We’re still not fully satisfied with our ham, but we’re closer.
Here’s what we’ve done: Our first attempt at ham was mostly a flop, with the side benefit that it turned out to be a really good brined roast, which we repeated for part of the second pig since we knew we liked it. Definitely not ham, though. For 21 pounds of meat, I combined 1 1/2 gallons of water , 1 3/4 c canning/pickling salt, and 1 1/2 c brown sugar. So for about 10 lbs of meat, I used 3 quarts of water, 7/8 c of salt, and 3/4 c of brown sugar. These stayed in the fridge and brined for 4-5 days before being packaged for the freezer. The first time, they were in the fridge for well over a week while I waited for them to start to taste like ham. I was loosely basing my first trials on info I found here. It’s difficult to find information on brining smaller pieces of ham in the fridge without sodium nitrate.
Our second attempt at ham I had searched for some more input. Someone else on the “Keeping a Family Cow” board had kindly shared a recipe with me. It’s American-Style Brown-Sugar-Glazed Holiday Ham from Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn. The ingredients for a 12-15 lb at least partially de-boned ham are 1 gallon of water, 1.5 c salt (pref. kosher), and 2 c brown sugar (pref. dark). They also call for pink salt, but I didn’t use it, and neither did the individual I got the recipe from. See more on pink salt here.
6-8 days brined in the fridge (submerge the meat with a weighted plate if necessary- I didn’t. I also only left mine in the brine for 3-4 days; mine were in smaller chunks of about 5 pounds). The general rule from this recipe- and I’ve run across most places- is 1/2 day per pound. They rinse, let dry uncovered on a rack for 12-24 hours, and hot smoke at 200 for 2 hours. I poured off the brine, brushed on liquid smoke, and baked at 200 ish in the oven until the internal temp was about 150 (based on the info in bacon recipes, see the bacon post for more). It still will have to be cooked to an internal temp of 160, as for regular pork products, when I heat it later.
The first one we tried was just baked, no smoke. The flavor was closer to ham, but we’re convinced now that smoking will truly make the flavor difference. We tried a bit of this first ham (second pig) with some hickory smoke salt I had and tasted the difference that dash of smoke made. We “smoked” the ham in our oven with some fresh applewood chips. (More on “smoking” in the oven below.)
When I “smoked” the remaining hams in the oven, I brushed on some liquid smoke. The flavor is mostly appropriate to ham now. There’s still a small taste difference, a bit of a texture difference, and a distinct difference in color, but we’re getting closer!
Here’s a close-up of a small slice of our ham fried in the pan:
Smoking in the oven: this process didn’t really smoke anything for us, but we may play with it a bit more. Maybe my wood was too wet, but I think the temp isn’t high enough at the wood to make it actually smoke and flavor the meat. It seems to be more of a little steam, if anything. I found a few posts on smoking in the oven- a typical one is here. Basic idea is a pan with wood chips in the bottom and a rack over it to raise the meat above the chips and be “smoked” in the oven.
I was worried in trying this that it would smoke up the house and create carbon monoxide, so I went the cautious route and put a cover on to enclose the expected smoke and was ready and waiting with the exhaust fan. Not much happened- I really don’t think it was close to hot enough to do any smoking. Maybe if I started the wood chips on the grill and then put them in the bottom of the pan in the oven once they started smoking? Another idea for another day.