After I opened my Foodie Fights invitation email I went to the site to see what ingredients I had to work with. Melon and red pepper flakes. My first thoughts were, "Ooo! I love red pepper flakes!" and, "Whatever I make has to be grilled!" But do people grill melon? I did a quick Google search and was amazed by how many recipes came up for grilled melon. OK, you can grill it, but is it any good? It was time for some testing.
I love it when almost-didn't-happen recipes turn out awesome!
Grilled Pork and Cantaloupe with Spicy Balsamic Glaze
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving, if desired
1 3-3 1/2 lb. cantaloupe
6 pork chops, honestly the poundage can vary, depending on what you buy
1 lb strawberries, hulled, washed, and halved
mint sprigs for garnish, if desired
1. Make the balsamic glaze: In a very small saucepan (I used a heavy 1 1/2-cup metal measuring cup) or very small not non-stick frying pan, combine the balsamic vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes; bring it all to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the glaze is reduce by half, about 15 minutes (it will take less time to reduce if you're using a frying pan). Remove the pan from the heat and let the glaze cool. NOTE: the longer you let it cool the thicker it will be. So if you are really good about planning ahead, make the glaze about an hour or so before you want to use it so it's nice and thick.
2. Scrape your grill grate with a wire brush and start the heat on high. You want the grill to be smoking hot so you get nice grill marks on the meat and the cantaloupe. It's especially important for the cantaloupe because the melon's stay on the grill needs to be brief so it doesn't get too soft. "Smoking hot" to me means between 475 and 500 on my gas grill's thermometer. Grills are all different, so you'll have to go by how you know your grill.
3. To prepare the pork chops, trim any extra fat off each chop (unless you're a fat lover, then leave it on). To prepare the cantaloupe, cut the melon in half, starting at the stem end; remove all the seeds and stringy stuff with a large spoon. Lay the melon halves, cut-side down, on a cutting board and cut each half into 8 wedges. Then remove the rind from each wedge.
4. When you're grill has reached the smoking-hot point, use long tongs and several folded paper towels to liberally oil the grill grate. This will keep the meat and the cantaloupe from sticking. The oil will evaporate fast at this temperature, so immediately put your pork chops on the grate. You want the surface of the chops to be dry so they get the best char marks possible, so don't use the glaze yet. Once the chops are on the grill, brush the exposed tops and sides with the glaze (only one side needs to look super fabulous). How long you cook them on each side depends on how hot your grill is and how thick your chops are. I cooked my almost-1/2-inch chops for about 3 minutes on each side. (The USDA says to cook pork to an internal temperature of 160, but 145 is enough to kill the parasites that cause trichinosis. Sarah Caron has a great article on Fit Fare about this. Read it and then you decide.) When you've got some good marks on the first side, flip the chops over and brush the now exposed top with the balsamic glaze. Cook the chops for about 3 more minutes. At this point, I flipped them over one more time to let the glaze on the first side caramelize a little (but don't leave them too long). Take the chops off the grill and keep them warm under a loose tent of foil.
NOTE: If your grill is big enough, you can grill the melon at the same time as the pork chops. If not, do the melon after the meat because it goes fast. (In this case, make sure you scrape the grill grate really well and let it get really hot again before putting the cantaloupe on.)
5. To grill the cantaloupe, put the wedges on the smoking-hot, freshly-oiled grill grate. Once it's there don't move it, or you'll pull the pieces apart (even though you've oiled the grate, the melon needs time to develop a crust at the contact points that will release easily). After about 2 minutes, gently slide the wedges up and down (tiny movements) to get them to come off the grill. If you try to pick them straight up you'll leave some of the melon on the grill, and the part that stays will be the lovely charred parts. This is where knowing your grill is really important. I was using my sister's grill, which is uber-hot at the back, and I turned several pieces of cantaloupe into charcoal. Watch your wedges; if they are burning without first getting good char marks, turn down the heat. (Looking back, when I make this again, I will probably turn the heat down a little after getting the grill to the smoking-hot level.) Depending on how warm you want your melon, you can cook them on both sides or just one side. If you do both sides (I did), leave them on the second side for only a minute or less.