The right pork for summer grilling

  • Pork chops with salted lemon-garlic relish come off the grill juicy and beautiful. Keep a jar of the relish made of salted lemons, garlic, olive oil and fresh thyme for everything off the grill. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

It’s no coincidence that nearly everyone I know enjoys food from the grill. The smoky flavor, the golden browned bits, and the ease of cleanup make grilling the summertime impetus for gathering friends to table.

We put steaks, seafood, vegetables, pizza and even watermelon and heads of lettuce on the grill. Sometimes, barbecue sauce gets involved. Occasionally, the heavy smoke from applewood or maple penetrates a whole turkey or beef brisket. We love it all.

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A gathering around a grill in Michigan found us discussing which cut of pork to cook that evening. Rib lovers tend to be the most vocal cheerleaders, while dieters embrace lean pork tenderloin. Myself, I love a moist, grilled pork chop for its versatility, relative quick-cooking and moderate price tag.

Smoky Grilled Pork Chops with Broccoli and Lemon-Garlic Relish

Prep: 15 minutes

Marinate: 30 minutes or more

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

If cooking boneless pork chops, be sure they are about 1 inch thick and decrease cooking time by 3 to 4 minutes. If cooking pork country-style ribs, increase cooking time by 10 to 15 minutes and move to a cooler section of the grill if browning too quickly.

6 rib-cut or center-cut bone-in pork chops, each cut about 1 1/4 inches thick and weighing 12 ounces (total 4 1/2 pounds)

1 cup applewood, cherry or pecan wood chips for grilling

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

4 to 6 cups small broccoli florets or 2 bunches broccolini, ends trimmed

Salted lemon-garlic relish, see recipe

Fresh herb sprigs, for garnish

1. Pat chops dry and place in a baking dish. Season generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

2. Soak wood chips in cool water to cover for 20 minutes or more.

3. Prepare a charcoal grill and let coals burn until they are at medium-high heat and covered in gray ash (an oven thermometer will register 375 degrees to 400 degrees). Or preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Drain wood chips and sprinkle over the hot coals. Or, set wood chips on a double thickness of foil set on the grate over the gas burner. Cover the grill to preheat the grill grates thoroughly.

4. Use tongs to arrange pork chops in a single uncrowded layer on the preheated grill grates. Cover grill and cook without turning for 8 minutes. Gently loosen chops and flip. Move pieces around as necessary to adjust for hot spots and so pork cooks evenly without excess browning. Cover the grill and continue cooking until the meat is nearly firm when pressed, about 4 to 6 minutes more. (An instant-read thermometer will register 145 degrees.)

5. While the pork cooks, heat a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the broccoli and cook, uncovered, stirring once or twice, until bright green and crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well. Set aside uncovered.

6. Remove the chops from the grill to a large serving platter. Scatter the broccoli over all. Spoon the salted lemon-garlic relish over everything. Garnish with herb sprigs. Serve.

Salted Lemon-Garlic Relish

Prep: 10 minutes

Chill: Several hours or more

Makes: about 1 cup

This pretty relish tastes great served over grilled pork, chicken and salmon. Try it chopped and stirred into pearl couscous or as a condiment on a grilled Italian sausage sandwich. Or, finely chop the relish and stir it into mayonnaise for a lemony tartar sauce for grilled fish or cool seafood salads.

2 small lemons, scrubbed, ends trimmed off

4 to 6 small cloves garlic, peeled, crushed or finely minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, optional

1/4 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Slice lemons as thinly as possible and pluck out the seeds. Put lemon slices, garlic, thyme, salt and rosemary into a small bowl. Use a wooden spoon or clean hands to massage the seasonings into the lemon slices and release the juices. Stir in optional Dijon, peppers and olive oil. Pack mixture, including all the juices, into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

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2. Refrigerate mixture for a few hours or up to 1 week. Use at room temperature.

Variation: Add 1 cup sliced pitted olives (such as Kalamata or Castelvetrano) or roasted red and yellow peppers into the condiment before serving.

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