A Homemade Christmas Ham

We cured our own ham! December’s Charcutepalooza Challenge is a charcuterie tray showing off three projects. I only had two out today: the spicy sausage from last month’s workshop and a home-cured Holiday Ham both from local wild hog.

We started last Friday with a butt-end half fresh ham. First we put it in a brine of sugar, salt, sodium nitrite, and water then weighed it down. That went in the fridge and the meat turned in the brine every other day. The sediment on the bottom of the super-saturated brine solution should have been a warning.

Our cute little petite ham, brined and dried overnight.

Then on Christmas Eve we took the ham out of the brine, rinsed it, and left it in the fridge uncovered overnight to dry out a little. On Christmas morning we set up the small gas-powered grill as a smoker. The ham went on the far side of the grill. We turned only one burner on to low, and set a foil-wrapped tube of soaked applewood chips directly above the low flames.

This small grill did not make a great smoker because the temperature was difficult to control. It took several adjustments of flame to get the chips to smolder enough to produce smoke and keep the ambient temperature of the grill close to 200. Finally my husband found that propping the lid open slightly helped maintain the smoke without letting the temperature get too high. We hot-smoked the ham for two hours.

Ham after two hours of hot smoking with applewood chips. See the crispy fat on the front? This is what happens when the smoke is *too* hot.

I was worried when the ham came off the grill. It had obviously started to cook, and the corner closest to the flame has already started to burn. We decided to finish the ham on the grill instead of in the oven to increase the smoke flavor since that’s something we all enjoy. Jim made a lower-sugar glaze of spicy mustard, honey, and garlic and heavily glazed the ham, then put it back on the grill, this time with the meat thermometer inside the ham.

After another hour I went out to check the ham. As soon as I went out on the porch I could smell burned pork. I don’t know whether the constant checking had kept the temperature unnaturally low before, but after an hour the grill was well over 350 and the internal temperature of the ham was 214. Pork is considered “done” at 155. I was sure the ham was ruined. We let it cool and then sliced into it.

My dad and I literally held our breaths as Jim sliced into it. But look! It's pink all the way through, showing that the brine penetrated to the center of the meat, and still juicy under the caramelized outer layer.

Our home-cured Holiday Ham was very salty, very smoky, and a little dry… but definitely not ruined. It’s closer to country style ham, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but not what we were really going for, either. What I think we did wrong:

The brine solution was too strong for the size of the ham. We followed the recipe exactly, not thinking about the ratio of ingredients to weight of the roast. We used a smaller roast than the recipe called for but made the brine at the same strength.

This “grill as smoker” experiment is not working. If we’re going to keep doing charcuterie experiments involving smoking, we need to build another smokers. We need a new Alton Brown-style flower pot smoker.

All in all, this experiment was a success! I think we have a slightly larger fresh ham still in the freezer so we can try again in a few weeks. In the mean time, I’m making sweet potato biscuits to eat with thin, thin slices of ham, and making ham & white bean soup with the rest!

More about the rest of our Christmas all-day buffet tomorrow!

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