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How to Smoke a Ham

How to Smoke a Ham

Believe it or not, ham is one of the best meats to smoke. Not only is it irresistibly delicious when prepared correctly, but ham is also easy to smoke.

Although most people are used to baked hams, they simply cannot compare to the flavor of a low and slow-smoked ham.

What Is Ham?

Ham, commonly referred to as fresh ham, is the back leg of a hog. 

Specifically, hams are fabricated from the top of the rear leg, from the knee to the hip, including the robust meaty posterior muscles.

Ham can be roasted, bone-in, or out, similar to other cuts of meat.

However, ham can also be pre-cured and has several different cooking methods.

The specific type of hog used, as well as the cooking and curing process, determines the end result of your ham.

Types of Ham

The ham arena can be confusing at times, but knowing the different types of hams will make the smoking process that much easier.

There are four different types of hams: fresh or green hams, dry-cured hams, injected hams, and wet-cured hams.

Nevertheless, when you purchase a ham, it is usually marketed under a different name.

For example, you may see gams labeled as Iberico ham, spiral cut ham, prosciutto, boiled ham, Virginia ham, picnic ham, canned ham, smoked ham, or Smithfield ham.

The most common hams are usually wet-wet cured hams. These hams are injected with brine and pre-cooked before you purchase them.

The brine usually features spices, sugar, salt, and a few other ingredients, while the cooking process is almost always smoking.

Initially, this concept was created to preserve large pieces of meat such as hog butt before the rise of the refrigerator.

Wet-cured hams have a pinkish-purple color and are usually coated with a baked-on sweet glaze.

In addition to this, wet-cured hams are typically run through a machine that gives them their signature spiral cut while it is being turned through the device.

Spiral cut hams are easier to carve, and you can eat cold as it is out of the bag.

They usually come packaged in plastic shrink wrap, and the word cooked is featured on the label.

Theoretically, since wet hams come pre-cooked, if you want to eat it hot, all you have to do is warm it through.

Simply stay away from high heat and do not cook the ham for too long. Once it reaches a temperature of 140°F, it is safe to consume.

On the other hand, some individuals suggest that fresh ham is the best ham to smoke.

According to these folks, the ideal ham is uncured, boneless, and sliced in half.

Although cured hams can easily be found in the grocery store, locating a fresh ham can be difficult. However, you can purchase a fresh ham from your local butcher.

Smoking a fresh ham takes approximately 5 hours at a temperature of 250°F. Once the ham has a temperature of 165°F, it has finished cooking.

It is also worth noting a fresh ham still has to be cured glazed before smoking it.

Whether you choose a fresh or a frozen ham, do not choose a low sodium ham or pre-smoked ham. Ham is known for its signature salty flavor.

In addition to this, a large portion of salt is organically discharged from the ham while it is basted with the glaze.

Low-sodium hams do not contain enough salt and are relatively flavorless. Unless you want an unpleasant, bland smoked ham, stay away from low-sodium hams.

Even though it is evident that a pre-smoked ham is the last ham you would want to smoke, it still needs to be discussed.

Pre-cooked hams are usually smoked or injected with a liquid that has a smoky flavor. Smoking a pre-smoked ham would leave you with a double-smoked ham that may not taste pleasant.

Ultimately, the ideal ham is one that’s been properly trimmed of its fat. Hams should not have a thick fat cap.

No one likes the layer of fat, and it does not serve a purpose when it comes to adding moisture or flavor to the ham.

Furthermore, the glaze should coat the meat, the part of the ham that will be consumed instead of the fat that will be tossed aside.

Whole or Half Ham

Whether to purchase a whole or half ham depends on how many people you intend to serve and how many estimated portions your guests will consume.

A whole ham includes the butt and the shank and weighs 18-20 pounds. On the other hand, a half ham is a butt or the shank.

It is best to estimate, each guest will eat three-quarters of a bone-in ham. To make things a little easier, if it is 10 or fewer people, a 7-8 pound half ham is ideal.

In contrast, if you are serving 15 people, an 11-12 pound ham is best.

Hot Tip
If you are hosting a large gathering and are feeding more than 20 people, a 15 pound or larger whole ham is the way to go.

Natural Juices or Water Added

Most ham labels will indicate that water was added during the wet curing process.

Though it is common to assume the more water, the more moisture, that is not the case with ham.

Unfortunately, the more water added to the ham, the more flavor and texture it loses.

If water is added or with water product added, ham is the only ham available; look for a ham which 18.5%-17% protein.

The protein percentage can be found in the nutritional information.

Spiral or Non-spiral Ham

Purchasing a spiral or non-spiral ham depends on how convenient you want the smoking process to be. To be honest, both types of ham are excellent options.

However, spiral hams smoke faster than uncut hams. In addition to this, you do not have to slice them, and the more smokey flavor is infused between the slices of meat.

In contrast, an uncut ham gives you the ability to score the exterior of the meat with a beautiful diamond pattern that makes the ham aesthetically pleasing.

You can also carve the ham into larger pieces, and it is less likely to dry out during the smoking process.

Butt or Shank

With debates such as sirloin vs. ribeye and pork shoulder vs. pork butt, it is no surprise that there is a debate on whether hog butt or shank reigns supreme.

The butt is cut from the upper portion of the leg, which means it is tender and more flavorful than its counterpart.

However, this cut features a part of the hip bone, which makes it harder to slice.

The shank is the lower part of the leg which gives it its signature funnel shape. The shank is a little bit tougher than the shank.

However, it still has a delicious flavor, and it is much easier to carve.

How to Smoke Ham Without Drying It Out?

The key to a moist ham is basting it during the cooking process. Baste the ham with your choice of liquid every 30-45 minutes.

In addition to this, if your ham looks like it’s drying out too much, you can cover the ham with foil after the first hour has passed.

How to Reheat a Smoked Ham?

Reheating a smoked ham is relatively easy. Wrap the ham tightly with foil and heat it in a 325°F oven until the ham has a temperature between 135°F and 140°F.

Alternatively, you can also place your ham in an oven bag and reheat it in the oven.

To reheat your ham, you should estimate 10 minutes for every pound.

Do I Have to Cure My Ham Before Smoking It?

While curing ham is not mandatory, it does help you retain the meats juices and the signature pink color of the ham. It’s best to think about curing ham this way if you want a moist, juicy ham actually that looks like ham, cure your meat.

What Do I Spray on Ham When Smoking?

Most people opt to spray their hm with apple cider vinegar, melted butter, stock, or apple juice. However, pineapple juice pairs particularly well with the salty flavor of the ham.

As long as you use a food-grade spray bottle, any of these liquids will work excellently as a basting liquid.

Wood Chips

Whether you smoke ribs 3-2-1 style or brisket, everyone knows how important wood chips are to the smoking process.

Even though curing, brining, and basting the ham with a glaze are integral parts of the smoking process, if you smoke your meat with the wrong kind of wood, it will have a strange flavor.

Different types of wood chips carry different flavors. Most BBQ experts have developed their own secret blend of wood chips to complement the type of meat they are smoking.

Some prefer hickory, while others prefer cherry wood.

Nevertheless, pecan wood is a great way to impart flavor into ham. Pecan wood has a delicate nutty flavor that does not overwhelm the flavor of the ham.

How to Smoke a Ham

After purchasing your ham, you will need to thaw it, then gather your materials.

You will need a smoker, aluminum foil, your preferred wood chips, a bottle of honey mustard, 1 pound of brown sugar, and 1 1/2-2 cups of pineapple juice.

Alternatively, if you do not have a smoker, you can set up hot and indirect heating zones on your grill and smoke the ham on the cooler portion of the grill.

Next, pre-heat your smoker. Fill your smoker with coals making sure to add your preferred wood chips to the smoker.

Once you have all of your cooking tools and ingredients, start your smoker and allow it to come to a temperature of 225°F.

During the pre-heating stage, remove the ham from its packaging and remove its excess moisture with paper towels.

Smear the outside of the ham with the dijon mustard, then lightly coat it with the brown sugar to create a paste on the hand.

Keep in mind; the ham will receive a heavier coating of brown sugar further into the cooking process, so do not overdo it.

Once the smoker has completed the pre-heating stage, add the ham to the smoker.

After two hours have passed, remove it from the smoker and place it on a sheet of aluminum foil.

Baste the ham with the pineapple juice, wrap it up with aluminum foil, return it to the smoker, and cook it for an hour.

After the hour has passed, take a temperature reading of your ham. The ham should have an internal temperature between 140°F-145°F.

To glaze the ham, unwrap the top of the foil, but do not remove the foil from the ham.

Curve the foil to create a makeshift boat so that the ham’s juices do not escape. Give the ham a heavy coating of brown sugar, then baste it thoroughly with pineapple juice.

It might be best to pour the pineapple juice into a spray bottle for this step.

The pineapple juice allows the brown sugar to dissolve, and the smoker’s heat creates a stunning, tasty glaze that pairs perfectly with the salty, smoky flavor of the glaze.

Smoke your ham for another hour, check the temperature to make sure it is at 145°F or higher.

Even though 145°F is the ideal temperature, even if you are using a cured or pre-cooked ham, the meat should not be overcooked if it has a higher temperature.

Remove the ham from the smoker, loosely cover it with foil to keep the meat from sweating, and let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

To carve your ham, use a quality meat carving knife or an electric fillet knife.

Final Thoughts

From Easter to Thanksgiving to Christmas or anytime you are in the mood for ham, smoked ham is unlike any ham you have ever tasted. With a little bit of curing, basting, and glazing in 4 hours, you will end up with a show-stopping main dish that yields a round of applause.