Smoke a country ham for one month?

Discussion in 'Pork' started by stimyg, Mar 16, 2011.

  1. stimyg

    stimyg Newbie

    I was going through some old papers and found a 3-page description my grandfather had given me for making the salty smoky country ham that he and loved so much when I was growing up.  I'll post my description of the 'recipe' to follow, but my main question is this: his directions say to finish the process by smoking the ham "for a month or more."  That seems like way too long, right?  

    He was a bit old when he wrote this, so it's possible he was still thinking of the previous step (which involved salting the ham for a month or more.)  My recollection is that he told me they'd smoke it for a few days, but that's just my recollection, and could be biased by my own preconceptions.  Just looking at the design of his smokehouse, I do believe there was a lot less smoke than you'd get in a smoker like I use (weber bullet smoker), but I could be wrong about that to.

    Here's the recipe:


    Baba Dick's Country Salted Ham

    (as translated from his handwritten description; see photos of the smoke house.)

    Pig (200-300lbs); cut into rumps, shoulders, and other parts

    32 Caliber rifle

    Boiling Water

    10’ tripod

    Uncle George the Butcher

    Butcher board, 12’ x 16” x 2.5”

    Salt-peter (20-30lbs)

    5-7’ smoke house with rods

    Hickory sawdust

    Directions: Kill the pig with the .32 caliber rifle.   Boil it to make it easy to remove the gristle.   Hoist it up onto a 10’ tripod.   Get Uncle George Garrett the professional butcher to cut it into rumps, shoulders, and other parts.    Put the meat on a butcher board, 12’ x 16” x 2.5”.   Put a thick coating of saltpeter on every shoulder and ham.   This coating remains for “more than a month.”   The salt-peter keeps the meat from spoiling. Then it is time to smoke.   Hang the pieces in the smoke house.   Put hickory sawdust into the small stove in the base of the building.   Keep the sawdust smoldering for “a period of a month or more.”

    Thanks for any thoughts!
  2. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    You have to remember way they smoked.  We smoke for flavor, they smoked to keep flies from laying eggs in the hams that hung on the porch all year.  It takes heavy smoke to keep meat from becoming a fly hatching station.

    Smoking was part of the method of preserving the food.  Salt cured the meat, smoking kept the bugs away!  In Canteberry New Hampshire we smoked for two months on many salt cured country hams.

    Do yourself a favor and convert that Potassium nitrate to Sodium Nitrate so you are safer.  If you don't know how to convert from Mol strength of K to mol strength of Na let me know and I will do the calculation for you and post the formula.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2011
  3. stimyg

    stimyg Newbie

    I know little about this, so I'd be very happy for any conversion you can help with, or any thoughts on the rest of the process.

    Do you think it's possible he was referring to Sodium Nitrate?  The only reason I ask is that the ham was famous being extremely salty.  

    Either way, thanks.
  4. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    KNO3 (potassium nitrate; salt petre) )was the cure of choice back in the day.  So if the recipe is original than KNO3 would be correct.

    NaNO3 (sodium Nitrate) really came on in the 50's and was adopted in the early 60's by the industrail food complex.

    Salty was the game back then.... think preservation with little to no refrigeration.  Ice box was still common, temps varied wildly... want meat not to spoil?  Cure it.....  want the flies off it, smoke it after curing!

    Find out what you can about the recipe, about when it started being used etc.,... we can figure it out from there.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2011
  5. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    You probably won't need the 32 cal rifle, the tripod, and Uncle George so why not look up a more up to date procedure. 

    Your grandfather has a wonderful story, I hope you have additional opportunities to get him to tell you more and please post so we can all enjoy.   BBally is one of the most respected members of this forum so if he says you can do it and if he is willing to help follow his advice but you may want to simplify things a bit and just buy some Cure 2 and follow a country ham or Smithfield ham recipe.

    Look forward to the stories.  As I get older I become so much more aware of how we are becoming one homogeneous culture and we are loosing our individual heritage and experiences. 

  6. stimyg

    stimyg Newbie

    Well, unfortunately my grandfather passed away last year, so his written description is all I'll hear about the topic I'm afraid.  But to go back to Bbally's post: my grandfather was talking about this method being used in his childhood, which would have been in the 1910's-1920's.  So it sounds like it was probably KNO3.  I suppose that also ends up tasting salty, like NA does?

    In case it's relevant, he was born, raised, and lived in Hanover, PA, in York Country.  That's Pennsylvania Dutch country.  In fact, here's a few photos I took about 10 years ago, of the smokehouse (and my grandfather):

  7. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Beautiful,  think of all the time your family spent working in that smokehouse.  Love the detail above the door.  If you have a chance to do a smoke in it, do it.  One day you'll be glad you did.
  8. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I know Hanover well.  Raised in Boyertown PA myself.  Killing deer, smoking meat, chasing girls, and playing football was what it was about with the Penna Dutch and the Pollocks!

    KNO3 is was for sure.  Valley Forge made lots of it.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2011

Share This Page