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How do I prepare a raw ham for the smoker?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

I've got a raw ham (Berkshire). What do I do to prepare it for the smoker?


thanks,
dan
post #2 of 14
I'm not up on smoking techniques, however I do want to make this point: On the wrapper, it will probably tell you that a certain internal temperature must be reached for the meat to be safe to eat. This is true whether you are going to smoke the ham or simply treat it like a pork roast.
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post #3 of 14
It depends on what, exactly, your 'raw ham' really is. Is it is just an untreated hind leg of a pig, or has it been brined or cured, but just uncooked?

mjb.
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post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 
It's an untreated Berkshire hind leg direct from the farm:bounce:. It hasn't been brined or cured. That's why I'm a bit confused...I've never had an unbrined uncured ham before.

thanks,
dan
post #5 of 14
You've got a lot of options in terms of smoking a ham. For instance, you can brine, cure, or inject.

"Curing," means using nitrates and/or nitrites -- one effect is to turn the meat a familiar ham "pink." You can manipulate the texture, moisture and flavor profiles only very slightly using a cure, as opposed to a brine. Unless preservation is an issue, the primary reason to use cure with ham is for color.

"Brining," means a long soak in a salt-acid-sugar solution which may also contain herbs, spices and so on to advance the flavor profile. A brine differs from a generic marinade because of the salt. The salt and acid work together to create a more tender product, while the salt and sugar make it significantly moister.

Brining is a subject of some controversy when it comes to smoking large cuts of porks -- especially butts and picnics. Less so with ham, where it's more popular. When I cook butts I inject, but when I cook hams I brine. I find brining just works better with lean meats like ham, poultry and fish. If you're looking to create a specific and intense flavor profile you may want to consider injection; better though to let the ham speak for itself.

A typical salt/acid/sweet balance for a ham brine is 1 cup of (non iodized) table salt, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of distilled vinegar. While maintaining similar concentrations I'd modify that brine considerably with fruit, wine, aromatics and other pork-friendly ingredients. We can discuss a brine which will compliment your ham and the other parts of your meal if you decide to go that way.

A seasoning rub or glaze, very light in salt, should also be used. Depending on how your ham is butchered, you may be able to remove the skin and rub beneath it, then retie the skin to the ham. I find this method works well, although it requires some butchering skill.

As a final note, you'll want to cook your ham to somewhere in the 165 - 185 internal temperature area. Trichinosis is simply not an issue in the US anymore, so ham is safe at the same temperatures as any other meat. You can eat it rare if you like. That said -- almost no one likes rare pork, and you'll absolutely freak anyone who prefers well done pork -- which is bound to be everyone else in your family. Furthermore, pork undergoes a major texture change at right around 160, where it firms up. But it also loses considerable moisture as temperatures increase above 140 or so. That's where brining pays off -- you can cook to a firm, tender, and moist texture and not scare the MIL.

IMO, ham for slicking is best smoked to 170 or even just a touch above, then tightly wrapped in cling wrap or foil, and rested for at least an hour (preferably longer) in a properly prepped insulated cooler.

Hope this helps you with some ideas,
BDL
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post #6 of 14
A big question has been ignored.

Do you want to hot or cold smoke this ham?

The advice given above applies most to the hot smoked version. This will not be much like a commercial ham of either the wet or dry cured varieties.

So to me, the big question is what to you want your result to be like?

Wet cured ham?
A dry cured "Virginia" style ham?
A cured smoked pork roast (which is where the advice above is leading)

Phil
post #7 of 14
Good points Phil. Excellent.

Gone -- "Cold smoked" means smoking for as long as several days at temperatures below 100F. "Hot smoked" means smoking for up to 12 hours (about) at temperatures above 200F.

I assumed "hot smoked" because that's the kind of equipment I have and that's the way I do ... which was dumb.

So.... what is it?

Dum de dum dum,
BDL
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post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
I suppose I should have included this information in my original post.

So touché BDL ;)

Dum de dum dum dum

I have a 10lb shank portion. I have a horizontal smoker and plan to hot smoke. I've I am thinking hickory then cherry, but I'm open to suggestions.


I'm not familiar cooking any different pork other than from the butcher. I've eaten but never cooked a ham from a Berkshire pig before. I would like have a good taste of what the meat is like while still accentuating it's flavor and being able to distinguish the cut.

I'm thinking a wet cure. I'm open to any suggestion on the solution, rub or glaze. As well as a favorite side (that's a bit off the beaten path) that anyone may have.

I'll be cooking this at work...but we generally eat pretty good ;)

thanks a bunch all! (you too Shel!)

dan
post #9 of 14
Yo have what I call a fresh ham, uncured and uncooked. If you want ham brining and injecting with a cure is the way to go. If you want sliced smoked pork a shorter brine and injection with flavor boosters is really good. I have done both in the past and both are good. Injection flavors that go well with pork are apple juice (or a reduced apple syrup), garlic, other fruits etc. Just pick what sounds good to you.
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
how long do I brine for a ham ham?

thanks, dan
post #11 of 14
I haven't done one for a long time and back then I was dealing with 14-15 pound fresh hams. I seem to remember a week but I also injected cure into the ham so the bone didn't go sour. You will need to get some prague powder #1 for the cure, canning salt works for the rest of the salt component. Spices can be added to the brine and injection also. I would recommend using bottled water of your tap water has any funky taste/smell also. This book #71200 Great Sausage<br>Recipes and Meat Curing<br>by Rytek Kutas - 71200 is good for beginners and has a lot of the technical information you will need to properly cure and smoke a ham. The book also has smoking times/temps that will help.

What are you using for a smoker? That can make a difference in how you need to brine and cure.
post #12 of 14
Brining time depends on the size and density of the meat and the strength of the brine. Three days is a minimum; four or five days in a standard brine ought to do it right, while six or seven would be excessive. The downside of too much brining? "Too hammy." Really.

I agree pretty much with everything Mary said. Yes to the Prague powder, for instance. You don't have to worry about special salt as long as you use pure and not-iodized salt. The iodine will turn everything purple on long exposure. Speaking of color, the Prague powder will give you a professional, pink look. Otherwise the meat will be kind of gray brown. Even if it didn't make for a better product, it would be worth it.

If I understand Mary correctly she's talking about an actual brine and not a wet rub, which is what you indicated you favored. You can make a wet rub plus injecting work -- but less well. Brining is the best way to handle ham, because it's so lean.

When I brine a big piece of meat I use a fair bit of alcoholic beverage in the brine as an acid, as a preservative, and to "power" the diffusion process which carries some of the other flavors in your brine into the meat. For instance with a holiday ham, I'd most likely build the flavor profile around peach and ginger which would mean using peach schnapps and Vernor's ginger ale to build the brine -- along with other complimentary ingredients such as onion and star anise.

A ham offers you the chance to play off a lot of elements against one another -- the taste of the meat, the juices, the browned (and rubbed) surface, and the wonderful fat. You want to make them work together, holding on to their natural flavors, while enhancing them. It's worth the work.

You talked about wood choices -- I find that pecan and/or any and all fruit woods are the best choices for ham. I'd put strong woods like hickory, oak, walnut and mesquite, and very mild woods like alder as second tier choices.

BDL
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post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks MaryB and BDL!

dan
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

I finally received the prague powder #1 in the mail. I won't be curing the ham until after Thanksgiving, but I did have a question about the prague powder.


How much prague powder #1 do I add to the solution for a 10lb ham?

thanks!
dan
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