Smoking a Burgers' Brown Sugar Cured Country Ham

Discussion in 'Pork' started by arblargan, Dec 22, 2015.

  1. arblargan

    arblargan Newbie

    So I went out and got an 18 lb country ham from the local butcher today.  I've only ever smoked one ham before and it was a spiral cut city ham, so I have only a slight idea what I'm doing.  I had a few questions I was hoping some of you ham professionals could answer for me.  The beauty is currently sitting in water in the fridge until Christmas day.  I plan on changing the water every 12-18 hours until it's ready to be cooked.

    Firstly, I plan on smoking this beast in a Big Green Egg at 225 using hickory and apple wood.  I planned on putting it in a roaster pan, filling it up about 2-3 in with water/apple juice mix (per the instructions).  This is where I start losing confidence.

    I found this thread and it helped prepare me a lot for what to expect, but I was hoping to get some clarification on a few of the steps ( ).

    My first question is, do I leave the skin on when I cook, or take it off before starting the cook?  Will leaving the skin on impact the absorption of smoke?  If I leave the skin on, when should I take it off and glaze (temp of 155 like instructions say)?  Should I follow the instructions to a T (take the skin off at 155, glaze, then throw back on at 400 for 20 mins to crisp), or does someone have another idea for better results?  

    Ideally, I'd like this thing to have a nice shiny brown glazed look to it when everything is all said and done.  Let me know what you think!
  2. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I guess I'm confused...are you thawing in a refrigerated water-bath, or soaking to remove some sodium?

    Yeah, go open grates with that pan needed, unless you wish to catch drippings underneath, which there won't be much with cured ham. Where there is liquid in contact with the meat, there will be no smoke flavoring...not to mention a difference of coloring on the meat...imagine a darker portion above and a pale colored meat at the water-line. I don't put hams in a pan, liquid or not.

    I've removed the skin form the start, if it was present...more smoke on the need to crisp it up at high temp, because you'll already have done that with a skin-less ham on open grates, and, best part of all, your oven will be freed-up for pies and other desserts, along with side dishes...yopur ham can be done in one cooker outdoors, as it should be...[​IMG] That process sounds like too much fuss...complicated...quite frankly, seems like a PITA for something that should be so much more simple, IMHO. KISS method for hams has always been good to rub, just heat and (more) smoke...this is, after all, double-smoked ham. It yeilds bark for those who enjoy it, and the entire interior loaded with tender cured pork smokey goodness.

    Pre-cooked hams packed in a USDA inspected plant can be heated to 140* I/T...all others go to 165* I/T. Fresh USDA inspected hams (smoked, uncooked) can be cooked to 145* (minimum safe I/T for USDA inspected pork).

    Had a double-smoked ham pass through my WSM not long ago...HERE

    Just my thoughts...

  3. arblargan

    arblargan Newbie

    Sorry for the confusion. Yes, the ham is sitting in a water bath in order to remove some of the salt concentration.  It doesn't need thawed as it was hanging from the ceiling in the butcher shop.  

    I hadn't though about the absence of smoke absorption for the part of the ham submerged in liquid.  That's making me reconsider using that method.  What would be the best way to make sure that this ham is moist if it's not submerged in liquid?  Using a pan beneath that's filled with water?  

    I didn't think there would be any large issues with removing the skin beforehand, but is there any benefit to keeping it on during the cooking process?  I honestly can't see one.  Thanks for the replies so far.  
  4. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I kinda figured it was soaking and not thawing, but wanted to be sure.

    This may sound off the wall, but water, such as braising/steaming, with any meat (any flesh food, actually) while cooking actually does just the opposite of what you would expect it to do. Water or high humidity keeps the surface fibers of meat loose and porous and this aids in absorption of flavors from sauces, etc, and is also great for smoke adhesion in the case of high humidity, but bad for releasing more natural moisture from the meat as internal temperatures begin to rise to the point of water evaporation from the meat.

    You can use a drip pan with some water underneath, or just water in a vertical smoker's water pan, sure. This will increase humidity for better smoke adhesion to the meat, but if left with a high humidity the entire time during cooking, the meat will begin loosing more of those precious natural juices than really is necessary to complete the cooking. With wet-cured ("city") hams, being finished at lower internal temps, this won't be as much of an issue as it would be for beef brisket or pork shoulder when finished near or above 200*. However, in the case of dry-cured hams, there is less natural moisture to begin with, so you don't want to loose any more due to evaporation from cooking than you must, if you wish to retain a moister sliced ham.

    So, now you might be asking yourself, where am I going with this...what does it there possibly a happy medium? To put it into simpler terms, I have found that with many smoked foods, less is more...KISS...simply, easy to follow methods to create a great cooking and dining experience. Yes, I have done my share of complicated methods and dishes, I will admit. In terms of smoking meats, there is something of a balancing point for smoke chamber humidity...where that is I have not determined, yet found it to be mostly irrelevant...but I have experimented a bit and found that smoke likes to stick to meat at lower surface temps and with higher humidity. But with higher humidity throughout cooking I loose more natural juices. So, how do I get good smoke and prevent excess moisture loss?

    For the condensed version with a copy/paste of the nuts and bolts of what, how and why:


    Principles of the Wet-to-Dry Smoke Chamber Method

    The drier environment will do just the opposite of what you would think it does, and so does a wet cooking environment. Dry seals the surface fibers to retain moisture...the drawback to using a dry smoke chamber for the entire smoke is that you will loose smoke reaction time, as you need humidity for good smoke reaction...tighten the meat fibers too early and you get very little smoke flavor. Lean-trimmed meats give the best overall results for maximum surface area to collect smoke.

    The opposite effect of a dry chamber is that when using a wet/humid smoke chamber for the entire cooking process with high finished internal temps, you allow the meat's surface to remain loose, and this allows moisture evaporation to run unchecked. Something else to consider is that with the fat-cap attached, you have a moist surface on the meat throughout the entire cooking process, so this could cause a drier overall interior as well. I know this goes against what many old-schoolers would believe, but things do change a lot when you go from a horizontal pit to a vertical smoke chamber with a water pan...on a pit you can easily mop to simultaneously increase surface moisture and smoke chamber humidity for better smoke reaction, but here again, if done for too long into the cooking, it can keep the meat's surface moist for too long and increase moisture evaporation from the meat by preventing the surface from tightening-up. Overall humidity levels during the wet and dry stages of this method do have an impact on the results. The more humid during the wet stage, the more smoke reaction can achieved. The drier the dry stage, the more the meat's surface will tighten and seal-up, as well as the harder the meat's bark will be.

    So, in a nut-shell, run wet smoke chamber humidity until you have the desired amount of smoke, then transition to dry, and you can continue smoking at this point if you wish, but the smoke reaction will become more diminished over time as the dry chamber tightens the meat fibers on the surface. Less porous surface fibers on the meat do not attract as much smoke, but also resist interior moisture evaporation. Not much to it.


    A few words of wisdom on the wet-to-dry method: if you don't like bark on your meat and just want it relatively tender from surface to core, this may not be for you. Keeping a fat-cap and/or skin on the meat may be your best friend, as this will produce a product with a bit more moisture and tenderness throughout, while sacrificing smoke flavor on any surfaces which are not bare meat. If you really like moist meats and don't care too much about the bark one way or the other, this would be a good method to try, as it can produce very heavy and very hard bark, especially if you rest the meat elevated on a grate in a pan and covered with a towel so it can still breath (no foil)...this is a very good method if you love a great bark. The bark can be softened towards the end of cooking, or softened lightly while resting with the use of foil or foil-tented a well-developed bark is not set in stone, if you don't want to keep it hard and crisp. There are ways to customize the finished product to some degree, once you understand the principles.

    It may seem as if I have thrown a lot at you just now. Skim the surface first...dig deeper if you're interested in what it has to offer by continuing below with the full article (the copy/paste is from the second screen down from the top).

    This explains all the details including the basics of how to make it work for your smoker (not difficult at all), with links to threads and a few finished pics of meats I used this method with:

    Wet-to-Dry Smoke Chamber Method

    Again, this method is not for everyone, and probably not for everything you smoke, either, but if you're interested in expanding your horizons a bit, it just may be worth a good look. It's much more difficult to understand for most people than it is to incorporate into your smoking is extremely simply to use.

    Any questions come up don't hesitate to pick my brain. I'll be home mid-day on the 24th after a quick road-trip and will check in on my return, and I should be home all afternoon and evening on the 24th.


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