Home Cured Ham
This past fall I bought half a pig from my nephew, Taylor Henry at Sidie Hollow Farm. He pasture raises the hogs, so I was looking forward to several charcuterie projects with the meat. Bacon and pepperoni turned out great, guanciale made form the jowls is currently drying. So it was time to prepare a “Christmas Ham” for our family.
The raw leg was approximately 22 lbs. I was a bit hesitant and thoroughly researched what methods to use for the cure and smoking. I have been equalization technique for dry curing with great success. The major benefit being that you control at the start how much salt, cure, spices are added and then the timing is no longer critical and you can easily extend the cure time and get better, more consistent results and the meat will not end up too salty. This contrasts with the salt box (cover the meat with coarse salt) and concentrated brine methods where a few days too long curing results in a too salty end product. The leg was received frozen so this was the starting point for the brining.
Given that this is late fall / winter in Wisconsin and I was using the garage fridge, I needed to prevent things from freezing. I remembered having an old ~100w aquarium heater that was sitting unused. I also remembered that its instructions had warned about damage if plugging it in and not in water. So I took a quart milk jug filled it with water and placed it in the door. An Inkbird ITC 308 was used for temperature control. I set it for 38 degrees. The desired temp range is >32 and <40F. It worked well for this test. We will see if it is enough when it gets really cold (subzero temps coming soon) . Already it has extended my meat curing season substantially. I also use an Ecowitt WH31 temperature and humidity monitor coupled with an Ecowitt gateway GW1100 which is shared with other projects and set up for email alerts when the temperature is out of range.
The leg was BIG. It would not fit in any of the tubs we had so it ended up in a 6 gallon white plastic bucket that I normally use for brewing. Even so, the shank end had to be trimmed a few inches shorter. A hacksaw would work, but I used my new Makita cordless oscillating tool with a wide blade to do the cut. It worked great!
I decided to use a 2% salt cure as we do not like our meat overly salty and this is the level I have been using in my dry cured meats. So I had the starting weight of the meat, but did not know how much water would be needed. So I started measuring water and adding it to the bucket 4 cups at a time. The end of the bone was completely covered at 44 cups of water. This was a bit more than I would have guessed but at least now I had the starting values to work with to calculate the amount of salt, Cure #1 and sugars. A bit of conversion and everything was converted to metric units for ease of calculation and measuring. I created a spreadsheet to minimize the chance for error and to make the next one easier. Spreadsheet: cure & smoke ham
We then weighed out the salt, cure #1, white sugar, brown sugar and dumped it into the bucket with the still frozen ham. I then lugged it out to the garage, pulled some of the upper shelves out of the fridge and hoisted it in. I also ordered an all stainless meat injector as I did not want to risk a partially cured ham.
A week later, the meat was thawed and it was time to do the injection. I pulled the bucket from the fridge and dug out the ham placing it on a rimmed cutting board on the counter. I gave the bucket a good stir to make sure everything was dissolved, but it already seemed to be well mixed. Generally it is recommended to add 5-10% of the weight of the meat as injected brine. This would be about 1-2 pints. I then started injecting being sure to get down close to the bone in multiple places. The meat was then returned to the brine and back into the fridge for the next 2 weeks.
In preparation for smoking, the ham was drained and allowed to dry for a day in the bucket in the fridge. A rack over a sheet pan would have been better for airflow. The grill was set up for smoking, with indirect heat and a mix of lump charcoal and wood pellets (cherry, apple, hickory). The Heatermeter was connected and set for 225F.
The ham was allowed to warm up in the house for an hour (could have been longer), dried off the rest of the way and placed on the grill. 3 temperature probes were inserted to track what was going on.
The ham was pulled from the grill after 9 hours with outer temps ranging from 140-165 and only 115 next to the bone. So it was smoked, but not fully cooked. Next time probably lower (maybe 205) and slower (overnight) would be better. I had hoped for the ham to be fully cooked at this point. The ham went back in the fridge to hold until our Christmas dinner.
The ham was steamed in the oven over some gluten free beer for several hours until the temp by the bone hit 142F. At this point everything was cooked and ready to serve. Everyone was really happy with the ham. Great flavor and texture. I will be sure to do this again.
The juices / broth from steaming were used as the start of the stock with the bones for a big batch of pea soup. Delicious!
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