Slow Cooked Pork Chops
Mistakes were made, but it all worked out when I prepared slow-cooked pork chops in my crockpot.
Slow-cooked meals may be my favorite way of cooking. Taking a less expensive cut of meat like pork shoulder or beef chuck and turning it into something heavenly is what I'm talking about.
Sure, a grilled New York Strip Steak is excellent, but when you slow cook (braise), you typically combine a bunch of ingredients with a liquid (stock, wine, water), and together, they create the most delightful, soulful meal. Think of your favorite comfort foods like beef stew, short ribs, braised chicken, and braised pork chops.
While browsing the Internet, I found this great post at eGullet.org showing the eGCI team testing various braising liquids. They braised short ribs in four individual vessels with ½ inch of stock, red wine, water, and vegetables, then completely covered with stock.
The exciting results show that partially covered beef stock yields the best results. See eGullet.org for more.
Slow Cooker or Dutch Oven
I like both techniques for slow cooking depending on how much time I have and what's going on in my life. For example, if I'm firing up my outdoor wood-burning oven to make pizza, I'll typically prepare something to slow cook overnight in a cast iron Dutch Oven.
My wood-burning oven maintains about a 200° F temperature all night, so it is perfect for braising.
If I'm going out for the day and won't be around to take a pot out of the oven, I prep everything in the morning, toss it into my crock pot, and let it cook on low all day worry-free. When I walk into the house, I'm hit with the most insane aromas and know I have a great meal ahead of me.
Then there are those days when I want to prepare a slow-cooked braise in less time in one of my Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens. You can still walk away after everything is in the oven, but I'm staying in the house with the oven on and no one at home.
I was looking at a recipe from one of my favorite sources, Cooks Illustrated Online, and found a recipe for slow-cooked barbecued sticky ribs. It looked delicious and easy to prepare, and I had all the ingredients on hand, including the baby back pork ribs from my freezer.
What I didn't have and didn't think the recipe or article mentioned was a 6 - 6½ quart crock-pot. Mine was only 3½ quart, and although I could jam all the ribs into the smaller pot, the thicker ends didn't cook all the way through, and I had to go back to my standby method of cooking barbecue baby back ribs.
It worked out, but it was a pain in the butt. I immediately went online and purchased the recommended 6½ quart Crock-Pot Touchscreen model that was almost double the size of my current Crock-Pot. There's a lot to think about when buying a crock pot, but finding one with accurate heat settings is most important.
I'll write an article on crock pots describing the differences and what to look for when purchasing one soon. I'll also try the barbecue rib recipe in the new cooker in the future and report back on the results. In the meantime, let's focus on some pork chops.
Slow Cooked (Braised) Pork Chops
Now that I own this new 6½ quart Crock-Pot with a fancy touch screen that is accurate between 195 ° F and 207° F, I'm ready to try a new recipe. Let's try another well-researched slow-cooker recipe from my Cooks Illustrated Online. This time, it was slow-cooked, crock-pot smothered pork chops.
Again, I made a mistake; it was my fault this time. I'm just filling you in on the results and then telling you the mistake. The smells that filled the house were breathtaking. The sauce made by slow cooking the vegetables and spices with pork and broth was mouth-watering, but the meat was DRY.
How could this be? I followed the letter's directions and cooked in a crock pot for 7½ hours. What could I have done wrong?
Not Reading the Recipe Accurately
What I should have done better was to read the recipe accurately. I purchased six bone-in center-cut pork chops, and the recipe calls for bone-in Blade-Cut pork chops. The difference is an overcooked, dry piece of meat versus a tender, fall-off-the-bone one. Plus, it cost me a lot more for center-cut chops than if I had purchased blade chops—stupid me.
I should have avoided braising a center-cut pork chop for that long. Braising this pork cut is possible, but it must be done quickly.
The blade chop does come from the loin but at the end closest to the shoulder. It is marbled with more fat and tougher than the center cut, making it perfect for braising for extended periods.
PLEASE READ YOUR RECIPES CAREFULLY!
All Was Not Lost
The pork was dry, but the sauce made by the braise was fantastic, so the next night, I shredded the pork with my fingers and put it back in the pot with the sauce. I cooked some egg noodles and served the pork over them. It was an expensive shredded pork - noodle dish, but it was better than the first night as a chop.
Here's how you make slow cooker pork chops smothered in onions using blade chops adapted from Cooks Illustrated Online.
Slow Cooked Pork Chops
- 4 slices bacon cut into ¼ inch pieces - good for added flavor and fat
- 3 medium yellow onions halved and sliced thin
- 4 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves minced (substitute 1 teaspoon dried)
- salt to taste
- 3 cups chicken broth homemade is best - low salt is ok
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Minute Tapioca used for thickening and usually can be found next to the Jello in your supermarket
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 bone-in BLADE-CUT pork chops ¾ inches thick
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves minced, for decorating dish at end
- Start by cooking the bacon pieces in your favorite large frying pan (skillet, sauté pan). Cook the bacon until crisp, about 8 minutes, and transfer the bacon to a plate covered with paper towels.
- Save in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. The bacon bits will be served on top with the parsley at the end.
- Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan. I have a dog food can on the counter that I pour all my fats into, and when it's full, I refrigerate to harden up and throw out in a zip-lock bag. Don't pour your fat down the drain. Plumbers delight.
- Heat the pan over medium-high heat, and when the bacon fat shimmers, add the onions, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, thyme, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt.
- Cook, being sure to stir often until the onions start to caramelize. This will take as long as 15 minutes but don't walk away and watch a basketball game on TV. You need to keep stirring so the onions don't burn.
- When the onions are soft and light brown, add 1 cup of the chicken broth and give a stir.
- Transfer all this good stuff to the crock pot, and add the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth plus the other tablespoon of brown sugar, soy sauce, instant tapioca, and bay leaves. Stir to combine.
- Wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and bring to medium heat. Season the pork chops with salt & pepper and brown on both sides when hot. This should only take a minute on each side.
- Once browned, transfer the chops to the crock-pot.
- Cover the crock pot and cook on the low setting for 7½ hours until the meat is tender. (That is if you use the right cut of pork!) You can also cook on high for 4 to 5 hours until tender.
- When all is cooked, transfer the meat to a large serving plate if you are not serving individual plates and tent with some aluminum foil. The meat needs to rest while you finish the sauce.
- You want to eliminate as much fat as possible from the cooking liquids. Let the liquid cool for 5 minutes, and then spoon off as much as you can from the surface. It may be my least favorite job when cooking but worth doing.
- You can remove the bay leaves; add the vinegar, stir, and season with salt and pepper to taste. You are now almost ready to serve family style.
- Reheat the bacon pieces in the microwave oven for about 30 seconds until heated.
- Pour 1 cup of the defatted sauce with all those lovely caramelized onions over the pork chops, sprinkle with some bacon bits and fresh parsley, and serve with the rest of the sauce on the side.