Whether you think of them as efficient, time-saving made-ahead meals or "Ugh ... leftovers," knowing what to do with already-cooked foods is a fundamental kitchen skill. A reheated pork chop or other entree can be just as good as it was originally, if you take care not to overcook it along the way.
A Few Basic Rules for Reheating Pork Chops
Whenever you're going to be saving and reheating food, your first job is to get it into the fridge as soon as possible. That's one of the fundamentals of food safety. Then, when the time comes to reheat it, you'll need to bring it back to the USDA's recommended food-safe temperature, which is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for reheated foods.
If you want to reheat your chops without overcooking them, keep a close eye on their temperature. An instant-read thermometer is the best tool for the job, because it gives you quick and reasonably accurate readings. Of course, it helps if you start with pork that isn't overcooked to begin with. It's perfectly safe to cook pork to 145 F, and a chop that's pink and juicy when first cooked has a better chance of staying juicy when it's reheated. That's especially important when reheating pork tenderloin, which is lean and dries out easily.
Finally, match your reheating method to the original cooking method of your chops. The best way to reheat a chop smothered in creamy sauce probably won't also be the best way to reheat breaded pork cutlets. Use your best judgement.
Reheating Breaded Pork Chops
For breaded pork, you need to choose a reheating method that'll keep the breading crisp. That means dry heat.
One obvious option is to use your oven or toaster oven. A toaster oven works beautifully for a chop or two, while your big oven will handle a full sheet of chops if you're serving a crowd. For ordinary-sized chops – not the super-thick kind – heat your oven to 425 F and give the chops 6 to 10 minutes, or less if they're really thin. Check them with a thermometer midway. Once you're near the 165 F target, take them out and let them rest for few moments while they climb the rest of the way to a food-safe temperature.
For one or two chops, you can also reheat them by pan-frying them in a dry skillet, or with just a few drops of oil added to enhance browning. Make sure the pan is hot before the chops go in, or the breading will stick. If you own an air fryer, a few minutes at 350 F to 400 F should also do the job nicely.
Reheating Non-Breaded Chops
If your pork chops were originally pan-seared, grilled or roasted, you won't have a breaded crust to worry about. The same dry-heat techniques will still work, but you can turn down the heat and take things easy, which reduces the risk of overcooking your chops.
In the oven or toaster oven, put the chops in a covered baking dish with a few drops of liquid – water, apple juice, or a splash of Worcestershire are all good options – and heat at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chop. In a pan on the stove top, use moderate rather than high heat, and turn the chop regularly until it's heated through.
If you have a single chop, you can reheat it effectively in the microwave if you're careful. Heat it in 30-second increments, turning it regularly to encourage even cooking, until it reaches 165 F when tested. You might need to turn down your microwave's power to avoid overcooking.
A sous vide circulator, which warms foods at carefully controlled temperatures, works really well. You can bag your chop, put it in the water bath at the recommended 165 F, and forget about it until mealtime. A one-inch chop will come up to that temperature in an hour or so, and remain ready to serve until you take it out.
Reheating Pork Chops in Sauce
If your chops were smothered or in sauce, the covered-dish technique works well in your oven or toaster oven. You can heat them together, allowing extra time for the sauce to come up to temperature, or separate them and heat the sauce on its own. That's quicker, but increases the risk of overcooking your chop.
In the microwave your sauce will heat up more quickly than the chop itself, so don't wait for the pork to reheat all the way through. Instead, once it's nearly heated, take it out of the microwave and let it continue to absorb heat from the sauce. After 5 minutes, if it hasn't reached 165 F, put it back into the microwave and zap it again at 20- or 30-second intervals until it finishes reheating.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.