When we asked Meathead Goldwyn for advice on making great savory, smoky grilled pork chops, he began by telling us what not to do: soaking wood chips and waiting for the meat to come to room temperature.
Both are among the most prevalent grilling myths, and Goldwyn (author of “The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling”) urged us to debunk them—turns out, they actually inhibit flavor.
That’s because while wood chips soaked in water do create clouds of white, it’s not smoke—it’s mostly steam. The most flavorful smoke actually is practically invisible, produced by a hot fire and dry wood. When he smokes on the grill, Goldwyn throws chunks of dry wood (which burn longer than chips) directly on the coals.
Temperature is another case where conventional wisdom leads us astray. Letting meat warm before grilling actually diminishes smoked flavor. Hot smoke and the flavor it carries better adhere to cold surfaces thanks to thermophoresis—the same principle at play when a cool bathroom mirror fogs up during a hot shower.
With this in mind, we set out to make a richly smoky, thick-cut grilled pork chop. We took inspiration from New Orleans chef Isaac Toups, who brines the meat with bay leaf, brown sugar and copious ground black pepper. He then pairs it with a sweet-tart gastrique—a French term for a syrupy reduction of vinegar and sugar—to cut through the fat of juicy pork.
Because brines transfer little flavor, we moved the bay and pepper into the gastrique, where they would make more of a difference. We did leave the sugar in the brine because it would coat the exterior of the pork and promote browning.
After grilling our still-chilled chops over indirect heat—with dry wood chunks tucked on the side of the grill to minimize flare-ups—we seared them quickly to finish. The brightness from Toups’ sweet-sour treatment paired beautifully with the juicy, smoky chops.