When you have a fresh ham, you effectively have a blank canvas to work from as it will not have been cured.
With that in mind, you can get creative with the flavors and how you want to enhance the moisture content. That could be from dry brining or a meat injector which are useful methods.
For added flavor, you can also try a meat rub and a glaze to provide a balanced flavor profile and a delectably sweet crust.
Whichever methods you decide to use, take time to prepare before you smoke your ham.
You should give yourself enough time to get your equipment ready, your meat rubs and glazes prepared but that comes after you have weighed the ham itself.
The weight dictates how long you will have to cook the ham and whether you can sufficiently feed all your guests.
In this guide, we will look at the necessary equipment, the cooking stages, the cooking tips, and some recipe ideas you can try too.
The Equipment You Will Need
Before you begin smoking a whole fresh ham, you need to make sure that you have all the equipment you need.
That includes a smoker big enough to accommodate the size and weight of your meat cut.
This is a huge consideration if you go for a whole ham as it will include both the shank cut and butt cut, though you can opt for just those cuts.
To effectively smoke your ham you require a set of pellets for a pellet grill or charcoal for a charcoal grill. That may seem simple enough yet you should take the time to marry up the flavors.
Cherry, apple, and hickory chips go well with ham though you may find a pre-made blend that you prefer and comes recommended.
Make sure that you invest in a meat thermometer, also known as a probe thermometer, as you will need to check the internal temperature.
A meat injector is an optional piece of kit though can make a real difference to infusing your meat with delicious flavors for every slice, not just the crust.
Find yourself a silicone basting brush too to add those meat juices and you can also use it to apply the glaze.
One essential item that should be in your kitchen is aluminum foil and that will be needed here too. A bowl will also be necessary to mix your meat rub ingredients.
Then you will also need some measuring spoons and cups to ensure you get the proportions just right.
The Four Cooking Stages
There are four essential stages to smoking a fresh ham.
The whole process can be quite time-consuming so make a note of the weight of your ham to ensure you have enough time to prepare and effectively smoke your whole ham.
The first stage is to preheat your smoker and get the grill started in good time while you prepare the fresh ham.
Make sure you use your favorite chips and that everything is in good working order before you smoke the ham as it could prove difficult to rectify any issues later.
Give enough time to let the smoke culate and the heat to rise enough as you want to hit a temperature of 225°F and then keep it there.
As your smoker gets to the desired temperature, you have no time to waste to get the ham prepared. If you want to dry brine your ham then this should already be done.
This specific time should be taken up by creating the diamond pattern in the ham by using a sharp knife to cut a series of long slits covering the skin.
Each cut should only be around a quarter of an inch deep which is ample room to get into the fat then begin to penetrate the meat underneath.
Those diamond-shaped slits are essential for crisping up the outside of the ham during the smoking process.
By opening up the fat, you also provide more area for the meat rub to be absorbed in.
That’s right, it is now time to add the meat rub so begin by slathering on a thin layer of any yellow mustard you have (squirty or Dijon, it does not largely matter) over the entire ham.
Use a spoon to portion out your meat rub so you can make sure it is evenly distributed across the entire surface of your ham.
Make sure you get into the interior of those diamonds that cover the meat too.
At this point, you can also consider using a meat injector to add some moisture so the smoky flavor does not dominate.
If you do decide on the injection, choose some spots that lie close to the skin as well as closer to the middle of your ham to ensure a fair distribution.
Now comes the smoking and as long as the smoker has hit 225°F then you are ready to go. Get the timer going as you do not want to bring it out too soon or over-smoke it.
You will also be required to add some more pellets or charcoal to increase the heat or open up some air ducts to reduce it.
There may even be some scope to add a few wood chips to keep that smoky flavor maintained.
As guidance, you should be looking at giving your ham at least 20 minutes for each pound of weight.
However, you should get your meat thermometer ready as the desired internal temperature of 165°F is the main element you should be looking for.
Check it fairly often yet every two hours you may want to baste the ham with some pineapple juice and brown sugar to create a caramelized crust.
Be careful not to check it too much as you release heat every time you do.
At an internal temperature of only 135°F, you can remove your whole ham to wrap it up in some aluminum foil.
If you do not want to further expose your ham to smoke then you can cover it loosely and allow some openings.
Return your ham to the grill until it hits that ever so precious internal temperature of 165°F in the center.
After all that cooking time, you may think that the hard work is done and it largely is. There is one final and crucial step and that is to give your ham sufficient time to rest.
You can leave the foil on, even after it has hit an internal temperature of 165°F.
The most important thing is that you give the ham half an hour’s rest before you even contemplate cutting into it.
This is a similar rule for a lot of meat as most grillers will tell you to always give your steak ample time. This is to let those juices rest and distribute themselves away from the center.
In your ham, the resting time allows it to be extra juicy but also tender and your guests should appreciate the extra time they have waited.
Once rested, you can carve it up into sizable quarter-inch slices.
There are several ways to ensure that your guests go home raving about your whole ham. These include overnight dry brining to enhance the moisture of your ham.
Meat rubs can add your own flavor twist and balance out the overall sweetness that penetrates and covers your ham.
Some of that flavor penetration should come from a meat injection too though that does require extra equipment.
A lot of that delicious sweetness can come from the glaze too which should be a final touch. Each slice should have a delicious crusty edge and plenty of flavor across it too.
Overnight Dry Brining
Smoking can take a lot of the moisture out of a cut of meat and that can be countered by dry brining to take control of the moisture content as well as add some seasoning.
The science behind this is centered on osmosis as water and salt balance each other out.
Any salt actively follows the water and travels with it to arrive in areas that previously had little salt content.
You should already be adding salt to your whole ham with the meat injection and the meat rub yet further permeation can come from dry brining.
As well as the interior of your ham, you should take care to look after the exterior. A meat rub is a typical way of guaranteeing flavor that covers the entirety of your ham.
If your whole ham has come in some netting, you can apply the meat rub over it as the coverage should aid your ham in keeping its shape.
The netting will need to be removed once the ham has cooked as you should want to cover it with a glaze too.
Should your whole ham not come with a netting do not worry as you can simply score some diamond shapes into the surrounding fat.
This should give your meat some areas to penetrate into the fat and hold onto the ham. The diamonds also look great on a ham so you can go creative.
You may have a meat rub that you store away premixed for such occasions that you rely on which is fine.
There is a consideration to make if you are using a sugary glaze later or injecting your ham with a sugary concoction already and that is to level out the sweetness.
Opt for a savory meat rub as this should provide a welcome balance to the overall flavor of your ham.
Of course, there are already prepared meat rubs you can order in or pick up from your grocery store or butcher.
They are really simple to make and you should have most of the ingredients already in your kitchen cupboard anyway.
These ingredients can include typical seasonings such as black pepper and Kosher salt.
A lot of the flavor can come from mustard powder, dried thyme, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.
To ensure that your meat rub effectively sticks to your whole ham, you should coat it with a thin layer of yellow mustard.
Try not to worry about the flavor as the adhesive qualities are the main reason for the application of mustard.
Even an everyday squirty yellow mustard would do the job, the same as Dijon or English mustard.
To infuse your whole ham with delicious flavors you will need to get right into the meat. That means a meat injector to get a combination of sweet and salty notes into the meat.
Remember, you will be slicing a whole ham so you cannot sprinkle on some herbs and spices once the meat has been shredded, like pulled pork from a pork shoulder.
You can take care of the exterior of the ham pretty readily yet that only translates to a tasty edge while the interior, the bulk of the slice, remains bland.
A meat injector can get into the toughest meat cuts for reliably deep penetration.
There is some limited preparation yet that should not take too long and can make a huge difference to the flavor in each slice.
A typical meat injection consists largely of water mixed in with dark brown sugar as a base and a few tablespoons of butter.
A lot of the flavor can come from fruit juice so consider apple and pineapple juice to get into the ham. Finish it off with some salt and a few teaspoons of spices.
Simmer the ingredients in a pan until they have dissolved, allow them to come to room temperature then inject it in.
The act of glazing can give a delicious sweetness to your whole ham.
It should be noted that this is one of the final stages of any cooking as when applied to a raw ham, the glaze will almost certainly burn and no one wants that acrid taste.
Just like the meat rub, you can buy pre-made ham glazes that you only need to warm up before applying.
You should also be free to make your own ham glaze and that can be simple enough with a range of ingredients that you should already have.
For the most decadent of glazes, you can start with some dark rum and honey.
Further sweetness comes from pineapple juice, dark brown sugar with some butter, and wholegrain mustard to finish.
Several easy tips can make a huge difference in your fully smoked ham. From checking the weight to securing the right cut.
Start With A Blank Canvas
To ensure that your flavors have the biggest impact on your fresh ham, you need to ensure that your meat is as neutral as possible.
That means no pre-seasoning or curing, it should essentially be a blank canvas to work with.
When you are ordering your ham from your local butcher or picking it up from the store, be vigilant over what you are getting.
If you can, ask questions about where on the pig the ham has come from. The cut should be a whole fresh ham which is important as it will come with the shank and butt cuts.
It should be a sizable piece of meat to dedicate a long cooking time too and should be the centerpiece of a large gathering.
Typically, the ham as a centerpiece is the shank cut which is the lower half of a whole ham. That comes from further down the leg and is usually leaner than the rest of the pig.
The whole ham will include the butt cut which is decidedly fattier and has a richer flavor.
Once you explain that to your guests you can give them the option of where they would like their slice of ham to be carved.
A large gathering of friends and family should dictate the size and weight of your whole ham.
You should also look past the gathering as there may be a substantial amount of leftovers that you want to keep.
The weight will also dictate the cooking time and considering that it may take between 20 and 35 minutes of smoking time per pound then you may have to get up early to cook it fully in time for the arrival of your guests.
That smoking time is calculated from the amount of bone in the cut. More bone means a heavier weight and more time needed for smoking.
With less bone or even none at all, you should be able to carve the ham easier and benefit from less time smoking it.
There is a further calculation to make and that is the amount of weight you can expect to lose when smoking.
You should lose around 20% during the smoking process which should be a pretty simple calculation to make.
If your whole ham weighs 10 pounds then it should weigh 8 pounds once the smoking process has finished.
Hopefully, that is still enough meat to feed your hungry guests as you should be prepared to smoke half a pound per person for a ham without bones and three-quarters of a pound for ham with the bone in.
The Right Smoker
Anyone with experience of using a smoker, especially those with their own at home, should be familiar with cooking large cuts of meat.
This can be a whole ham or maybe a pork shoulder, a rack of ribs, or a big brisket. You should be aware that you have to accommodate the size of the cut so the smoker should be big enough.
The size of your smoker is the most important factor as after that it should not be a concern for the type of heat source or what type of fuel it uses.
This could be an electric or propane smoker, it could use charcoal or pellets, it doesn’t matter as long as it fits.
You could even use a pellet tube smoker or a gas grill perched on a smoker box if those were available options.
Just ensure you can look after the whole ham and that you can reach it easily to baste it and check the internal temperature.
A whole ham can be a difficult cut of meat to negotiate so making sure it has that delicious smoky flavor consistently over it should come with the right size.
Once you have decided on whether to go for a fresh ham with the bone in or without you can begin the process of smoking it.
Start by making a note of the weight as this will help you calculate the total cooking time. You may want to create your meat rubs and glazes though you can also buy them pre-made.
Smoking a fresh ham will be time-consuming but can be so rewarding once you begin carving it up.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Should You Smoke Each Pound Of Fresh Ham?
When smoking a large fresh ham, make sure you make a note of how much it weighs. The general rule when smoking a ham is to give it between 20 and 35 minutes for each pound.
That can add up to calculate the time it should take to prepare, smoke, and rest your ham so you can give a rough estimate of when it should be ready.
Such preparation is crucial when you are having guests over as you do not want to keep them salivating and waiting too long.
While the temperature in your smoker may change and other circumstances may arise, it is advised that you use a meat thermometer as your ham should hit an internal temperature of 165°F.
Once it does, it should be sufficiently smoked.
Is There Any Difference When Cooking An Uncured Smoked Ham?
Whether a smoked ham is cured or uncured should not make a difference to how it is cooked.
It may come as little surprise to know that most uncured meats in grocery stores are already fully cooked and only need reheating.
A cured or uncured smoked ham can be placed in a roasting pan with some water underneath then wrapped in some aluminum foil or covered with a lid.
You can cook the ham at around 225°F though you should weigh it out first. Each pound would require 20 to 35 minutes of cooking time.
After the total smoking time has elapsed you can check the ham with a meat thermometer to ensure that it has hit the desired 165°F mark.
While warm, add on some basting to enhance the flavor and moisture, if it is cured or uncured that should be a final step to a delicious ham.
How Long Should A Smoked Ham Keep For?
Once you have successfully smoked ham, you should expect it to keep for around five days in the fridge. That should mean plenty of time to use any leftovers in a variety of ways.
From simple sandwiches to simply adding to a plate with some cheese and nibbles to even using as a basis for extravagant salads.
If you do decide to freeze your leftovers then you can expect the ham to keep for around three months.