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      a close up of food? Photo: Kevin Pang

      In my time behind the butcher counter, I’ve taught a lot of people how to cook pork chops. Thick, thin, skin-on, skin-off, every iteration of pork chop you can imagine. When I sat down to write my advice for cooking pork chops, though, a rather humbling story came to mind...

      But before we get started: If you want to cook a thick chop—I’m talking 1.5-2 inches or more plus—with the full fat cap and the skin on, the best thing to do is to season or brine it, then put in a low oven until the chops reach an internal temp of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. (Invest in a digital thermometer! They’re cheap.) You can also do this on the cold side of an indirect grill; just keep an eye on the grill temperature. You want to go slow to render as much of the fat as possible. When you reach your internal temp, pull the chop from the oven and rest for a few minutes. Put the pan on a burner and tilt it towards you so that the rendered fat pools on the side of the pan closest to the handle. Arrange the chop so that the skin and fat cap are nearly submerged in the fat puddle and are, more or less, frying. This will yield golden-brown fat and crispy, crackly skin. It’s also very messy and a touch dangerous (don’t do this barefoot...) but very chef-y and fun if you’re into it.

      I used to cook all my chops like this at home, whether or not the people I was cooking for enjoyed all the fat, like I do. I also disregarded the mess I made and didn’t care my house smelled like pork fat for several days (though by day three, it was a bit much).

      And then my in-laws came for a visit (here’s that humbling story I was talking about). To be clear, my in-laws are fantastic, so their visits are really fun, but... when my mother-in-law said she wanted to cook us all pork chops, I was, well, dubious. She is a fantastic cook, but in my mind, pork chops were my thing, and she most certainly had no plans to cook all the fat and skin like I preferred.

      I came home from work to find a box of Kraft Shake ‘N Bake on the counter and felt my pulse quickening. My internal monologue was NSFW, but decided to just roll with it and be grateful that someone else was willing to make dinner for us. Thank goodness I did.

      The chops were fantastic. Sure the Shake ‘N Bake coating tasted a little artificial, but the chops were pleasantly crunchy and cooked perfectly: moist, juicy, with a tinge of pink in the center. Of course the chef/butcher in me came into work the next day and whipped up a batch of “Butcher Bake,” a homemade version of Shake ‘N Bake, and promoted it to all of my customers. Boy did I get some funny looks.

      If I’m not searing on the cast iron, and seeking something a bit more crispy, this is how I make my pork chops.

      Butcher’s Bake Pork Chops

      This method works for cooking average-sized chops (about an inch thick), bone-in or boneless, though for smaller or boneless chops I would pull them from the oven a few minutes earlier.

      a piece of cake? Photo: Kevin Pang
      • 2 pork chops (one inch-thick), trimmed, with about 1/8 to 1/4-inch fat along the edge
      • 1 batch Butcher Bake coating (recipe below)
      • Two beaten eggs (or beer, mustard, or whatever else you’d like for coating the chops)

      Homemade “Butcher Bake”

      • 1 package (10.5 oz) panko breadcrumbs
      • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
      • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
      • 2 tsp. garlic powder
      • 2 tsp. onion powder
      • 1 tsp. dried thyme
      • 1 tsp. paprika

      Place half the panko in a food processor with all other ingredients and pulse until fine. Remove from food processor and mix in remaining panko. Store in an air tight bag for up to a month. This will lightly coat about a half dozen pork chops, maybe more.

      Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Moisten the chops with beaten egg, beer, mustard—get creative! Coat the chops with Butcher Bake and place on a lightly greased baking sheet lined with foil. Place in the oven. Check after 18 minutes by sticking a digital probe thermometer in the center of a chop. You’re looking for an internal temp of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Baked longer if not. When you hit it, remove and rest meat for five minutes and serve.

      Note: This pork chop coating would just be as delicious deep-fried. Maybe even more so.

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