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The Grill Drill Puts
Pork Chops at Attention

by Sam Sifton

It looks simple, doesn't it? Buy large pork chops. Build a big fire. Grill the chops over the fire and serve. Cooking doesn't get more elemental.

But if you want the pork chops to come out well, if you want them to have the satisfyingly crisp exterior and succulent center of a professionally cooked restaurant chop, there are rules. Those rules may have to be bent on occasion, but they must be followed. As Bob Dylan sang, "To live outside the law, you must be honest."

Chris Schlesinger related this information over a cold beer on a hot morning on the deck of his house here, high above the pebbly road that leads over to Horseneck Beach. Mr. Schlesinger is the chef and an owner of the East Coast Grill, in Cambridge, Mass.

He is also the author, with John Willoughby, of a number of cookbooks pertaining to the joys of grill cookery. The latest of these, "Let the Flames Begin" (Norton) was rereleased in June, and it contains a number of excellent recipes suitable to the season. One of them is for grilled giant pork chops with peaches. We will get to it in due course.

But we were talking about rules.

"You want a clean grill so that food doesn't stick," Mr. Schlesinger said. "You also want a banked fire, meaning you want a part of the grill that's very, very hot, and a part that's hot, and a part that's warm."

You can do this by building your fire in such a way that one side of it is twice the height of the other side. The banked fire will allow a cook to sear an ingredient, then move it off the direct heat for finishing.

"You also want your gear all set up right," he said, "your food, your sauces, your towel, your stuff."

Each time he cooks something over the grill, Mr. Schlesinger lays out his gear with care: the raw ingredients in plastic trays, the sauces in bowls, the pie plates and foil roasting pans he uses to finish meats over the fire. Then he tucks a clean towel into his back pocket and begins to work.

In fancy restaurants, run according to French rules, the preparation of the cooking area is called the mise en place. Mr. Schlesinger is from coastal Virginia and still speaks with a little of the soft accent of that region. He is also a surfer, and maintains the laconic rhythms of someone used to waiting in water for waves. When he says mise en place, it sounds like a cross between a sneeze and a profanity.

"People are too lazy about grilling," Mr. Schlesinger said. "Technique is too burdensome for them. But how hard is it, just to get your gear together? It makes everything easier."

In the case of Mr. Schlesinger's recipes, this is generally true. He had before him on a table on the deck a tray of thick-cut bone-in pork chops, a bunch of halved peaches and a small bowl of molasses glaze, which was just soft butter and molasses mixed, with a squeeze of lime juice over the top to cut the sweet. A small bottle of olive oil. Another small bowl of sea salt, and a metal pepper grinder. His tongs. A dish towel. And a serving plate.

He ground pepper onto the chops and sprinkled salt on them. Restaurant cooks generally use more salt and more pepper on their meats than civilians. There is a reason for this. It gives the meat a better crust and makes it taste better.

He placed the chops over the very hottest part of the fire. Then he did the same thing to the peaches, though with the addition of a little olive oil to keep them from sticking to the grill. Almost instantly there was the scent of caramelizing fruit in the air.

After four minutes he turned the chops over, keeping them in the same hot place on the fire. He turned the peaches, too, but moved them out of the high heat into a foil roasting pan, where he coated them with some of the molasses glaze. After an additional four minutes, he moved the pork chops to the warm part of the fire and placed an empty foil pie plate over them to keep them warm.

"I'll leave them there for eight minutes," he said. "That'll have them at medium, cooked through and tender."

There was a rich scent of pork in the air, and it mingled with the sweet of the peaches. Mouths began to salivate.

"If more people ate pork chops," Mr. Schlesinger said, "things would be better in the world."

Recipe: Grilled Pork Chops With Glazed Peaches


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