Back to Basics: Crafting Your Own Home-Cured Ham

Back to Barbecue Basics

If you have a ham in the house, you can face any situation.

Edna Lewis, founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance


For many American families, ham is the centerpiece of the Easter table, appearing almost Rockwell-esque in our collective memories—burnished and beautiful, crusted with a sweet glaze and carved to reveal a rosy, meaty interior redolent with salt and smoke.

Most people buy hams that are brined (wet-cured) with a curing agent like sodium nitrite. The hams are pre-cooked, meaning they can be sliced and served as is. Or if you prefer to serve them warm, heat to 135 degrees. Though they’ll taste smoky, few of these commercial hams have seen the inside of a smokehouse; the flavor comes from the liquid smoke included in the brine.

Smoky Maple Bourbon Ham

Home-Cured Ham

Are you up for a gratifying challenge this year? Want to serve a genuine home-cured ham to your guests this Easter? There’s plenty of time for Smokehouse Shoulder Ham if you start soon. You’ll need a bit of refrigerator space, a large stockpot or other food-safe container, a marinade injector and pink curing salt, also known as Prague Powder #1. The salt will give the ham its pinkish hue and deep flavor. (You can purchase curing salt online, but your butcher might be willing to share a couple of spoonfuls with you.) A marinade injector can also be purchased online or at a restaurant supply house; it resembles a large hypodermic needle, and can be used to inject brine deep into the meat muscle, shortening the curing time.

Mangalitsa Ham - Cooking with Glaze

Finally, you’ll need smoking chips (soaked for 30 minutes, then drained) or chunks and a kettle-style grill or other charcoal-burning grill with a lid. (A smoker works great, too.)

Make the brine: Combine the salt, sugar, pickling spice, curing salt, and 3 quarts of hot water in a large nonreactive pot and stir in additional flavorings, if using. Boil until the salts and sugar are completely dissolved. Cool, then strain. Inject 2 cups of the brine deep into the pork shoulder at 1 1/2 intervals along the bone; continue until all the brine is used.

Submerge the ham and refrigerate: Submerge the ham in the remaining brine in a humbo heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Place in another large container to contain any leaks. Cure for 8 days, turning daily. Halfway through the curing time, measure out 2 more cups of brine and strain. Reinject the ham with it.

Easter Ham - Complete

Drain the ham well, then smoke: Heat your grill or smoker to 225 to 250 degrees. Add the wood chips or chunks to the coals. Hot-smoke the ham until cooked through. (The internal temperature should reach about 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer), 10 to 12 hours. Insert the probe deep into the meat, but not touching the bone. (Optional: If you have the equipment, you can cold smoke the ham for several hours at temperatures not exceeding 100 degrees.)

Glaze and reheat as desired: You can serve the ham hot off the grill or smoker, or let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. (It will keep, covered and refrigerated, for at least a week.)

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