You are never going to guess what some friends gifted us for the holidays?
Well, you might, but I’m going to just go ahead and tell you. We were given a couple of hogs. They were full grown, but our friends had to get rid of them because they no longer had the room on their farm.
So they gave them to us to butcher, which we gladly did.
But then it hit me, I really like country ham and so does my husband. So why don’t we cure our own hams?
And that is exactly what we did. Do you know how to cure ham the old fashioned way?
Well, if not, you might want to hang around because even if you don’t raise pigs you’ll be glad to know how to cure ham.
Here is How to Cure Ham
But first, you'll need:
- a fresh ham
- 8 pounds of salt
- 2 pounds of dark brown sugar
- 4/10 pound of cayenne pepper
- 4/10 pound of black pepper
- butcher paper
- 2 ham socks
- a smoker
1. Call on Dr. Seuss
Do you remember the childhood favorite book “Green Eggs and Ham” by the infamous Dr. Seuss? Well, in this instance you are going to need a green ham instead of green eggs.
But what is a green ham? It is a ham that is cut fresh from a hog. You can either cut your ham straight from your own farm raised hog, or you can contact a local farmer or butcher to see if they sell green hams. Some college agriculture departments will actually sell them.
So just check around where you can get one. Then you are ready to start the process.
2. Just a Trim
Once you have your green ham, you’ll need to rinse it off and pat it dry. From there, you’ll need to take off any excess fat from the ham.
So you’ll need a sharp knife and gently slide it between the fat and the meat. It should slice off rather easily.
Once you have the fat trimmed from the meat, you are ready to move on to the next step of the ham curing process.
3. Your Hock and Weight, Please
Now that your ham has had the excess fat trimmed from it, you are ready to put the whole ham on a scale. You need to know how much the ham weighs when it is green so you’ll know how many days to allow it to cure.
So once you’ve weighed the ham remember the number. It is very important in this process.
Then you’ll need to locate the hock of the ham. The hock is the part of the ham where the hoof has been removed from the rest of the meat. You’ll need to know where this is because there is a bone there. If you do not salt enough in these areas it can cause your whole ham to spoil.
So you’ll want to identify where the hock is on your ham and use your finger or a butter knife to open the area up around the hock. This will make packing this area with your salt brine a little easier.
4. A Little Brine
Next, we’ll add our salt brine. You can create your own brine or use a recipe. I prefer the recipe I got from Tim Farmer’s Country Kitchen. It is:
- 8 pounds of salt
- 2 pounds of dark brown sugar
- 4/10 pound of red pepper
- 4/10 pound of black pepper
Notice that this recipe doesn’t call for any nitrates or nitrites. These products are often used because they can help stop botulism from forming or breeding in your ham. Botulism is a serious foodborne illness that can make you very sick.
However, I prefer to use the old-fashioned salt cure instead because I feel like it is important to know in order to be more self-sustainable. Just realize there are other methods to curing your own ham so you do what you feel most comfortable with.
Once your brine is made you need to apply it thoroughly to the ham. You’ll especially want to shove the salt brine into the hock until it cannot hold anymore. When this is complete, you can move on.
5. That’s a Wrap….and Sock
Now that your salt brine has been applied heavily to the ham, you are ready to wrap the ham in butcher paper. You want butcher paper because it allows the meat to breathe. You need the ham to be able to drain all of the moisture that the salt is sucking out of it, or your ham will spoil.
So you can usually find butcher paper at your local butcher shop. You can purchase it here too. If you can’t purchase butcher paper, know that (according to our local butcher) you can wrap the ham in a newspaper too, as long as the only ink printed on it is soybean ink.
Once the ham is wrapped completely in butcher paper, you’ll want to slide the ham sock on. You can purchase a ham sock here.
But if you’d like a cheaper option, we actually purchased a paint strainer and double bagged our hams in them. When the ham is socked, you’ll need to tie a knot at the top of the bag. Be sure that the hock is pointing down because when you hang the bag up, the hock needs to be able to drain thoroughly or your ham will spoil.
Now, remember when you weighed your green ham? Here is where it comes into play. You’ll need to allow your ham to hang where it can be kept consistently at 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 days per pound.
So if you decide to cure your ham in winter (when most people butcher hogs) you could potentially hang the ham outside in a building. You could hang the ham in your smoker, or you could hang the ham in an old fridge that still works.
However, I want to offer some insight here. A lot of people don’t cure hams because their nighttime temperatures get down below 35, but the daytime temps get above 45 degrees Fahrenheit so they fear that their hams will spoil.
Well, the lower night temperatures should actually help keep your ham’s internal temperature between 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit even when the daytime temperatures rise above that. You can insert a thermometer and check if you grow concerned. That way you could move your ham to the fridge if you need to.
Either way, you’ll need to hang your ham after you’ve wrapped and socked it.
6. Scrub Down
Once your ham has been hanging for 2 days per pound of green weight, you’ll want to pull it down, unwrap it, and reweigh it. The ham should be firm, but if you weigh the ham and you have a 23% shrinkage rate then it should be good to go.
So you’ll need to be aware that your ham may have some mold on it. This is all part of the curing process. To be sure your ham didn’t spoil during the curing, you can use an ice pick and shove it right into the center of the ham. Pull it out and smell it. If the ham smells like it should, then carry on with the process.
But if your food smells as though it has spoiled, then please use good judgment and toss it or take the meat to be tested. You don’t want to get sick over this.
Next, you’ll need to use a wet washcloth to wipe any mold off of your ham. From there, you’ll move on to the next step.
7. The Final Count Down
When your ham has been scrubbed down it is time to complete the next step. You’ll place the ham in a new ham sock and hang where it can be at a pretty consistent 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people hang their hams in their basement, or in a shaded smokehouse. You’ll leave it to hang for about 6 months.
During this process, your ham will go through what is called the ‘June sweats.’ The meat will sweat and finish pulling out any added moisture. So don’t be alarmed. When you are ready to eat, you’ll need to remove some more mold the way you did previously.
Now that your ham has cured, you can pull it out and smoke it. We actually built a small smokehouse for this process.
But you can purchase a smoker to smoke your ham in, or you can build a smokehouse. Either way, you can cold smoke the ham at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. How long you smoke the ham is all about your preference and how intense you want the smoke flavor. It can literally be smoked anywhere from 4 hours up to 24 hours or more. Play around with it and see what you think for your personal preference.
Can I Freeze a Country Ham?
Some people like to take their green hams, start the curing process, and then freeze them so they can cook them later.
But how do you do that?
Well, you follow the previous steps up to step 6. When your ham has cured in the salt brine and has been scrubbed down, instead of putting it in a new sock, you can wrap the ham in butcher paper to freeze.
From there, you’ll have to pull the ham to thaw before cooking.
Then you can slice and fry it up when it has thawed.
So as you can tell curing a ham is a long process, but it is one that most anyone can do if they desire to know how to cure ham.
But it does take some playing around with to figure out what your preferences are when curing your own meat.