How To Smoke A Fresh Ham
There are a lot of ways to eat pork but very few can compare with the delicious taste and texture of a smoked fresh ham. The slow cooking process is going to give your ham that juicy smokey meat and caramelized exterior that will have people trying to tear into it with their bare hands caveman-style. And as you know, successfully making such a masterpiece on your own is a point of pride and source of satisfaction worth striving for.
But how do you smoke a fresh - otherwise known as "green" - ham? Do you need a rub or a brine? How long will it take to cook? How do you keep it moist? What kind of wood do you use? It can seem like a daunting task but - speaking from experience - it is truly worth it. I started out just like you; unsure about what to do and a little new to smoking such a large single cut of meat. Don't worry, all it takes is a little knowledge and a little technique to produce a delicious work of art.
What You'll Need To Smoke A Ham
- Charcoal: It's a good idea to keep a bag of charcoal nearby as it's likely necessary for you to add more to keep your temperature regulated.
- Half fresh ham: A fresh ham comes from the rear leg of the pig. Fresh ham is usually sold in two halves; the shank portion and the butt portion. While the shank is cheaper and contains the large back leg bone, I prefer to use the butt because it has more meat. Both are prepared similar to a Boston butt (front leg) and will taste more like an excellent BBQ roast than a traditional salt-cured holiday ham. And in the case of smoking a ham, size really doesn't matter. Choose a size you feel comfortable with and will fit on your grill.
- Rub ingredients: Black pepper, kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, dried thyme, and dried oregano.
- Yellow mustard
- Pineapple juice
- Spray bottle
- Aluminum foil
- Meat thermometer
- Wood chunks: The type of wood is entirely up to what you prefer, although I like use a mixture of either hickory and cherry wood or oak and apple wood. Regardless of what wood(s) you choose, it's essential to soak the chunks before you light your charcoal. Opinions on soaking time vary across the smoking spectrum with some people saying as little as 30-45 minutes and others saying overnight. Personally, I soak mine overnight simply to remove an extra step the next morning when I start prepping everything. Also, you do have the option to use wood chips if you prefer, but you'll need to add them considerably more often than adding wood chunks.
- Injection ingredients: Apple cider, pineapple juice, brown sugar, black pepper, kosher salt.
Step 1: Light The Fire
Fresh ham generally needs 15-20 minutes per pound to be fully smoked, so it's wise to use your time as efficiently as possible. Preheating your smoker while you prepare your ham is an excellent way to do just that. Add your charcoal and get the fire going. After a few minutes, the coals will have ashed over on top and you'll see a glowing red center. Now it's safe to go ahead and add your soaked wood chunks. Close the lid and let the heat rise and smoke build. When smoking a fresh ham you want to keep your temperature between 220-230 degrees F, so check it often while preheating and while cooking.
Tip: An easy and clean way to light your charcoal is to use a charcoal chimney starter. They are cheap, lightweight, and use absolutely no lighter fluid to start, so you'll never get any taste other than your meat, spices, and rub. I highly recommend using one.
Step 2: Preparing The Ham
With your smoker preheating, it's time for you to get the ham ready. Take a sharp knife and cut a diamond pattern into the skin and fat (generally about 1/4" deep), taking care to make sure you don't cut the meat. The reason you do this is to create more surface area for your spice rub to adhere to as well as making it easier for the skin to fully crisp up.
Next take the yellow mustard and coat the entire ham. While the mustard will impart some flavor, the reason you're actually doing this is to help your rub cling as much as possible to ham. Now mix up your spices and apply generously, making sure to coat evenly, including deep into the diamond pattern.
- 1/2 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
The injection helps to add flavor deeper into the meat as well as add a little extra moisture, but it's not required and some people prefer the meat to solely retain the flavor of the smoke. If you decide to use it, mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil over low heat. Allow to cool and inject evenly throughout the ham, including as deep as the needle allows.
- 1/2 cup pineapple juice
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
Step 3: Smoke The Ham
Place the ham on the grill grates and shut the lid. Regulate your temperature as needed to make sure it stays between 220-230 degrees F, including adding more charcoal for more heat or adjusting your grill vents to bring the temperature down. Make sure you have a steady amount of smoke at all times, adding more damp wood when required. Fill your spray bottle with pineapple juice and then roughly once an hour spray down the ham with a light mist to keep your rub from burning as well as to add a little extra sugar to help caramelize the crust. However, only do it once an hour; every time you open the lid, you are losing that hard-earned temperature and smoke.
Step 4: Monitoring The End
Smoked ham needs to hit an internal temperature of 190 degrees F to be considered ready to eat but you don't want the skin directly exposed to heat the entire time or you risk destroying your spice rub. When you are about 2/3 of the way through your calculated cooking time (remember, 15-20 minutes per pound), insert the meat thermometer into the deepest part of the ham without hitting the bone and check the temperature. Continue monitoring until you reach 160 degrees, then remove the ham from the grill and wrap with a loose layer of tinfoil while leaving a small opening on each end to allow as much smoke to penetrate as possible. Return to the grill and continue to monitor the temperature until it reaches 190 degrees.
Step 5: Rest, Cut, and Eat
Once your ham has reached 190 degrees F, take it off the grill but don't remove the tinfoil. Just like with a steak, turkey breast, or pork loin, it's important that you let your ham rest for at least 25-30 minutes before cutting it. This helps the meat to evenly redistribute all the juices that the cooking process has driven to the center of the ham, which means you will lose less juice and have a far more tender cut when it's time to carve the meat. Once 25-30 minutes have passed, the only things left to do now are slice it up, serve it up, and dive in.
So now that you have the knowledge and you understand the technique, are you ready to take on the challenge of making a succulent smoked fresh ham that will wow yourself and everyone you know? It may have seemed daunting at first, but now you can see that it really is something that you can master with just a little practice and patience. If you're like me, you and your smoker are now ready for a whole new world of recipes.
I hope that you enjoyed this recipe, and I hope it's helped you feel confident to explore and innovate your own recipes. Tell us your thoughts, tips, and ideas in the comments below, and don't hesitate to share this recipe with your friends if you liked it; they should probably learn how to smoke ham too!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a fresh ham cured?
If the ham is labeled as “fresh,” they’re not referring to the fact that it has never been frozen. Fresh ham refers to a cut of meat that has not been cured or smoke. It is a raw pork product that needs to be cooked before consuming.
What cut is a fresh ham?
The cut of meat called ham refers to the hind leg of a pig. When it’s cured, it’s simply called a ham, but when it is raw and unprocessed it is called a fresh ham. It is often sold with the skin off, although sometimes you can find it sold as skin-on. Similarly, you may be able to find a bone-in fresh ham, but it is usually sold boneless and trussed.
What is a fresh ham called at the grocery store?
It is rare to find the whole ham at a grocery store. For this, you will likely need to special order the cut from a butcher shop. Usually, you’ll find fresh ham under two names: the shank and the rump. These are the two halves of the ham. The shank usually contains a bone while the rump is sold boneless. Sometimes the rump is called the butt, but don’t confuse the ham butt with the Boston butt; that is the pork’s shoulder from the front leg.
How long does it take to smoke a raw ham?
It should take about 15 to 20 minutes per pound to fully cook a raw ham. We like to cook the ham until it reaches 160 degrees F (which should take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours) before wrapping it in foil and cooking it for another hour or two until it reaches 190 degrees F.
Which ham is better shank or rump?
Neither ham is bad, although most people prefer the rump or the butt. The shank almost always has the bone attached, which makes it very flavorful, but it can be tougher than the rump half of the ham.