Smoked fresh ham is one of the best meats for cooking low and slow. This holiday ham recipe shows you exactly how to replicate the perfect cut of BBQ pork.
Smoked ham boasts a delicious flavor and texture that can’t be beaten by many other cuts of meat. While the meat is often regarded as a holiday recipe, I strongly believe that it can be done year-round.
It’s easy, it’s delicious… so what’s stopping us?
Fresh ham takes about 5 hours to smoke at 250°F (120°C), or until its internal temperature reaches 165°F (75°C). Smoking ham can be broken down into three easy steps: Curing, glazing, and smoking. Each stage helps infuse the pork with rich flavor and moisture.
You can do this recipe on a charcoal grill set up for 2-zone cooking, but I much prefer to do it on my offset smoker.
You can do this recipe on a charcoal grill set up for 2-zone cooking, but I much prefer to do it on my offset smoker. It’s the best way to low and slow cook meat, and easily surpasses oven cooked versions.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to twice smoked ham.
Smoking pork demands a learning curve and craft, so be sure to take things easy if this is your first time. Different cuts of meat need different approaches, so be careful with the amount of wood and charcoal you use from the start.
Too much of either can completely overpower the flavor of your pork. Remember that too little is better than too much.
Here are my 8 easy steps showing you how to smoke a ham.
How to Choose the Best Ham for Smoking
The best ham for smoking comes from the leg of the pig, and should be bought boneless, uncured, and cut in half.
The majority of ham cuts come from the rear leg or thigh portion of the pig, and when they’re bought in a supermarket they tend to be either smoked or cured.
Try to buy directly from a butcher. This will give you the best chance of getting hold of a raw cut of ham, which is best for this recipe. If you can’t do this, buying a cured whole or half ham is fine.
Pay close attention to the size of the ham. Half hams always work best for smoking. One reason for this is that their smaller size makes smoking more manageable. It also has more exposed 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. Alternatively you can do it yourself with the use of a good home meat slicer.
Try to avoid any of the following when choosing your ham:
- Low-sodium: Ham is best enjoyed salty. A lot of salt naturally secretes from pork while basting or smoking. Low-sodium varieties of ham tend to be flavorless and have far too little salt.
- Pre-smoked: 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. Smoking a pre-smoked ham essentially double-smokes it, leaving you with unpleasant results.
How to Cure Raw 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.
In most cases curing refers to dry curing, which is a way of drying meat so that it lasts longer. However, in the case of smoking we want to wet cure it. While this doesn’t dry the meat out, it helps stop warmer temperatures from encouraging bacteria to grow on the meat. Obviously in the case of smoking, this is exactly what we want. Plus, it also helps give pork 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 start curing by creating a 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.
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 brine.
How to Brine a Fresh Ham for Smoking
Brining meat requires wrapping the ham in a bag, however obviously a freezer bag isn’t going to be big enough 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 add the curing brine (make sure it’s completely cool). Also add 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.
While the ham rests in your refrigerator, on one or two occasions use 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.
Check out my full guide how to inject meat for smoking
Prepare for Cooking
Once your ham has finished curing, remove it from the fridge. Carefully remove it from the brining bag. Rinse the meat under cold water to wash off any crystallized or residual salt on its surface.
Place the ham on a cooking grate to drain for a few 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 you are ready to cook it.
Choose Pecan Wood Chips
If you’ve done any kind of barbecue smoking before then you’ll know how important it is to get your wood selection right.
Curing, brining, and basting all contribute significantly, but if you get your wood selection wrong then your meat will just taste… weird.
Different wood chips have different flavors and aromas, which give you a fantastic amount of flexibility when it comes to your ham’s final flavor profile.
Many BBQ and smoking enthusiasts have their own favorite wood chips, 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. It’s this quality that makes it one of the best woods for smoking ham.
Prepare a Sugar & Honey 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. While this recipe honey, I recommend our maple glazed ham recipe if you prefer something different.
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.
Smoke Your Ham
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.
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!
How long does it take to smoke raw ham?
Smoking a fresh ham takes 30 minutes per pound of meat. This is not including the time needed to brine or cure it. This might not sound like much, but most cuts of half ham weigh around 10 lbs, while whole hams can be up to 20 lbs in weight. This means that average smoking times can take anywhere between 5 and 10 hours.
Can you smoke a ham that is already fully cooked?
You can smoke a whole pre-cooked ham, but for a shorter time than for a raw ham. The aim will be to bring it to temperature, but you will need to be careful not to dry it out and ruin the flavors in the meat.
What is the recommended internal temperature for smoked ham?
The best internal temperature for smoked ham is 160-170°F (70-75°C). You can remove the meat from the smoker when it is slightly below this range because the ham will continue to cook for a few minutes after it is removed from the cooker.
Should I brine ham before smoking it?
You should brine ham to help prevent it from losing moisture as it cooks. It will make the meat juicy and will improve flavor. You can buy some hams pre-brined, and some experienced smokers prefer not to brine meat.
Should I use aluminum foil to smoke a ham?
Wrapping meat for the final hour of smoking helps to retain moisture and improve flavor. It shields the meat from direct exposure to the smoke and high temperatures in your smoker, which can help prevent it turning dry as it cooks.