Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling 

Shop the meat counter smarter by knowing the difference.

Elizabeth Laseter
June 13, 2018

Pork chops are a staple weeknight dinner in so many households. Whether they’re grilled and glazed or seared in a cast-iron skillet, pork chops are easy to cook and even easier to love.

This lean, mild-flavored, and ultra-versatile cut of meat comes from the loin, the muscle that runs from the shoulder to the rear of the pig. (Other loin cuts you may know include the tenderloin, baby back ribs, and crown roast.) Take a trip to the butcher counter and you may notice two major types of pork chops—boneless and bone-in. Is one pork chop tastier or easier to cook than the other? What exactly is the difference?

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To help you navigate the meat counter better, let's take a close look at the difference between bone-in and boneless pork chops. From flavor to cost to cook time and cooking methods, here's what you need to know to make the right choice at the grocery store.

Bone-In Pork Chops vs. Boneless Pork Chops

Elizabeth Laseter

To find out the difference between boneless and bone-in pork chops, I started with a local butcher. He told me this—yes, there are subtle flavor and textural differences, but the type of pork chop you ultimately buy comes down to personal preference and how you intend to use it. Some of his customers prefer the convenience of a boneless pork chop, while others prefer the fuller flavor of a bone-in pork chop.

So, whether you buy boneless or bone-in pork chops, there is no wrong choice, but it's still important to know how to tell one from the other. Nearly all grocery stores sell boneless pork chops (above right)—but not all will sell the same types of bone-in pork chops.

The two most common types of bone-in pork chops you’ll see are rib chops (above left) and center-cut chops (above middle). The blade chop, while less common, is another type of bone-in chop that comes from the shoulder end of the loin. You may also see sirloin chops, but these typically have more bone than meat and are tough unless braised.

Pork Rib Chops

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This rib chop is what most of us envision when we think of pork chops—and it’s the most popular cut that our local butcher sells. The rib chop contains the curved rib bone, which you'll see along the side of this cut. (This is actually the same bone that makes up a rack of mouthwatering baby back ribs.) In higher-end restaurants, you may see frenched rib chops, meaning the rib bone has been scraped clean of all fat and meat.

Pork rib chops are less expensive than center-cut chops or boneless pork chops, but they also contain the least amount of meat overall. Because of the bone, a rib chop appears larger in size than a boneless chop, but it may contain a fair amount of fat.

Best cooking methods: Even with a little more fat than other chops, pork rib chops are still a lean cut—so you’ll want to stick to high-heat cooking methods like grilling, pan-searing, and broiling to prevent them from drying out. Cook time depends on the cooking method and thickness of the chops, but expect about 4 to 5 minutes per side. 

Verdict: For a basic bone-in pork chop that’s easy enough to cook on a weeknight, the rib chop is your best bet. Because these chops are mostly loin meat with a small amount of rib meat, you get a satisfying mix of textures and flavors. When eating rib chops, be prepared to abandon your silverware, channel your inner barbarian, and tear off the rest of the meat with your teeth. That’s really the best way to enjoy them.  

Pork Rib Chop Recipes

Center-Cut Pork Chops

Elizabeth Laseter

You can identify a center-cut pork chop—also called a loin chop or center loin chop—by the T-shaped bone that runs down the middle of it. On one side of this bone you’ll find lighter loin meat, while on the other side you’ll see darker tenderloin meat. Center-cut pork chops tend to be more expensive than other bone-in chops, but they’re also larger in size. They yield more meat too, with a relatively small amount of gristly fat. The butcher I spoke with actually raved about center-cut chops—and he called the little piece of tenderloin on them “a delicious bonus.”

Photo: Alison Miksch; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Best cooking methods: Cooking a center-cut pork chop evenly can be tricky because the tenderloin and the loin have slightly different cook times. Regardless, you can cook these chops the same way as you’d cook rib chops—grilling, pan-searing, or broiling. Keep in mind that the cook time is longer than a rib chop or boneless pork chop, but not by a lot.

Verdict: I’m all about the center-cup pork chop—the combo of succulent tenderloin meat and firmer loin meat is absolutely heavenly. It’s easy enough to make on a weeknight, but it’s also indulgent enough for a special occasion.

Center-Cut Pork Chop Recipes

Boneless Pork Chops

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Boneless pork chops are the same as a rib chop or center-cut chop, but the bone has been cut away. Boneless pork chops are very easy to prep and cook, making them a smart choice when you need a speedy, effortless dinner. They’re ultra-lean, as much of the fat has been removed, but some feel that they are less flavorful than bone-in pork chops.

Best cooking methods: Because boneless pork chops are so lean, you’ll want to use high-heat, quick-cooking methods to preserve as much of their moisture as possible. You can grill, pan-sear, or broil boneless pork chops, but they also work well sliced thin for stir fries or fried rice. Boneless pork chops cook quickly, about 3 to 4 minutes per side depending on the thickness and cooking method. Be extra careful, as these chops will dry out if overcooked.

Photo: Christopher Testani; Styling: Alistair Turnbull

Verdict: If you’re in a rush and you need a hearty dinner on the table quickly, boneless pork chops are the perfect go-to main. For me, personally, I prefer the complexity of a bone-in pork chop, but I understand why a boneless pork chop would be appealing. The flavor is very mild, meaning you can pair them with almost any sauce or side.   

Boneless Pork Chop Recipes 

Whether you buy boneless or bone-in pork chops, here's the hard truth—any pork chop cooked to a perfect, juicy medium (145°F) is pretty much guaranteed to be melt-in-your-mouth good.

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