Fresh Ideas: Grilling pork loin

Whether you’re in Brooklyn or Baton Rouge, there comes a time when the spring weather warms up just enough and it starts to feel like summer. You’ve made it through April’s rainy cold snaps, embraced Cinco de Mayo and perhaps cleaned off that porch that’s seen so little use.

Behold the grill, that outdoor cooking station you’ve missed for months with all of its smoky promise with gas or charcoal. Some families might wait until it’s Dad’s night to cook or even the Fourth of July before loading up their grates with burgers and hot dogs.

But, I imagine many home cooks are like me. By the time May rolls around and temperatures begin to climb, outdoor cooking seems like the most natural thing in the world. Beautiful weather and good food are one of the easiest ways to spend time with the family while simultaneously enjoying those extra long days for just a few minutes.

I’d like to highlight one of the most familiar ways outdoor cooking can work for you — pork loin chops dressed in pepper sauce.

Pork loin chops, like chicken, are remarkably lean. With similar levels of protein and energy as 3 ounces of chicken breast (98 calories), 3 ounces of pork loin chops are only 30 calories denser, containing 1 gram less complete protein. I don’t know why my family hasn’t embraced this cut sooner, seeing as it’s far more savory, flatter and easier to grill than chicken breasts.

Grilling pork loin chops are just one of the many ways to bring out natural flavors hidden within the fat and meat. But, the real trick is to avoid over-marinating or brushing the loin when it’s on the grill. (Sorry, Dad.)

For this recipe, I use a mildly spicy-sweet barbecue sauce from Stubb’s that’s brushed on before and after I flip the chop (usually about two brushes during the whole process). To dress, I splash a few drops of spicy pepper sauce on both sides when plating. The reward is a subtle, but spicy heat that pairs nicely with a cold beer.

Before grilling those chops, here are some of my key tips:

Use a charcoal grill. I realize gas grills are faster to heat and often the preferred technique in my family, but authentic charcoal flavor is hard to beat.

Cut pork chops at home. Although this is a new concept introduced to me by a friend’s father, one of the best ways to save money is to buy a tenderloin and butcher it at home. Cut 1½-inch steaks with a sharp knife, using long, even strokes and resisting the urge to “saw” your chop.

Use quality ingredients. You may have a great discount price for your summer grill meat, or, you may not have access to a great butcher. A quality marinade (and pepper sauce, if you have it) outweighs lost flavor in low-quality cuts while bringing them to life.

Helana Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at hbrigm1@tigers.lsu.edu.