These Cambodian pork chops are coated in an aromatic peppercorn and lemongrass rub and then grilled to tender perfection. Sorta like street food that you can make at home.
These grilled Cambodian pork chops are inspired by street fare—you know, the kind that comes straight off the charcoal and is delivered to you in a Styrofoam container with white rice and pickled daikon and carrot. We’ll hold the Styrofoam, thank you, but keep everything else about these insanely aromatic, mildly mouth-tingling chops.–David Leite
Cambodian Pork Chops
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 large star anise
- 2 medium stalks lemongrass outer layers removed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil plus more as needed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 (1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops (preferably rib chops) (about 20 oz | 567 g)
- Steamed rice or rice noodles
- Crushed toasted peanuts
- Assorted store-bought or homemade Asian-style pickles (such as radishes, carrots, cucumbers)
- In a dry, small skillet over low heat, toast the peppercorns and star anise until slightly darkened and aromatic, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Using the back of a large knife, a rolling pin, or a pestle, crush the stalks of lemongrass. Thinly slice or mince the tender white parts of the bruised lemongrass.
☞TESTER TIP: Toss the rest of the lemongrass in the compost or freeze it and use it to stuff the cavity of a chicken before roasting.
- In a mortar and pestle, crush together the peppercorns, star anise, garlic, and lemongrass to form a sorta pulverized mess. Add the oil and salt and mix everything together thoroughly.
☞TESTER TIP: If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a spice grinder or a rolling pin to crush the spices. Mince the lemongrass and garlic with a knife. Then mix it all together with the oil and salt to create a paste.
- Massage all of the pepper marinade into the pork chops. Cover and refrigerate the pork chops to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you intend to cook them.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (400 to 450°F [204 to 232°C]).
- Drizzle a little oil over each of the pork chops. Place them on the grill and cook, without turning, for 4 to 5 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: These pork chops can also be cooked in a grill pan over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes per side.
- Flip the pork chops and cook on the other side until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C), 3 to 4 minutes more.
☞TESTER TIP: If you’re using a probe thermometer to take the temperature of a relatively skinny cut of meat, such as a pork chop or chicken cutlet, hold the probe parallel to the ground and insert it sideways into the center of the chop or cutlet for the most accurate reading.
- Remove the pork chops from the grill and let them rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Serve the pork chops with rice, toasted peanuts, and assorted pickles. Pour the resting juices over the pork chops just prior to serving.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These chops are a revelation. They are absolutely delicious.
I actually made 5 bone-in pork chops with this recipe, and I don’t feel the seasoning was scant at all. For the spice rub, I ground the toasted peppercorns and anise in my spice grinder and then added the pulverized garlic and lemongrass in, making a paste. The pork chops marinated for 2 hours.
The only change I’ll make when I grill them next time (and I will be making them again!) is to slice up boneless chops and thread them onto skewers in bite-size pieces. For some reason, the bone-in chops just didn’t seem to mesh with the idea of “street food,” maybe because my family is weird and used a fork and knife for such things. I, on the other hand, just grabbed the chop with my hands. Either way, it will be fantastic. I served the finished pork chops with spiced carrots and rice noodles and it was, to quote my kid, a “party in your mouth.”
We imagined this would be delicious, but it was beyond our expectations. This was deceptively simple and easy cooking suitable for summer but possible to enjoy year-round and easy to organize prep up to a day ahead. Making the marinade took twice as long as cooking, but all were brief investments in effort for an A+ result.
To the contrary, it had a slightly crunchy texture that was delicate and delivered just the right hints of star anise and surprisingly mellow pepper. With good pork chops and lemongrass on hand, this is basically a pantry meal. We were greedy and ate the generously sized pork chops. The marinade did blacken but in no way tasted burnt.
After prepping the marinade or rub early in the afternoon, I made up a quickle brine for celery, carrots, and purple-top daikon slices which were ready to eat by dinnertime. I popped jasmine rice to bake in the oven when I removed the chops from the fridge so everything was ready together with little scrambling. The only hiccup was our grill ran out of gas and we had to switch to a stovetop grill pan at the last minute, but no harm, it all turned out beautifully.
The pan was easy to clean up and we appreciated that there was no superfluous sugar or a sauce element, like fish sauce or hoisin or oyster, to muddy the lemongrass, pepper, and star anise notes [Editor’s Note: Or to have to scrub off the pan!]. We did muse on how adding some shredded makrut (kaffir) lime leaf or a wedge of lime at serving might be nice.
We will definitely make this again, and although making a small batch was doable by hand slicing and using my suribachi and wooden pestle, for a large batch you could consider using a food processor. For just 2 servings, it was enjoyable zen prep work for me. This was an easy menu to cook together at the end of a hot day. A larger batch of this would be perfect for a family grill night.
This rub would definitely work with other meats and one can imagine it working well with chicken thighs.
I hope that folks have access to these ingredients. If they do, they’ll be rewarded with easy-to-make pork chops that are full of flavors that pop you over the head and tantalize your tastebuds.
I always have star anise on hand, so the only “supporting” ingredient that I had to shop for, was the lemongrass. Lucky for me, my tiny neighborhood grocery always has that in stock. I marinated my pork chops for 6 1/2 hours before grilling them. As the pork chops with their flavorful paste grilled, I was greeted with aromas that made it difficult to wait for the chops to cook.
I cooked the chops on a 375° to 400°F grill. When pulled, my chops registered 135°F on an instant-read thermometer. I served them over Asian noodles, which I had sautéed in some canola oil until they got a bit of golden crunch to the top and bottom. I cooked sugar snap peas with soy, sherry, ginger, and pine nuts to have alongside. Quite a wonderful dinner was enjoyed by us both.
An aside: Pork these days has been bred to be very lean. Unfortunately, the end result of that is, often, dry, and sometimes tough meat. The antidote to that, I have found, is brining the pork. Since this recipe does not call for brining, I looked for pork that was well marbled. I suggest that folks take that in mind when shopping for their chops.
I had never used lemongrass before and fortunately I had watched a video on how to handle it the night before, otherwise I believe I would have used more of the stalk and consequently had a very tough result.
I left them on for 4 and 3 minutes and the thermometer read 110°F. I then put them in for another 3 minutes and it was 150°F. We prefer pink, so this was a little overdone for us, although still moist.
It was a tad spicy for me but wouldn’t be an issue at all for someone who likes spicy.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I don’t have enough superlatives to describe these beauties. Fragrant, succulent, easy to prepare, and pleasing to the palate of both pork lover and agnostic alike. I will definitely add these to my rotation.
Pork chops can be the death of many a dinner if they become dry and sawdust-like during cooking. These chops were juicy and flavorful. The peppercorns added a stealthy whammy of hot and the lemongrass balanced the flavor. My inner recipe wonk couldn’t find anything that needs to be changed with this recipe.
Simple enough for a weeknight supper and sassy enough for a summer dinner party, these chops will charm even the most reluctant pork lover. My husband is a pork chop lover and he really loved these. This recipes erased many of my bad chop nightmares from childhood.
I used boneless chops as it was all I had on hand. They weren’t rib chops, but they worked well with the recipe. I think you could use either bone in or a boneless one. I used Red Boat Vietnamese peppercorns. I usually slice and freeze lemongrass. I used 1 tablespoon of frozen lemon grass slices. Based on some quick research, this is about 2 stalks.
I marinated the pork for about 5 hours. My pit master adjusted the cook time to account for the boneless chop. He cooked them for 4 minutes on the first side and 2 on the second. The internal temperature of the chops when flipped registered between 135 and 140°F on the Thermapen.
I served the chops with steamed rice, Japanese cucumber salad, and the mushroom packets from a prior round of testing. The flavors were really well balanced.