Smoking meat, whether it be beef, ham, or chicken, is an often underutilized method of meat preparation.
Maybe it’s the lack of the necessary tools like a fancy smoker that turns people away. Or maybe it’s the fear of trying something new. It could just be the perceived inconvenience of smoking compared to baking or barbequing. Whatever the reason might be, I think that smoking meat, particularly ham is something that should be done more often.
Smoking cured ham adds an extra level of flavor that you just can’t find anywhere else. No matter what the internet or your best friend says about swearing about how liquid smoke or some glaze recipe can make the same flavor, I just don’t buy it.
The deep flavors combined with the extra soft meat surrounded by salty and crispy edges just can’t be matched by anything else that claims to be “just like the real thing”.
Today I’ll take you through the ins and outs of how to smoke a cured ham so you too can enjoy the smoky, tender, and caramelized goodness of a smoked cured ham.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Cured Ham?
The main factor that influences how long it takes to smoke a cured ham is its weight. You’ll need to set your smoking time on a per-pound basis.
In a hurry and only interested in how long it takes to smoke a cured ham, never mind the seasoning or resting? Here’s a quick table of smoking time by weight:
|Weight of Cured Ham
|Smoking Time at 250°F
Of course, smoking time isn’t the only consideration when planning to serve a smoked ham.
Here’s a worked example, including time to prep and rest the meat. As it’s the most commonly bought size, let’s assume you’re smoking an 8 pound ham.
Is your cured ham sold ready-seasoned? You can skip straight to smoking if so. If not, you should take some time to prep the ham with seasoning.
So that the flavor properly permeates the ham, you’ll need to allow between 4 and 14 hours for the ham to sit in the fridge. Before smoking you’ll need to allow 30 minutes to take the ham out and let it come up to room temperature.
You should allow 20 minutes per pound when smoking cured ham. Using our example of an 8 pound ham, the total smoking time is 160 minutes.
Once it’s finished smoking, allow the ham to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Total Time to Smoke a Cured 8 Pound Ham
No prepping required (for pre-seasoned ham): 175 minutes
If seasoning is required: 415 minutes (≈ 7 hours) – 1015 minutes (≈ 17 hours)
Do you Actually Need to Smoke Cured Ham?
It’s all well and good setting out the time it takes to smoke a cured ham, but is it actually necessary?
The truth is, it depends.
Sometimes, cured hams are sold as ‘ready to eat’. In this case, you can eat them without any additional smoking or cooking, though you may want to warm it up first.
Whether you need to smoke, or cook in any other way, a cured ham depends on whether it has been pre-cooked. If it isn’t you must cook or smoke it to prevent foodborne illness.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Raw Ham?
If you’re smoking a fresh, raw (also known as ‘green’) ham, you’ll need to allow extra time. This accounts for the preparation, curing, and resting of the ham.
To start, you need to cure the ham. It’s recommended that you allow one day of brining for every two pounds of meat.
After that, allow for 3 hours of draining before you glaze the ham.
You’ll then smoke the raw ham for 20 minutes per pound of meat at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s assume an 8 pound ham again – that means you should allow 160 minutes for smoking.
After smoking the ham, you’ll need to let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
What’s the Difference Between Uncured and Cured Ham?
I’ve used the phrase ‘curing’ a few times now. But what does it actually mean?
Basically, curing refers to various methods of food preservation that aim to draw moisture out of the food using the process of osmosis.
Most of the meat that you will buy from the grocery store is cured unless it’s labeled otherwise.
When it comes to cured ham specifically, it means that the ham has been injected with a mixture of chemicals. This could include sodium nitrate, sodium erythorbate, sodium phosphate and potassium chloride. It may also include some flavor enhancers like salt, brown sugar, and other flavors.
This is known as wet curing but curing also can be ‘dry’.
In the dry-curing process, the ham is rubbed with salt and other ingredients that draw out the moisture.
Uncured ham, also labeled as “fresh ham” comes from the same cut as cured ham, the leg cut. However, it’s not injected with any of the chemicals or flavors that are added to cured ham.
Sometimes uncured ham may still be covered in a nitrate-free mixture like celery powder. Make sure to read the packaging before you buy it so you know what to expect.
How to Smoke the Perfect Ham
What You Will Need
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge into smoking a ham.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what you need to smoke the perfect ham.
- Charcoal: Keep some extra nearby in case you need to regulate the temperature.
- Your choice of ham
- Rub ingredients
- Spray bottle
- Aluminum foil
- Meat thermometer
- Wood chunks/smoking pellets
- Brining bag (if you’re curing the ham yourself)
- Food rack to allow for draining
- Injector & injector ingredients (optional)
There are many options you can pick. You can generally choose from either country ham (dry-cured, uncooked), city ham (brined, fully cooked), or fresh ham.
City ham is usually the easiest to find. You’ll typically have to go to a butcher to get a fresh ham. There are also boneless, semi-boneless, or bone-in varieties to choose from.
Lastly, you can choose from the butt end (top half of the ham) or the shank end (leg portion). The more tender and fattier meat is found at the butt end. However, you’ll need to carve around a big t-shaped bone at that end.
Choosing The Perfect Ham
As I said before, there are three styles of ham (city ham, country ham, and fresh ham) that are all unique.
If you don’t want to deal with the extra process of curing the ham yourself then you should choose either a city ham or a country ham.
On the other hand, if you want more control of what goes into your ham then a fresh ham is the choice for you.
Country ham is a happy medium between fresh ham and the city ham. It’s dry-cured and uncooked but usually very salty.
Generally, the most accessible style of ham is city ham that is already cured in brine and cooked. These require the least amount of work as well.
If you do go for a city ham, I recommend choosing a cheaper ham. This is because it tends to better absorb the smoky flavors compared to an expensive ham.
Which Cut Should You Pick?
As well as the style of ham you choose, it’s important to consider the best cut before buying as well.
The shank end cut has a single bone in the middle of the ham and is a great choice that is much easier to cut. The butt end is fattier and more tender. However, the awkwardly shaped bone in the middle can make the cutting process a massive pain in the butt (pun intended).
There are also boneless hams, but while they are the easiest to cut, you don’t get as much flavor as bone-in hams.
My recommendation if you can find it is to get a semi-boneless ham with the shank bone removed and the leg bone inside.
Choosing Fuel for Smoking
There is a wide variety of woods that you can use, each of which imparts a unique flavor.
I prefer either hickory or applewood personally. But, if you’re not sure which to choose, you can check out this handy little guide to get the flavor you want.
Each region can have more or less of certain types of wood available. So, a particular type may be more difficult to find than others depending on where you live.
You can also choose between wood chunks or wood chips. Wood chips burn faster than wood chunks. This means that you’ll need to add more chips throughout the process to ensure you have enough fuel.
I’d recommend wood chunks for smoking ham in most cases.
How to Cure Ham Before Smoking
If you’re curing your own ham, then you can cure it using either the country or city ham method.
The city ham method is the most commonly used. It’s the easiest method that doesn’t require extended curing times and methods like hang drying.
The exact method of curing will depend on the recipe that you choose, as there are quite a few to choose from these days.
That said, here are the general steps and best practices you should follow no matter the ingredients that you use for your brine:
- Take a sharp knife and cut a diamond pattern in the fat and skin of the ham. Avoid cutting deeper than ¼ inch and into the meat itself.
- Put the ham into the brining bag.
- Add the curing mixture you made from your recipe of choice to the bag with the ham. Make sure that the ham is covered by 1 inch.
- Seal the brining bag and refrigerate. Remember, how long you refrigerate it depends on its size, 1 day for every 2 pounds the ham weighs.
- Remove the ham from the bag after enough time has gone by. Place the ham on a slotted food rack that allows for the residual liquids to drain for 3 hours.
- (Optional): Inject the ingredients into the ham if you want to add extra flavor inside of it.
- (Optional): To reduce the saltiness you can then let it sit in clean water for an additional day.
Smoking the Cured Ham
Once you’ve picked out your ham and cured it, you’ve gone through the hardest parts and are on the home stretch!
Now you just need to prepare the smoker and glaze it and then get ‘er done!
This is how ya do it.
- Prepare the smoker: In the smoker, light a few chunks of charcoal and the chunks of wood (or the wood chips if you prefer). Close it, allowing the smoker to reach 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take the ham out of the fridge 30 minutes before putting it into the smoker to slightly warm up.
- Place the ham in the smoker flat-side down once the smoker reaches the right temperature.
- Smoke for the allotted time (18-20 minutes per pound) until the center reaches the desired temperature (around 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit).
Glazing Your Ham
- Prepare the glaze (using your desired recipe) while the ham is smoking.
- Remove the ham from the smoker and liberally brush the glaze all over the ham.
Resting and Serving
There are differing opinions on how long to rest the cooked ham, but around 15 minutes is a good amount of time.
How do you rest a smoked ham? Simply remove the ham from the smoker and place it in a large pan and cover with aluminum foil. Then let it sit for around 15 minutes.
Finally, cut the ham how you would like it and serve it with the juices from the pan.