PORK CHOP NIGHT was my least favorite mealtime when I was kid. Farmers started breeding leaner pigs shortly after World War II, and over the course of my Gen X childhood, pork fat reduced an additional 30%, culminating in that famous “the other white meat” slogan of the late 1980s and pigs that were nearly 60% leaner than in my granddad’s day. During those same decades, the recommended minimum cooking temperature for safety reasons remained 170°F, a combination that led to dry, chewy, very lean pork and two decades of me avoiding pork chops.
Pork remains lean, but its recommended cooking temperature was reduced to 145°F in 2011 (rest the chops after cooking to bring them up to 160°F), which removed the worst culinary offense. Still, I find most pork chops to be tricky to cook, with their very-lean-with-uneven-fat-cap, bony-edged selves offering a lot of variables that can go awry. Happily, the pork steak with the most even marbling, most flavor and least awkward shape happens to be one of the lowest priced.
Pork blade steaks, sometimes labeled shoulder chops, are from the same shoulder section sometimes labeled butt or Boston butt, and known around the world for flavor and richness in slow-cooking dishes like cochinita pibil, maiale al latte, schweinebraten, cider- or beer-braised stew and bo ssam. Whether I’m buying them from my neighborhood butcher or the chain grocery store up the street, blade steaks cost substantially less per pound than other chops, and they cook beautifully on the grill, where their marbled fat melts quickly into luxurious flavor and texture. They have a reputation for being loaded with connective tissue that needs tenderizing or braising, but that hasn’t been my experience regardless of where I buy them — and they’re no bonier than a rib-eye steak.
The sugar in this dry rub adds a little sweetness, but its primary role is to boost the exterior char without overcooking the interior of the steak. Mizuna isn’t always readily available, and it isn’t to everyone’s taste, but arugula, baby beet greens or baby spinach are fine substitutes for milder flavor; cress, frisée or a spicy salad mix also works well.
Grilled Pork Blade Steaks with Spicy Greens
2 teaspoons brown sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
Two ¾-inch-thick pork blade steaks
1 bunch (about 3 cups) mizuna, washed, patted dry and trimmed
4 lemon wedges from half a medium lemon, divided use
Olive oil, for drizzling
1. Combine brown sugar, salt, paprika, crushed red pepper, black pepper and cumin in a small bowl. Spread the mixture lightly on both sides of pork blade steaks. Cover and set aside at room temperature while you prepare the mizuna and heat the grill.
2. Divide mizuna between two plates and squeeze one lemon wedge over each plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.
3. Heat a grill to 400°F/medium-high and oil the grate. Grill steaks for 3 minutes, flip and continue cooking for 2 to 4 minutes until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 145°F. Transfer each steak to a plate of prepared greens and squeeze a lemon wedge over each.
4. Let rest 5 minutes, until greens are slightly wilted. Drizzle on more olive oil and sprinkle with additional lemon to taste.