If you're like me, you grew up thinking that pork chops were the dry, tough cousin to steaks. Cheaper, sure, but as grueling to eat as the most overcooked chicken breast around. It was partly a problem with the pork back then. In the days when "the other white meat" was still the slogan, pork producers tried their hardest to breed any kind of fat out of the meat, and ended up breeding the flavor and juiciness out of it, too. (It didn't help that we were taught that pork must be cooked to 165°F, the temperature at which all organic matter spontaneously converts into sawdust.)
But pork has made a major comeback. You can find high-quality, flavorful pork from a variety of heirloom breeds with relative ease at the butcher's shop. Even your standard supermarket pork chops are tastier than they were just a decade ago. But a good pork chop is only as good as the method by which you cook it. You want the most foolproof way to guarantee extra-juicy pork chops? Sous vide is the way to go.
Here's my complete guide to how it's done.
Why Sous Vide?
People often ask me, "Is sous vide really better than grilling or pan-searing?" It's really an impossible question to answer, because there's no "better" or "worse" in this case. It's simply another technique, a tool in your arsenal to deploy when you want to achieve a specific result.
What sous vide will get you, on the other hand, is meat that is perfectly cooked from edge to edge in a consistent and completely reliable way. You'll have pork chops that are juicier than you've ever tasted. It also makes preparation easy: Select your temperature, put your pork in with the immersion circulator, sear it, and serve.
How to Select the Right Temperature
With traditional high-heat cooking methods, it's necessary to cook at the exact right temperature for the exact right amount of time to achieve the doneness you're after. With sous vide cooking, because you're cooking at the exact temperature at which you're planning on serving your meat, timing is much more forgiving. Temperature is by far the overriding factor. By adjusting the temperature of your cooker, you can cook your pork chops to anywhere from a pink, juicy rare (130°F; 54°C) to a firm but still moist well-done (160°F; 71°C).
Bear in mind that the hotter you cook, the more moisture you're going to squeeze out of the pork.
Here's a breakdown of the texture and juiciness you can expect at various temperatures:
- Rare (130°F; 54°C): Your meat is still nearly raw. Muscle proteins have not started to contract much and will have a slippery, wet texture. The meat will be extremely juicy, but it'll be hard to break down muscle fibers between your teeth, as the meat won't have enough firmness to stand up to chewing.
- Medium-rare (140°F; 60°C): Muscle proteins have begun to tighten and firm up. You lose a bit of juice due to this tightening, but what you lose in juice, you gain in tenderness. This is my favorite temperature for pork chops. They come out extremely juicy and tender, but have a natural meaty bite to them, without the off-putting slipperiness of 130°F meat.
- Medium-well (150°F; 66°C): The muscle fibers continue to toughen up and expel juices. The pork will still be flavorful, but it'll have lost a lot of its tenderness by this stage.
- Well-done (160°F; 71°C): The meat is completely well-done, with a texture that's reminiscent of the pork chops I ate as a kid, albeit juicier than if they were cooked via more traditional methods.
Does Timing Matter?
It's true that timing for sous vide cooking is much more forgiving than with traditional techniques—your window of well-cooked meat opens up from seconds or minutes to hours—but even so, it is possible to over- or undercook the meat. My general rule of thumb is to allow around 15 minutes of cooking time per half inch of thickness, adding on an extra 10 minutes or so just to be safe. This is enough time to allow the meat to achieve thermal equilibrium and get cooked through to the same temperature as the water bath. Beyond that time, the meat will not lose much juiciness, but eventually, as muscle proteins break down, it will become somewhat mushy, shredding as you bite rather than tearing.
At four hours, the meat has begun to lose some of its resilience, and by eight hours, it's tender enough to pull apart with your fingers. I limit cook times to under four hours.
Temperature and Timing Chart for Juicy Pork Chops
Too much data? Okay, here's all of that compressed into just what you need to know. The timing is given for pork chops that are around one and a half inches thick. Add 15 minutes to the minimum time for each half inch if you have thicker, double-cut chops.
Sous Vide Pork Chop Temperature and Timing Chart
|Rare: Tender, juicy, and a little slippery||130°F (54°C)||1 to 4 hours|
|Medium-rare: Tender, juicy, and meaty (my favorite)||140°F (60°C)||1 to 4 hours|
|Medium-well: Quite firm and just starting to dry out||150°F (66°C)||1 to 4 hours|
|Well-done: Firm, a little dry and tough, but still moist||160°F (71°C)||1 to 4 hours|
How to Cook a Pork Chop Sous Vide, Step by Step
Step 1: Preheat Precision Cooker
Preheat your sous vide precision cooker to the desired final temperature according to the chart above. Allow the water bath to come to temperature before adding your pork.
Step 2: Season Pork Chops
Season the pork generously with salt and pepper on all sides. If you are planning on leaving the uncooked pork chops in their bags for more than a few hours before cooking, skip the seasoning step and instead season them just before searing.
Step 3: Bag Pork Chops
To bag pork chops, start by folding the top of a vacuum-seal or zipper-lock bag back over itself to form a hem. This will prevent juices from getting on the edges of the bag, which would interfere with the seal or provide vectors for contamination. Slide the pork chops into the bag in a single layer (do not crowd bag; use multiple bags if necessary), along with any aromatics, such as fresh herbs, if you're using them. Unfold the edge before closing the bag.
Step 4: Seal the Bag
Seal the bag with a vacuum sealer or, if you're using a zipper-lock bag, by using the displacement method. To do this, slowly lower your bagged pork chops into a pot of water, letting the pressure of the water press air out through the top of the bag. Once most of the air is out of the bag, carefully seal the bag just above the waterline.
Step 5: Cook the Pork
Drop the bag in the water bath, making sure not to block the intake or output sections of your precision cooker. If properly sealed, the bag should sink. Cook according to the timing chart above.
Step 6: Remove the Pork From the Bag
Remove the pork from the bag, discard any aromatics (if using), and place pork on a paper towel–lined plate. Pat each chop dry very carefully on both sides.
To Finish on the Stovetop
Step 7: Preheat a Cast Iron or Stainless Steel Skillet
Place a heavy cast iron or stainless steel skillet, with one tablespoon of vegetable, canola, or rice bran oil and one tablespoon of butter, over high heat. Swirl until the butter is melted and starting to brown.
Step 8: Add the Pork
Carefully place the pork chops into the skillet, laying them down away from you in order to prevent accidentally splashing up oil.
Step 9: Flip When Ready
Carefully lift and peek under the pork as it cooks to gauge how quickly it is browning. Let it continue to cook until the crust is deep brown and very crisp, about 45 seconds.
Step 10: Flip and Baste (If Desired)
Once you've flipped the pork chops, you can continue to cook them until they've browned on the second side, or, for more flavor, add another tablespoon of butter along with some thyme, rosemary, garlic, and/or shallots. Spoon the butter over the pork chops as they cook.
The exterior of the pork will pick up some nice flavor from the aromatics.
Step 11: Get the Edges
When the pork chops are browned, pick them up with a pair of tongs, rotate them sideways, and make sure to brown the edges as well.
Step 12: Rest and Re-Crisp
Transfer the cooked chops to a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and let them rest for just a couple of minutes. Just before serving, reheat the drippings in the pan until they're sizzling-hot, then pour them over the chops in order to re-crisp their exteriors.
Step 13: Slice and Serve
Serve the pork chops as they are, or slice the meat off the bone with a sharp knife for a more elegant presentation.
To Finish on the Grill
Step 7: Preheat the Grill
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for five minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.
Step 8: Add the Pork and Cook
Lay the pork chops over the hot side of the preheated grill. If using a gas grill, close the lid. If using a charcoal grill, leave the lid open for better air flow. Cook, turning the pork chops every 30 seconds or so, until well browned on both sides, about two minutes total. Serve the pork chops immediately.
Step 9: Slice and Serve
Serve the pork chops as they are, or slice the meat off the bone with a sharp knife.
Frequently Asked Sous Vide Pork Questions
Q: What are the downsides to cooking pork chops sous vide versus a more traditional method?
Sous vide–style precision cooking is a technique, another tool in your arsenal, and just like with all techniques, there's a tradeoff. The two most obvious downsides are that it takes longer (nothing that can't be overcome with planning) and it requires more equipment. Cooking a pork chop sous vide requires a precision cooker and a plastic bag or vacuum sealer, in addition to all the tools required for more traditional methods. Chances are, if you're reading this article, you already have those extra tools.
Finally, sous vide cooking precludes the ability to make a pan sauce; you will not develop much fond (the browned bits left in the bottom of a pan when searing meat) while crisping up a sous vide pork chop.
Remember this: Sous vide is not a silver bullet or a panacea meant to solve all of your cooking problems or to replace more traditional methods. It's a tool meant to expand your options.
Q: What are the best cuts of pork to cook sous vide?
I like using bone-in center-cut pork rib chops, which have a nice big eye of meat and are very tender. Blade-end pork chops will have a little more flavor and more connective tissue—you're trading off tenderness for flavor. Shoulder chops are even more flavorful, but again, they'll be a little tougher. Pork loin chops have a large, T-shaped bone with an eye of meat on either side. They tend to be rather lean and mild in flavor, but very tender.
Q: Is there any advantage to using bone-in pork chops over boneless?
Unlike when you're cooking directly in a pan or on a grill, where the extra flavor of the connective tissue around the bones has no effect on the rest of the meat, in sous vide cooking that flavor will actually spread around the whole chop. Bone-in chops cooked sous vide are tastier than those cooked without the bone. There are a couple of disadvantages, however. Bones can be sharp, and you run the risk of puncturing your sous vide bags. Wrapping the ends of the bones in a paper towel before bagging them can mitigate this. Bones can also make it difficult for the chop to achieve full contact with the pan when you're searing it, resulting in areas right around the bone that aren't browned as well. Overall, though, I prefer chops with the bone in.
Q: Can I brown sous vide pork chops?
Sous vide precision cooking on its own doesn't achieve the high temperatures needed to trigger the Maillard browning reactions. Foods cooked sous vide need to be finished via a higher heat method if browning and crispness are on the menu. For pork, that means hitting it in a skillet with hot oil, or on top of a grill. Check out the step-by-step directions above for more details.
Q: What about brining?
Brining—the process of soaking meat in a saltwater solution in order to help it retain moisture better in the future—is entirely unnecessary when it comes to sous vide cooking. Your pork will still come out plenty juicy.
Q: When should I season my pork chops?
If I'm going to be dropping the chops straight into the cooker, I'll season my pork chops before bagging them. If, however, I'm going to bag them and let them sit in the fridge for a day or two before cooking, I'll bag them unseasoned. Salt can interact with pork muscle fibers, giving the pork a cured, smooth, almost ham-like texture. This is not entirely undesirable (ham is delicious, after all), but it's up to you whether you want that texture or prefer a more traditional meaty texture.
Q: What happens if I leave a pork chop in the sous vide cooker for longer than the maximum time recommended? Is it dangerous?
So long as you're cooking at above 130°F, there are no real health risks associated with prolonged sous vide cooking. You will, however, eventually notice a difference in texture. For best results, I don't recommend cooking any longer than the maximum recommended time for each cut and temperature range. See the section on timing above for more details.
Q: Can I chill and reheat my pork chops after cooking them sous vide if I haven't opened the bag?
It's true that given a high enough temperature (130°F or higher) and a long enough time period (several hours), the contents of a sealed sous vide bag should be close to sterile, which means that rapid chilling via an ice bath followed by rapid reheating should pose no health risks, though I still strongly recommend against it whenever avoidable. It's not doing any favors for the quality of the pork chop. Moreover, it takes just as long to reheat an already-cooked sous vide pork chop to its final serving temperature as it does to cook that same pork chop from scratch, so you really aren't saving any time by doing it.
Q: Can I cook a sous vide pork chop straight from the freezer?
Yes! To cook, pull the chops out of the freezer and drop them straight into the water bath, making sure to add an extra hour to the cook time in order to allow the pork to fully thaw.
Editor's Note: This guide was produced for Serious Eats as part of our partnership with Anova, the makers of the Anova Precision Cooker. You can download the Anova Precision Cooker App (it's free) to grab all this information right off your phone or tablet while you're cooking. And, if you've got an Anova Precision Cooker, you can even control it directly from the app via Bluetooth or WiFi. Of course, this information should prove useful to anyone who owns a functional sous vide device.