What if I told you the best grilled pork chop in the world is actually not a chop at all, but sliced pork shoulder? Marbled with and surrounded by fat, the crown jewel of winter braising could soon become the hero of summer grilling. No, not by smoking a large hunk of meat for 64 hours in an extremely expensive grill, though that would be delicious. You’re going to slice the shoulder into thick steaks, then grill them hot and fast to a perfect medium-rare, and it’s going to be revelatory.
Slicing pork shoulder into steaks about 1-inch thick allows you to cook them quickly over hot coals or in a cast-iron skillet, just like a piece of red meat, letting the bits of fat (of which there are many) char and crisp. The inside is left pink, juicy and tender, never chewy or dry.
I know the idea of anything less than well-done pork can take convincing, but truly, it’s fine – the U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed pork safe to eat at 145 degrees Fahrenheit, which is medium-rare meat.
Just like a braised pork shoulder, these steaks are excellent with just salt and pepper – but with minimal effort, they can be more than excellent. Giving them a dip in a spicy, sweet and tangy bath made from citrus juice, chile paste and a bit of fish sauce seasons them from the inside out and helps them caramelize on the grill, getting as charred and flavorful as possible. Feel free to marinate them up to 24 hours in advance, but I, for one, am never thinking that far ahead, and know that they are good left to sit for even 20 minutes, about the time it takes to get your grill scorching hot.
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From there, you can eat them as is, alongside other grilled vegetables, but I am a huge fan of laying the just-sliced pork over a bed of rice or noodles and leaves of crunchy lettuce to let the juices from the pork dress everything below, then topping the whole thing with fresh herbs and lightly pickled shallots. (Think of it as a very inauthentic and possibly lazy version of the classic Vietnamese dish bun cha.)
Squeeze some grilled citrus over everything, along with some marinade you’ve reserved to use as dressing. Then let the juices from the pork mingle with all that to create what is maybe the best-tasting sauce in the world – a good fit for what is surely the best pork chop in the world.
Sweet and Salty Grilled Pork With Citrus and Herbs
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 45 minutes
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sambal chile paste (optional)
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 lime, halved crosswise, plus 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes)
1 orange or tangerine, halved crosswise (optional)
Cooked rice noodles or rice, for serving (optional)
1 head Boston lettuce or escarole, torn into large pieces
6 mint sprigs
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 shallot, thinly sliced into rings
Using a sharp knife, slice pork shoulder crosswise into 1-inch-thick steaks. (Depending on the shape and cut of your shoulder, some pieces may not stay together in a steak shape; this is OK.) Season pork with salt and pepper and place in a shallow baking dish (a 9-by-13 works best) or resealable plastic bag.
Combine fish sauce, light brown sugar, sambal (if using), garlic and 1/2 cup lime juice in a medium bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour half the mixture over the pork and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes while you prepare the grill, using tongs to turn pork once or twice to make sure all of it is getting enough attention from the marinade. (There’s no need to refrigerate, unless you are working ahead, in which case you should refrigerate until ready to grill.)
If you’re using a charcoal grill, build the fire so it’s screaming hot. This pork is to be cooked hot and fast, so the hotter the better. If you’re using a gas grill, heat it on high. Bring a clean baking dish out to the grill for the pork to rest in after cooking.
Once the grill is sufficiently hot, grill the pork until deeply browned and lightly charred on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes per side (this will happen faster on a charcoal grill), moving the pork around as needed to prevent excessive flare-ups, which, depending on how fatty your pork is, will happen with varying severity. Grill the lime and orange, if using, cut-side down, until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove the pork and lime from the grill and let rest a minute or two in that same large baking dish to catch the juices. Drizzle the remaining lime dressing over the sliced pork and let it rest for a few minutes so the juices mix with the dressing.
Slice the pork about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange rice noodles or rice, if using, on a large platter and top with lettuce, along with some of the mint, cilantro and shallots. Top with sliced pork and remaining herbs and shallots. Spoon the juices from the bottom of the baking dish over everything, and serve with the grilled citrus for squeezing.