Writing Home About Iowa Chops

Each July, we sojourn to the Midwest to visit family in Iowa City. This cozy little college town (home to the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes!) becomes a mecca for writer’s all over the country who jockey for spaces in the University’s annual Summer Writing Festival. The city, which is home to eleven literary presses, hosts over 180 writing-related events each year, and has attracted countless poets and authors to live and work in the city, has recently been named a City of Literature by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). With a population of less than seventy thousand people, Iowa City is the third city to receive the distinction, following Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia.

Visitors to Iowa City have something write home about when it comes dining given the city's wide range of eating options. This year’s festival attendees were all treated to delicious Mediterranean food catered by Oasis, best known for their falafel and kaftas.  The fresh, never-frozen, locally-farmed, black Angus beef burgers at Short's Burger and Shine are a not-to-be-missed treat for hungry visitors as well. Locavores looking for a more authentic experience may choose a 14 oz. smoked Iowa Pork Chop from Okoboji Grill described the Wall Street Journal’s Raymond Sokolov as a “galumphing chop juicy and pink from the smoking.”

The so-called "Iowa Chop" is a thick center cut; the term was coined in 1976 by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Iowa chops are the king of all pork chops. They are the traditional, thick-cut pork chops that originated in Iowa, but prepared all over the Midwest. What separates Iowa chops from other pork chops is the cut and the size. Iowa chops, by definition, are bone-in, center-cut loin chops, and they must be between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 inches thick.

Having the advantage of a kitchen, we chose to grill our own. The wonderful butcher at HyVee East, hand cut eight gorgeous chops for us to work with.

Grilled Iowa Chops
  • Iowa Chops (large bone-in pork chops – 1 to 1 ½ “ thick)
  • ½ cup salt
  • ¼ sugar
  • Water to cover

In a large bowl, place 1 quart water, salt and sugar. Stir to mix and dissolve. Add pork chops to bowl. Add more water to cover and gently stir to distribute salt and sugar. If it is a REALLY big bowl, add more salt and sugar in a 2:1 ratio. Let pork chops brine for 15-30 minutes. Drain chops and pat dry with paper towels.

Place chops on a hot grill, bones toward the center. Cook each side 7-9 minutes. Cooking time depends on thickness of chops and heat of coals. Leave chops on grill until nicely browned (sugar in brine should help a nice crust to form on pork.)

After 15 minutes of total cooking time, check for doneness. The surface of the meat should provide some resistance and the meat juices should run light pink to clear when a small cut is made into a chop.

When pork is nicely crusted and brown and juices are appropriately light, remove to a platter and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving to allow juices to absorb (redistribute from the center of the meat.) Serve with fresh picked and shucked corn on the cob. Enjoy!