Spring is finally here! In my house, that means digging to the bottom of the freezer for a big pork leg or shoulder to cure up a smoked ham. Ham pairs beautifully with spring vegetables like asparagus, artichokes and peas.
This year I maded a black cured ham. Black cured ham is popular in the south, where the addition of cane syrup or molasses causes the ham to turn black, both during curing and smoking. I used Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup that I purchased in New Orleans last fall. Go #nola! After curing in the fridge for several week, this ham is typically hot smoked around 225 degrees. I used hickory chips for this ham, but fruit wood chips would also be great, adding extra the sweetness. A dark black mahogany crust forms on the ham’s exterior from caramelization.
Source the best quality fresh pork leg or shoulder that you can afford. My pork came from local Snake River Farm Minnesota, where they put their pigs on pasture so they can eat grass, vetch, clover and dig for worms and bugs. The meat tastes rich and complex with more fat, texture and deeper red color than feedlot pork. It’s “old fashioned” pork, as my dad says, and the flavor really shines through in this ham.
Enjoy this ham for any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner. You’ll have leftovers for days! If you’re a die hard, try making redeye gravy out of your ham drippings by deglazing the pan with a cup of coffee. Or save the drippings along with the ham bone for baked beans. Grandma would be proud.
By Tammy Kimbler
5-7 lb fresh pork leg or shoulder
6 tbs Morton Tender Quick
1/2 c Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup or light molasses
2 bay leaves
1 tbs whole black peppercorns
2 tsp whole allspice berries
2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground mace or nutmeg
2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1” piece fresh ginger
hickory wood chips
With a rolling pin or in a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves and cinnamon stick. Crumble the bay leaves. Add ground mace or nutmeg, mustard powder and cayenne pepper. Mix herbs and spices to combine.
Place fresh pork leg or shoulder in a two gallon ziplock. Add Morton Tender Quick, cane syrup and ginger to the bag, along with all the spices and herbs. Rub and distribute mixture all over the ham. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator. Flip the ham daily to distribute the resulting brine mixture. Cure the ham for 5 days for every 1 inch of thickness of your ham. My ham was 4 inches thick, so I left mine cure for 20 days.
Once the ham is cured, remove from brine. Rinse ham and remove any large bits of herbs and spices. Let ham drain on a rack, uncovered, in the fridge overnight. This process will allow the surface of the ham to dry slightly, giving the smoke a place to adhere to when smoking.
Soak a small 2 pound bag of hickory wood chips in water, then fire up your smoker. I have a box smoker that only gets up to 225 degrees with a plate of charcoal in the bottom, pan of water in the middle and my ham on a rack at the top. You can also use your charcoal BBQ set to indirect heat with the coals on one side and your ham as far away from them as possible, and a drip pan of water set underneath.
Hot smoke the ham over a low fire for 8 hours, replenishing both charcoal and wood chips every hour or so. Keep the heat between 200-225. The internal temp of your ham should reach 160 degrees. If the ham does not fully cook through, pop it in the oven at 250 degrees to finish it off.
Ham can be eaten hot, cold or room temperature. If reheating the ham, do so in a low oven until the internal temp reaches 140 degrees, otherwise your ham will dry out. I like to brush a little extra cane syrup over the ham the last 20 minutes before you take it out of the oven. Let the ham rest 10 minutes, then slice and serve.