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Bourbon-and-Vanilla-Brined Pork Chops

By Bruce Aidells / Photography By Scott Phillips
Bourbon has vanilla notes that pair well with smoky grilled pork; here it's enhanced further by the vanilla extract in the brine. For even more smoky flavor, throw some hardwood chips that have been soaked in water for 30 minutes over the coals before grilling these chops (or, for a gas grill, wrap the soaked chips in foil and place over the burner).


  • 1 oz. kosher salt (1/4 cup if using Diamond Crystal; 2 Tbs. if using Morton)
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 3 T bs. dark brown sugar
  • 2 T bs. unsulfured molasses
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 bone-in pork rib chops (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches thick; 2 to 3 lb. total)
Spice Rub
  • 1 Tbs. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 Tbs. dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground dried sage
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. ground cayenne
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon


Brine the pork chops
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups warm water with the brine ingredients; stir until dissolved. Add 1 cup ice to the bowl and stir to quickly cool the brine to at least 45°F. Put the chops in a 9x9-inch (or similar size) baking dish and pour the brine over the chops. They should be submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and put on a tray (in case of spills); refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours (3 hours for thinner chops, 4 hours for thicker ones). Remove the chops from the brine (discard the brine), and pat them dry.

*Tip: It's always a good idea to brine pork before grilling it. It's a mild, lean meat that needs the extra flavor and moisture that brining provides.

Make the spice rub
Combine all of the spice rub ingredients in a small bowl or jar.

Grill the chops
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill fire for indirect cooking over medium-high heat (400°F to 450°F).

Sprinkle 2 to 3 Tbs. total of the spice rub generously over all sides of the chops. Grill the chops over direct heat, flipping once, until dark brown grill marks form on both sides, about 2 minutes per side (move them to indirect heat if any flare-ups occur). Once the chops are well marked, move them to the cooler side of the grill, cover, and cook until their internal temperature registers 140°F to 145°F on an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 6 minutes more per side. Transfer the chops to a serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead Tips
The spice rub will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Serving Suggestions
For a terrific smoky-sweet side, grill a few halved, pitted, ripe peaches and serve them with the chops.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 350; Fat (g): 20; Fat Calories (kcal): 180; Saturated Fat (g): 7; Protein (g): 36; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 8; Carbohydrates (g): 4; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3.5; Sodium (mg): 730; Cholesterol (mg): 100; Fiber (g): 1