Wet Curing A Ham
"The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep." W. C. Fields
If you cure and smoke a ham and serve it fresh it will taste better than the best commercial ham you've ever tasted.
There are two methods of curing, dry or wet. To dry cure, you mix up your salt and spice mix and coat the meat and hang it in a temperature and humidity controlled space. If you don't do everything right, the meat will spoil. Wet curing is more even, thorough, reliable, and easy.
You will need a five gallon food grade bucket. It must be food grade if it is plastic, and if it is metal in cannot be aluminum. If it is not food grade, you can use five gallon food grade bucket liners if your bucket is not food grade. A very clean beer cooler will also work.
Makes. 1 whole ham
Takes. 10 to 14 days to cure
1 whole fresh ham, 15 to 20 pounds with skin and most of the fat cap removed
3 gallons cold clean water
20 ounces by weight of salt
3 tablespoons pink curing salt #1
4 large onions, skinned, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, cleaned and coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
6 tablespoons pickling spices
Optional add-ins. Three or four stalks of lemongrass is nice. So is dill.
About the pink curing salt #1. Do not skip the pink curing salt, do not make substitutions, do not increase or decrease the quantity. It adds vital protection against pathogenic microbes and without it you risk death. No kidding.
About the other salt. When curing meats, you cannot trust volumetric measurements of salt. You must weigh the salt. Click this link to read more about salts and why weight is the only way to go when it comes to curing meats.
1) If your ham had skin, remove it and the fat cap. You can use the skin to make cracklins. Skin and fat just impede the flow of salt into the meat.
2) Put 1 gallon of the water in a pot and add all the ingredients except the ham. You can skip the optional ingredients if you wish. Their impact on flavor is small, especially if you use a sweet glaze. Boil for 2 minutes or until the salts and sugar dissolve. This also pasteurizes the ingredients. Chill.
3) Get your 5 gallon bucket and add the remaining 2 gallons of cold clean water and the brine you boiled. Stir.
4) When the brine is chilled, inject the meat in multiple locations with the liquid part of the brine and put it back in the bucket and submerge it. Click here for more on injecting and injectors. If necessary, weight the meat down under a tupperware container filled with water. Put the bucket in the refrigerator and let the meat cure for 10 to 14 days. It must remain cold. It may get a little cloudy as the salt pulls protein liquids from the meat. But it should not smell funny or drevelop a scum.
5) If you don't plan to use it immediately, smoke it at 325°F until it is 165°F in the deepest part. You can glaze it in the last hour if you wish, but I wait until I am ready to cook and serve it to glaze it. My favorite glazes are Chris Lilly's Spicy Apricot Glaze or Danny Gaulden's Brown Sugar Mustard Glaze. Make sure it doesn't burn. You can refrigerate it for up to two weeks. If you vacuum seal it it will keep longer. Cooking will take 6 hours or more depending on how thick the meat is. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or so, or frozen. You can cut slices and grill ham steaks, or just warm it in the oven. The reason we cook at 325°F is to prevent the stall which will happen at lower temperatures.
If you want to serve it immediately, smoke the ham at 325°F until it is 145°F in the deepest part of the center. This will take up to 5 hours depending on the meat's thickness. During the last hour, paint it with a glaze. Make sure it doesn't burn.
This page was revised 4/12/2014
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