the cooking time. This will give more opportunity for the center of the meat to come up to temperature before the outside burns or dries out.

When you see moisture start to push out of the top of the pork chop, blot the surface dry with a paper towel and then, using a spatula, flip the pork chops over.

While it is best to leave the pork chops in place to allow the surface to come up to browning temperature and heat to work it’s way into the meat, there is nothing wrong with flipping the pork chop back over to get a better sear or finish cooking if need be.

Because pan frying only applies heat from one side at a time, some attention needs to be paid to balance out the cooking for each side of the pork chop. A good strategy when starting out can be to cook each side of your pork chop for a set time, say 4 minutes, and then flip every minute until desired doneness is reached.

A note on cupping: Because pork chops are a section of meat surrounded by a bone and a layer of fat and sinew, differential heating can sometimes cause the meat to pucker up and cup, preventing a good sear from developing on the meat.

A couple things can be done to avoid this. First, try reducing the pan temperature a little so that all parts of the pork chop heat slower and more even. Another thing that can be done is to make an angled slice into the fat in the middle of the pork chop. This creates an expansion joint that will allow the meat to expand as needed to while cooking.

An instant read meat thermometer is a great investment when learning how to cook meat. This allows you to pinpoint the desired doneness for steaks and pork chops. After awhile, if desired, you can get a feel for doneness using some of the tips above and avoid having to poke the meat with the thermometer.

Pork chops are recommended to be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, although we won’t tell on you if you cook yours nearer to 140 degrees.

When you think the pork chops are close to done, insert the thermometer into a thick part of the meat near the bone and check the temperature. When the pork chops are within 1 to 2 degrees of the finished temperature, remove them from the pan to a plate or cutting board to rest for a few minutes. The internal temperature will continue to rise for a little bit after you remove the pork chops from the pan, so it is best to pull them a little under the target temperature.

Resting the meat allows the muscle fibers that were contracted during the cooking process to relax and some of the moisture to reabsorb. Allow at least a few minutes for resting prior to cutting in and eating. If you need to rest for longer, cover the pork chops with a tent of foil or other dish to keep them from cooling too much.

The last step …

Finally, the last and most important step is to sit down, cut into your pork chop, and enjoy!

If you would like to try some of our pork chops, check out our online store and place an order

John and Sarah Gilbert farm with their family in North Central Iowa. They care for pigs, cows, and the land to bring you beef and pork you can love. They have a passion for cooking and helping others develop the skills they need to put healthy and delicious home-cooked meals on the table. They can be contacted by email and through Facebook and Instagram.