Everyone loves tender, juicy ham. And like lamb, this meat is a popular choice during springtime get-togethers (especially Easter). But, this delicious cut isn’t relegated to just being cooked in the oven. Smoking ham is a great way to add an extra layer of distinct flavor while still getting moist and juicy meat.
Whether you’re preparing a family dinner or smoking a ham for the holidays, proper preparation and cooking techniques are essential to ensure a delicious final result.
In this article, we’ve broken down exactly what ham is and put together some pro tips on smoking ham to help you achieve perfect results every time.
"Ham," generally speaking, is a cut of pork taken from a pig's lower hind leg or thigh that is preserved by either wet-curing with a nitrate mixture or dry-curing with salt and other spices.
It is a common misconception that a ham and a pork butt are the same cut of meat, but they are taken from two very different parts of the pig. The pork butt is actually cut from the upper shoulder of the pig.
It is critical to your final result to start with a good cut. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to this:
Source: Gourmet Food Store
Remove any packaging and/or string from the ham and rinse it off before patting it dry with a paper towel. Remove any excess fat around the outside, leaving just a thin layer for flavor. This will help the meat cook more evenly. Score the remaining fat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife, which will allow the smoke to penetrate the meat more easily. This will also help the fat render better during smoking.
Bonus tip: If your ham came with the skin on it still, make sure to remove the skin before curing. Keeping the skin on will prevent the ham from absorbing the delicious smoke flavor.
Once you have trimmed your ham, the next step is to start the curing process. Curing the ham with salt will help it hold that delicious smoky flavor while also increasing its shelf-life. You can either dust the outside of the ham with salt and other spices before smoking, or for a more intense flavoring, leave your ham to marinate in a salt-based brine solution for a few hours (or overnight).
You can also inject the ham with a mixture of spices and liquid for added flavor.
Another type of ham that is available to buy is what is called “country ham”. This ham has already been cured with a salt-based dry rub, hung to dry, and aged for at least 6 months. Then it’s sold ready to cook. So, if you really don’t want to worry about brining or curing the ham yourself, this is another option that you could try. Though these are usually much more salty tasting and often have a drier texture.
Whether you are using chips, chunks, or pellets, wood smoke adds a delicious layer of flavor unlike anything else. But, when smoking ham, it is very important to use the right type of wood. You don’t want to use a wood that is going to overpower or clash with the natural flavor of the meat. Hickory, Applewood, Cherry, or Pecan are your best choices for a delicious flavor with smoked ham (and any other type of pork cut).
When smoking ham, it's important to maintain a consistent temperature. Keep your smoker between 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. This cooking temperature allows the fat to properly render and drip off of the meat without cooking the meat too fast. Smoke the ham until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (See more on this below.)
If you are dry-brining the ham and putting a rub on it, it’s important to do what you can to ensure it doesn’t dry out too much while it is smoking. One way to do this is to use a spritz occasionally throughout the smoking session. Similarly to spritzing brisket, you can use an apple cider vinegar spritz and occasionally spray the ham while it’s cooking to help add moisture and a touch of sweetness.
For many people, one of their favorite parts of eating ham is the sweet glaze that coats the outside. If you do decide to use a glaze, make sure that you wait to brush it on the exterior until shortly before it is done. (Roughly within the last 5 minutes of cooking.)
In many cases, the glaze contains ingredients that are sugar-based (ie. brown sugar, maple syrup, bourbon), and putting it on too early will cause the sugar to burn which will then char the outside of your ham and ruin the flavor.
Bonus tip: If you do use bourbon as an ingredient for your glaze, opt for a higher-quality bourbon that goes well with barbecue versus a cheap “well” bourbon. Doing so will give your ham a much better flavor.
After smoking the ham, it's important to let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in more flavorful and tender meat. When carving the ham, slice it thinly against the grain for the best texture.
This is a common question not only with ham but with any kind of meat that is going in your smoker. But, as with all types of meat, it is important to remember that for best results, you want to cook to internal temperature versus relying on a set time.
Lower temperatures at a slower rate will give you the best-tasting and juiciest ham. But, your cooking time will vary depending on the specific cut of ham, how big it is, and your specific smoker. So, make sure you have a good digital meat thermometer on hand.
Once your ham reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it is ready to come out of your smoker. Then, while letting it rest, it will come up to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit and is then ready to carve.
Smoking ham is a great way to create an amazing flavor and texture that can’t be achieved with other cooking methods. With these pro tips in mind, you’ll be able to smoke a ham perfectly every time.
And remember, whatever ham is leftover after your initial meal can be used in a variety of different recipes afterward. This includes soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and even casseroles!
Now, if you want a step-by-step recipe that shows you exactly how to smoke ham perfectly, check out our online video/class for Port Wine Brined Smoked Ham for only $7.98!
Do you have any other smoked ham tips to share? Plan on smoking ham for the first time soon? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!
Take your backyard cooking to the next level with the BBQ Pro-led Championship Backyard Cooking Classes from BBQ Champs Academy! Our online classes, taught by competition-winning Pitmasters and Grillmasters, will teach you how to cook 20 delicious recipes on your grill, step-by-step.
And when you’re ready to upgrade your competition skills, grab your All-Access pass and join Champion Pitmasters in our in-depth online BBQ classes. You'll learn to master ribs, brisket, pork butt, and chicken in your smoker or grill. As well as get insider cooking tips like you won’t find anywhere else.
Plus, don't forget to subscribe today to the BBQ Champs YouTube channel to stay up to date with the latest competition BBQ news and insider info straight from the pros.