Gearing Up for Annual Trip to IC & Iowa Chops

Atlanta food bloggers look forward to their annual trek to Iowa City and share their recipe for grilled "Iowa chops" just in time for your Memorial Day cookout.

Every Summer, we sojourn to the Midwest to visit family in Iowa City. During June and July, Iowa City becomes a mecca for writer’s all over the country who jockey for spaces in the University’s annual Summer Writing Festival. The city, which is home to eleven literary presses, hosts over 180 writing-related events each year, and has attracted countless poets and authors to live and work in the city, has recently been named a City of Literature by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). With a population of less than seventy thousand people, Iowa City is the third city to receive the distinction, following Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia.

Visitors to Iowa City definitely have something to write about when it comes dining given the city's wide range of eating options. Last year’s festival attendees were all treated to delicious Mediterranean food catered by Oasis, best known for their falafel and kaftas. The fresh, never-frozen, locally-farmed, black Angus beef burgers at Short's Burger and Shine are a not-to-be-missed treat for hungry visitors as well. Locavores looking for a more authentic experience may choose a 14 oz. smoked Iowa Pork Chop from Okoboji Grill described by the Wall Street Journal’s Raymond Sokolov as a “galumphing chop juicy and pink from the smoking.”

The so-called "Iowa Chop" is a thick center cut; the term was coined in 1976 by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Iowa chops are the king of all pork chops. They are the traditional, thick-cut pork chops that originated in Iowa, but prepared all over the Midwest. What separates Iowa chops from other pork chops is the cut and the size. Iowa chops, by definition, are bone-in, center-cut loin chops, and they must be between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 inches thick.

Having the advantage of a kitchen, we chose to grill our own. The wonderful butcher at HyVee East, hand cut eight gorgeous chops for us to work with.

Grilled Iowa Chops:
Iowa Chops (large bone-in pork chops – 1to 1 ½ “ thick)
½ cup salt
¼ sugar
Water to cover

Prepare and light your grill. In a large bowl, prepare your brine by placing 1 quart water, salt and sugar and stirring to mix and dissolve. Add pork chops to bowl. Add more water to cover and gently stir to distribute salt and sugar. If it is a REALLY big bowl, add more salt and sugar in a 2:1 ratio. Let pork chops brine for about 30 minutes. Drain chops and pat dry with paper towels.

Place chops on a hot grill, bones toward the center. Cook each side 7-9 minutes. Cooking time depends on thickness of chops and heat of coals. Leave chops on grill until nicely browned (sugar in brine should help a nice crust to form on pork.)

After 15 minutes of total cooking time, check for doneness. The surface of the meat should provide some resistance and the meat juices should run light pink to clear when a small cut is made into a chop.

When pork is nicely crusted and brown and juices are appropriately clear, remove to a platter and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving to allow juices to absorb (and redistribute from the center of the meat.) Serve with grilled chili-lime corn on the cob.  Enjoy!

Denise and Dom Romeo are food bloggers from Atlanta, Georgia who enjoy spending time together doing what they love best: cooking and entertaining! Follow their food adventures on their award winning blog; We Like To Cook! at http://romeocucina.blogspot.com.

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B.A. Morelli May 10, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Denise and Dom, Are you from Iowa?
John Duignan May 11, 2012 at 02:21 PM
B.A.: Denise is from a small town outside of Athens, GA. My wife (Denise's sister) and I moved here from Savannah 17 years ago for her doctorate and fell in love with Iowa City.
Denise & Dom Romeo May 11, 2012 at 02:29 PM
We visit Iowa City for several weeks each year (with excellent tour guides!) and thus feel like IC natives.
Dara Bowman May 16, 2012 at 12:43 PM
I have never heard of brining pork chops before. Can I grill them without the brine step? What is the purpose of brining?
Denise & Dom Romeo May 16, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Yes, Dara, you can grill the chops without brining them first. Soaking meat in a salt-saturated solution causes the muscle tissues of the meat to absorb water through osmosis. Once the water is absorbed, denaturation causes a sticky matrix which forms a moisture barrier that captures and prevents the water from leaking out as the meat cooks. These two processes yield tenderness and a unique flavor. You can read more about brining on our blog at http://romeocucina.blogspot.com/2011/11/tow-brining.html.


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