As a Chef, I have been preparing heritage pork for the past 20 years and I can say without hesitation that I have prepared more cuts of pork than almost any other protein in the professional kitchen. Pork makes for a ton of incredible cuts of meat, from pork belly/bacon to hams, shoulder butts, tenderloin, and loin chops. Furthermore, this incredibly versatile protein can be as high in omega fatty acids as deep water fish (source) when raised responsibly and correctly.
While most organic/heritage proteins come at a premium, it’s easy to find affordable organic or heritage pork chops in your local grocery case or on display at a favorite butcher shop. Furthermore, thanks to a rise in smaller, local pork farms, you can find awesome locally-raised options in communities across the country and around the world.
Pork chops are a wonderful dinner option for even the pickiest of eaters. Pork, like that old ad campaign, would say, is “the other white meat” and works well in so many different recipes and seasonings. With a small child at home, we try to keep our diet fresh and lively but it can sometimes seem to revolve around chicken and potatoes. Pork chops are an awesome compromise at our dinner table and even the pickiest of eaters can be swayed with juicy pork chops come supper time.
I was recently turned on to the idea of using an air fryer as a cooking medium for pork chops and other quick-cooking proteins. Thanks to their high-powered convection fan and a well-insulated cooking chamber, proteins like pork chops cook quickly while retaining an incredible level of moisture and flavor. Furthermore, thanks to the smaller size and lower energy needs of these appliances compared to a traditional oven, they save time on cleanup and money on your electric bill at the end of the month.
For the most part, the pork chops you can purchase at your local grocery store are going to be about 1/2-1″ thick and because of this, they really don’t take very long to cook. Most pork chops are on the leaner side and benefit from a high heat cooking method, like pan roasting, grilling, or in this case air frying.
If you have access to a local butcher you can ask them to prepare your chops in any number of ways, but for our purposes, a 1/2″ chop is going to be ideal. Personally, I love bone-in pork chops, with the rib bone attached to one side of the pork loin. This helps regulate the heat dispersal of the pork chop and I find it lends a richer, meatier flavor to the finished product.
By seasoning our pork chops liberally with an awesome coffee rub before loading them into our air fryer, we are building layers of barbecue-like flavor that work so well with pork chops and other meats like steak or chicken.
The preheated air fryer will circulate a ton of high-powered, superheated air, cooking the chops without any excess fat, creating a crisp, crunchy crust, and a juicy, rich interior.
The small amount of brown sugar in the rub will help build a caramel layer on the outside of the chops, making up for the lack of direct heat application that you might see in techniques like grilling or pan searing. The roasted, slightly bitter coffee blends with the herbs and spices to create a rich, smokey flavor that works perfectly with almost any side dish from carrots to broccoli or a light salad!
Why This Works
- Because of the high-powered convection fan and super strong heating elements found in most air fryers, the oven chamber creates the perfect environment for quickly searing or roasting proteins like air fryer pork chops.
- Thanks to the leaner nature of pork loin chops you don’t have to worry about rendering a ton of fat while cooking, making high temp applications like air frying the perfect cooking method.
- The coffee rub contains two really important ingredients other than salt and seasonings. The coffee gives the final product a roasted slightly smoky/earthy flavor and the brown sugar helps build a caramel layer on the surface of the chop mimicking a high pan sear or grill.
Mistakes To Avoid
Overcooking these air fryer pork chops will lead to a dry, tough product that is far from desirable. Because of the thinner nature of most pork chops, they will cook quickly and thanks to the leanness of pork loin, there is not a lot of fat to help make up the difference if you take them too far.
I would highly recommend using a thermometer to check the doneness of the pork chops starting at the 8-minute mark. The recommended cooking temperature for pork is 150°f, but thanks to carry-over cooking, the tendency of a cooking proteins temperature to continue to increase for a minute or two after it has finished cooking, you can confidently pull them out of the air fryer at 145°F and allow them to finish cooking as they rest.
Resting is another common mistake I see in home kitchens. By allowing a piece of meat a few minutes to rest before serving, you give the protein time to relax and redistribute juices, leading to a far more tender and palatable product overall.
Using a brine can really make your pork dishes stand out from the pack, and is an easy way to ensure an incredibly juicy/tender pork chop. I don’t often find myself brining pork chops at home, but it has definitely been a fixture in my professional cooking career.
To make a simple brine combine salt, sugar, and water with seasonings and allow your pork chops 30 minutes to soak in all that flavor before air frying or pan roasting to perfection.
Brining is easy to achieve, but it can be a little tricky in execution. Because with thinner smaller products a brine has a much easier time penetrating the product with flavor, it can be easy to over brine your meats creating a highly salty less palatable product.
With practice, brining is definitely the easiest way to kick your pork chops flavor level into the stratosphere. However, if you don’t have the time or energy, this recipe will create unforgettable air fryer pork chops without the need to brine.
Finally, this coffee rub works well on salmon, beef, chicken, and veggies. I like to make it in large batches and keep it in my kitchen cupboard for any occasion I can think of to use it. The recipe listed here will make enough for about 6 pork chops.
Can You Use Boneless?
Even though I prefer bone-in-style pork chops, boneless pork chops would be completely appropriate to use in this recipe. If you are planning on using boneless pork chops when making air fryer pork chops it is important to reduce the cooking time slightly to account for the lack of a bone.
Usually, the rib bone helps regulate the heat dispersal and causes the air fryer pork chops to cook at a slightly slower rate. Boneless pork chops don’t need this consideration, and I would recommend cooking them for 7-11 minutes depending on their thickness/weight.
Alternate Approach: Breaded vs Not Breaded
Breaded pork chops are one of my favorite comfort foods in the whole wide world. Growing up “Shake and Bake” was a staple in our home and we all loved to help when it came to shake and bake night!
Breading pork chops is easy, and something I still love to make regularly to this day, it is however a more time-intensive process, and given my hectic schedule, it’s not always feasible for a weeknight dinner.
To bread pork chops you want to use what we in the kitchen call a “standard breading procedure”. First, you need to prepare a dish of seasoned flour, a dish of egg wash, and a dish of bread crumbs. You can use bags for the flour and bread crumbs to recreated the old “shake and bake” magic, but it’s not necessary.
To bread your pork chops you dredge the chops in the flour, and then dip them in eggwash, finishing by dipping the pork chops in the breading before placing them in a baking dish or a pan to roast in your oven.
An air fryer makes a great alternative to your oven when preparing breaded pork chops, and breaded air fryer pork chops are an absolutely incredible meal for a night when you have a little more time on your hands!
The Perfect Sides For Air Fryer Pork Chops
Pork chops work well with so many different side dishes, from roasted vegetables to a light salad or even rich creamy mashed potatoes, there are truly so many different options to choose from.
One of my favorite things to serve with pork chops, especially when using this coffee rub is pan-roasted broccolini and baked potatoes. Broccolini is a slightly more bitter cousin to broccoli and with an awesome crispy bite, it plays well against the sweet, salty, roasted quality of the coffee rub. Finally, the rich, starchy baked potatoes help bring everything together to a wonderful harmony!
If you have a larger air fryer or a toaster-oven style model you can prepare both the baked potatoes and the pork chops simultaneously. Start the baked potatoes and after about 30 minutes of air frying, increase the temperature and add the pork chops to a separate rack, or make room for them in the air fryer basket. Continue to cook both the air fryer pork chops and potatoes for another 9-12 minutes.
You can prepare the broccolini in a pan while the air fryer pork chops and baked potatoes finish cooking and everything will be done in concert, a feat I can tell you from personal experience is exceedingly difficult at times.