How To Smoke a Fresh Ham
Smoking a fresh ham is easy, creative and you can do it with an ordinary gas grill or a smoker. You’ll need wood chips, some brine and a glaze to bring out the flavors of your ham. And of course, you’ll need instructions on how to smoke a fresh ham.
Tips on how to smoke a fresh ham:
- Use a bone-in ham leg.
- The ham has to sit in brine for a week.
- You need wood chips, a grill and about four hours of smoking.
- Cover the ham with a homemade glaze.
- Eat it now or save it for later.
These days, a lot of home cooks are trying to use more basic ingredients when cooking. Instead of buying pre-made croutons, we might make our own croutons from bread we bake ourselves. Some folks are even making their own yogurt.
It’s all an attempt to remove the different levels of processed-ness in our diet—an attempt to be more artisanal.
But what about meat? It seems second nature to reach into the meat aisle at the grocery store and pull out a smoked ham.
Surely we could go all artisanal on a piece of fresh ham, couldn’t we? The answer is: yes, you can. And I’m going to tell you how to smoke a fresh ham.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are a few questions to answer first.
What Is Smoked Ham?
First of all, ham is a cut of a pig that includes its hindquarters and hind legs. It’s cheaper than, say, a pork loin and needs some special cooking to make it tasty. The term “ham” also includes machine formed pieces of this same meat.
Smoked ham is a piece of fresh ham cured with salt and spices and then heated at a low temperature and exposed to smoke. There is also cured ham, which is similar but without the smoke.
We consider smoked and cured ham cooked and ready to eat. They are often heated before serving, but they don’t have to be. It’s simply a matter of taste.
How Do You Smoke a Ham From Scratch?
So you’ve got your gas grill or smoker. You’ve got your fresh ham and wood chips. But you must be wondering: How does all this fit together? How do I do it right? And most importantly, how long does it take to smoke a fresh ham?
I will answer all these questions. But first, here’s an overview of how to smoke a fresh ham.
You’re going to cure your fresh ham by preparing a brine and letting it sit for about seven days. The rule of thumb is one day per pound.
Why the Brine? And Why the Time?
Good questions. The brine is like an infuser of taste—it penetrates slowly and gets into all of the ham.
How does it do this? Curing actually draws the moisture out of the meat. It then allows the flavors of the brine to really get in there. Remember, this is very different from just cooking a fresh ham. This is taking it to the next level flavor-wise.
Compare it to a rub, which only really gets the surface. Applying a rub takes only a few minutes, but the results aren’t nearly as good. Being artisanal and doing things yourself requires patience.
The long waiting time is so the brine has time to fully penetrate the meat. You want that flavor in every bite.
After curing, you will be smoking in a gas grill or smoker. This will take a few hours.
Near the end of the smoking period, you are going to glaze the ham. The glaze has to be made at least a day before smoking. You do the glazing in two steps.
The last step before taking a bite is letting that bad boy rest. It’s just a little bit longer but believe me; it’ll be well worth the wait.
What Do I Need to Do This Right?
About a week. Of course, a lot of that time is waiting.
- A gas grill or smoker.
- Wood chips.
- Aluminum foil.
- A large stockpot with lid.
- A metal rack.
- An instant read thermometer.
A 7-pound fresh ham.
- Brown sugar.
- Curing salt.
- Kosher salt.
- Bay leaves.
- Brown sugar.
- Maple syrup or honey.
- Pineapple or orange juice.
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Dijon mustard and regular mustard.
- Ground cinnamon, cloves and ginger.
- Black pepper.
- Garlic powder.
A lot of empty space in your fridge.
How To Smoke a Fresh Ham on a Gas Grill or Smoker
Without any more waiting, here are the steps you need to follow to smoke fresh ham on a gas grill or in a smoker.
Select Your Ham
If you have a butcher you like, ask for a bone-in ham leg. As with many meats and fowl, bone-in has more flavor. Think chicken thighs compared to breasts.
A half bone-in leg is about 7 pounds, and a full bone-in leg is about 14 pounds.
Today, let’s deal with a half bone-in for this recipe, so 7 pounds of ham.
As a side note, you can also smoke a pre-cooked ham. In this case, you can skip the brining step and go right to the smoking step. Some might consider this kind of cheating, but it certainly reduces the time it takes.
Brining and Curing
Before you even make the brine, you have to find a container big enough to submerge the entire piece of meat into 6 quarts of brine. This container must be able to heat up on an element, hold hot water, and it must fit in your fridge. A large stockpot is the best thing. It must have a lid as well.
Pour 3 quarts of cold water and the following ingredients into your stockpot.
- 2 cups brown sugar.
- 1 cup kosher salt.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons curing salt.
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns.
- 2 bay leaves.
Put the stockpot on your element and bring it to a boil. Stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Turn your element off and pour in another 3 quarts of unheated water. This is going to cool the brine. Leave it to cool completely.
Once the brine has cooled, rinse your ham off and place it in the brine—it must be completely submerged. If you find it floats, put a heavy bowl or something on top to weigh it down. None of the meat should be above the level of the brine.
Put the lid on the stockpot and place the whole thing in the fridge.
It will have to sit there for one day for every pound of meat. If you put in a 7-pound ham, you’ve got a week to wait. Remember, this is cooking old style.
During this week of waiting, you may want to prepare your glaze. It’s a good idea to make it in advance to let the flavors really merge. You might also want to go out and buy your wood chips—more on that below.
You’ll need this on smoking day, but you should prepare the glaze in advance. The flavors blend together over time. It keeps in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
You may have a favorite glaze recipe that works with ham. Of course, I’ve got my own here and feel free to use it. I’ve given you some choices so you can make it more your own.
Put the following ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes. It will be kind of like syrup when it’s done.
- 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar.
- 1/3 cup maple syrup (honey also works).
- 1/2 cup of either pineapple or orange juice (crushed fresh pineapple with some juice also works well).
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.
- 1 tablespoon regular mustard.
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard.
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves.
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger.
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.
Let it cool, and then store it in the fridge until smoking day.
What Wood Chips Work To Smoke Ham With?
I’ve found that a lot of chips work well. I especially like wood chips from fruit trees like cherry, apple, apricot or pear. Maple wood chips add a nice flavor level as well.
This is what’s great about home smoking—making your choices and seeing how they turn out. Keep track of what you use so you can do the same again, unless you don’t like it. Then you can try something else.
After a week, the waiting is over, and now it’s time to smoke it up.
Before you start, make sure everything is on hand. You’ve made your glaze. You’ve purchased your wood chips. And you should have set aside most of the day.
You can now take the ham out of the brine and rinse it with fresh water. After it’s fully rinsed, you should pat it with a paper towel. Next, put it on a rack and let it dry further in the fridge for a couple of hours.
At this point, some people like to apply a rub. I don’t think it’s necessary, as we’re going to glaze it anyway.
Before you start smoking, you are going to want to soak your wood chips in water for about 30 minutes.
If You Use a Gas Grill
First, you’ve got to preheat your grill to medium. Take a handful of your soaked wood chips and wrap them in two sheets of aluminum foil. Carefully poke some holes in the foil to allow the smoke to come out.
Put your wood chips foil packet into the grill. Place it close to the burner so the chips will smoke. If you have multiple burners, keep one side unlit and place the foil pack on the lit side. Or better still, directly on the lava rocks.
Once you start to see smoke, put the ham directly on the grill grate. Keep it on the unlit side and as far from the flame as possible. Then close the lid.
Now you’ve got to monitor your heat and make sure it stays at around 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ve got to replace the wood chips when you stop seeing smoke coming out of the grill.
If You Use a Smoker
Follow the instructions of your cooker and bring it up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your ham into the smoker and add one cup of wood chips. You are going to need to replenish the wood chips every 45 minutes or so. If you want a milder flavor, you should add more wood chips less frequently.
You need to smoke the ham for four to five hours or until it gets up to an internal temperature between 130 and 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where your instant-read thermometer will come into use.
At 130 degrees, you’re not finished. It just means it’s glazing time.
Use a cooking brush to slather your ham with glaze.
Now, wait another 20 minutes or so, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush on another coat of glaze.
When you’re getting close to four hours, keep an eye on the internal temperature. It should not go over 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s a Wrap
When the time’s up and the ham is at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, you can remove it from the smoker and wrap it in a blanket of aluminum foil.
If you’re serving it now, let it rest in a warm place.
If you’re saving it for later, you can let it cool completely and then pop it in the fridge. When you want to serve it, heat it slowly in the foil.
When you serve it, you can pour any remaining glaze over the top.
So, this is all you need to know about how to smoke a fresh ham. The process is a bit long, but the results are well worth it. And especially don’t forget the bragging rights. You started from raw meat, after all.
Of course, you don’t need to stop with ham. There are many things you can smoke in your gas grill or smoker. You’ll never get tired of that amazing smoky flavor.