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home-smoking a fresh ham: what're the secrets?

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Husband and I have been experimenting with smoking different foods in our Weber kettle grill... so far, we've had great success with turkey, chicken, beef ribs. We've also used apple, hickory and mesquite woods and loved the results.

We wanted to make a home-smoked ham for New Year's and I found what seemed like a good recipe on another forum (one specific to BBQ & smoking enthusiasts). While the end result was certainly tasty, it looked/tasted nothing like smoked HAM, it tasted like smoked PORK and was pale in color instead of a nice reddish-pink meat. The recipe I followed didn't call for brining the meat, the fresh ham was supposed to be scored and sit in smoke for 25-30mins in a low&slow 225-250º heat. The glaze was then supposed to be put on it for the last hour of cooking.

Has anyone here smoked a fresh ham at home successfully? (as in the end result tastes & looks like HAM) Any ideas where we went wrong? I want to try it again soon, since I'm still jonesing for the traditional "leftover-ham soup" I always make... With the leftover smoked pork I decided to make an Americanized version of PuertoRican Sancocho.

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  1. First, fresh ham just means the rear leg of the pig. So if you prepare it as you would a front leg (Boston butt), the result will be similar, i.e. BBQ pork. If you want ham, you need to follow a ham preparation. Most modern ones are produced by injecting a brine, but the traditional method involves a dry salt rub (for days) followed by a long drying and smoking, usually in a smoke house for months (e.g. 6 months). The salting and drying is more important than the smoke. In fact some versions are not smoked.

    1. Yeah, if you don't brine or dry cure the meat before smoking, it's just smoked pork, not that there's anything wrong with that. And your recipe seems to call for smoking and cooking at the same time. 30 minutes is a really short smoke for a big cut of meat like a ham, and 225-250 is on the hot side if you leave it longer in the smoker. That recipe had too many short cuts. Cure, then smoke, then cook.

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      1. re: Zeldog

        ooops, that should've read "25-30mins per pound"... sorry, I was a bit distracted when I was posting. It was a 20lb leg, so we were smoking/cooking it most of the day.

        So, I guess I need to find a dry cure recipe somewhere, and in the meantime make do with a "city ham". Darnit!

      2. Here are directions from a Virginia Extension service for a dry cure Virginia style ham - there are stages of curing, cure equalization (which may include smoking) and aging (up to 6 mths):

        http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/foods/458-...

        1. There are lots of fresh ham legs in the markets now, and I got one today for daily dry rubbing in my coldest basement room, and smoking in April. I follow U. of Missouri Agriculture extension guidelines, but the Virginia link above is just as good. Saltpetre is available at Rexall pharmacies, and coarse salt is in most grocery stores. That's almost all you need, other than sugar and maybe pepper or paprika. So, it is fairly easy to do if you have the time and temperature. The ham will be dry and dense, and the best parts of it like prosciutto. Some of the exterior parts can be too dry and salty, but the interior makes up for it.