Unsure how long to smoke a raw ham? Luckily for you, I’ve broken down each step in the process to show you how much time is needed, and where you need to focus your attention.
Smoked ham boasts a delicious flavor and texture that’s not topped by any other cuts of meat. And while smoking ham is often thought of as a seasonal craft best done towards the end of the year, I’m really of the opinion that there’s any excuse for doing it year round. It’s easy, it’s delicious… so what’s stopping us?
Smoking ham can be broken down into three easy steps: Curing, to help keep the meat beautifully juicy and give it its distinct pink color; Glazing, to keep the outside moist and packed full of flavor; and Smoking, to cook the meat while infusing it with flavor. In total the smoking takes about 5 hours, however there are several key steps before then.
Smokers make for a great accompaniment to a bbq grill, so if you don’t already own one then I urge you to take a look at my smokers buyers guide. You won’t regret the investment.
Of all the ways of cooking meat, I much prefer to cook it in a smoker. Understandably, time can put considerable constraints on this, so is not something we can do every day, however if you compare a smoked ham with an oven cooked ham there’s just simply no competition.
There is a bit of craft to smoking meat, so be sure to take things easy if this is your first time. Different cuts require different smoking approaches, so definitely be careful with the amount of wood and charcoal you use. Too much of either can completely overpower the flavor of the meat. It’s definitely a case of too little is better than too much.
Here are my 8 easy steps showing you how to smoke a ham.
#1. Choosing the best ham for smoking
Let’s start things off by choosing our meat cut. The majority of ham cuts come from the rear leg or thigh portion of the pig, and when supermarket bought tend to be either smoked, cured or both.
You can of course choose an already cured ham, in which case you can ignore our next step and go straight to basting.
What also really shouldn’t be overlooked is the size of the ham. Half hams always work best for smoking. One reason is that it’s slightly more modest size makes smoking it more manageable, and the other is that it actually has more surface area to cook.
If you’re feeding a large group then by all means get a whole ham, but ask your butcher to slice it in half. When smoking, the best arrangement is placing the shank half on your smoker’s top rack, and the butt half beneath it on the bottom shelf.
Try to avoid any of the following:
Low-sodium: Ham is best enjoyed salty, and in reality a lot of salt naturally secretes from the meat during the basting and smoking processes, so low-sodium versions just tend to be really flavorless and have far too little salt.
Smoked Ham: This might seem an obvious thing to avoid, but worth pointing out nonetheless. These are often pre-slow smoked or even injected with a smoke-flavored liquid.
#2. How to cure the ham
Curing is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but in my experience it tends to be a word that relatively few people actually know the meaning of. For a lot of meats, it’s the process of preservation. However in the case of ham, curing is less about preservation and more about keeping the meat moist. It also helps give the meat its unique pink color.
Curing is actually not always completely necessary, so don’t worry if you don’t have the time or resources to do it. However to keep the meat flavor to its absolute best I strongly recommend it.
We’re going to start by creating our curing brine.
Instead of dry curing ham with salt or sodium nitrite, we’re doing to wet cure our meat with a brine. This process can actually take about a week, so be prepared to play the long game here. However, I promise you - the results are worth it.
With a brine, the liquid seeps into the meat and keeps it moist while its salt and sodium nitrite content cures the meat. This not only turns the meat a beautiful pink but also kills harmful bacteria.
#3. Create the curing brine
In a large saucepan, bring a gallon of water to the boil and mix in the following ingredients:
- 1 ½ cups salt
- 2 cups brown sugar
- ½ cup pickling spice
- 8 tsp pink salt
Once brought to the boil, allow it to cool completely. Now we have our bine.
#4. Brine the meat
In terms of size, obviously a freezer bag isn’t going to cut it for our large ham half, so we specifically need a brining bag (you can get them here on Amazon).
Put your meat in the brining bag and transfer in the curing brine (make sure it’s completely cool). Also had between half and a full gallon of cold water. This will help dilute the brine while also ensuring the mix covers the ham.
Mix all of the contents of the bag with a long-handled spoon to help make sure that the brining ingredients don’t all gather at one end of the pack.
Place the brining bag with its contents in your refrigerator. Brining time will depend heavily on the quantity of meat in one cut, but a useful guide is one day for every two pounds of ham.
Once or twice during the brining process, using a marinade injector to inject some brining liquid into the meat. Do this in several spots across the ham. This will help ensure that the brine, and particularly its salts, get deep into the meat, making it as consistently delicious as possible.
#5. Prepare for cooking
Once your ham has been curing for the appropriate amount of time, remove it from the fridge and brining bag. Rinse the meat under cold water to wash off any crystalized or residual salt on its surface.
Place the ham on a cooking grate to drain. Leave for 24 hours. I recommend using a food fly cover to help protect the meat while it’s draining.
Once drained, wipe off any excess brine or liquid from the meat with a paper towel. Put the ham back in the refrigerator until needed.
#6. Choose your wood
While meat curing, brining and basting all contribute significantly to the end results of smoked ham, the wood chips you use also play a crucial factor in the meat’s overall tastes.
See, these chips are what gives your meat its smoky flavor, and luckily wood chips come in a whole variety of different types for you to choose from, giving brilliant flexibility when it comes to your ham’s final flavor profile.
Many BBQ and smoking enthusiasts have their own ‘go-to’ wood chip flavors, and certain woods match perfectly with specific types of meat.
There are choices like apple, oak, and peach. However what I recommend for smoked ham is pecan.
Pecan wood provides a subtle nutty flavor that manages to give off a beautiful aroma without overpowering the star of the show: The ham.
Furthermore, it not only matches brilliantly with ham but also many other forms of pork, as well as poultry.
#7. Prepare your glaze
All smoked hams are greatly enhanced with a delicious glaze. A good glaze adds a lovely touch of extra flavor to the outside shell of the meat while also absorbing some of the smoke.
I recommend a sugar-based glaze as it will cut through the salt of the meat and brine perfectly.
Heat up a saucepan on medium heat, and mix in:
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup honey
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup whole grain mustard
Stir continuously while the butter melts and the other ingredients dissolve. Usually 3-4 minutes. Combine properly and remove from heat.
#8. Smoking your ham
We’re going to start off slow, so heat up your smoker to around 250°F/120°C. Place the meat in the smoker with the fat side up. Close the lid and leave to cook for two hours.
On two hours, crank up the heat to 325°F/160°C and continue to cook for another 1 or 2 hours.
Check the ham’s internal temperature regularly with a meat thermometer. At no point do we want to go over an internal temperature of 165°F/75°C.
Once into the final hour of cooking, apply the glaze to the ham. Spread the glaze on generously and repeat every 15 minutes, giving you four layers of glaze in total.
Be careful not to go over one hour for the glaze because it’ll then be prone to burning.
Once the ham’s internal temperature hits 165°F/75°C, remove it from the smoker.
Serve immediately and enjoy!