Perfect for the winter holidays, great for special occasions, and a treat for the family throughout the year, country ham is a handsome and delicious addition to any dinner table. This rustic dish goes back to the days before refrigeration, when smoking and saltwater brining were essential to meat preservation. This historic technique, although transformed, still exists today and is more delicious than ever.
The first thing to do when cooking a country ham is to make sure that it’s a real country ham. From city ham to black forest ham, there are a confusingly large amount of options that make the selection process as important as the cooking steps. This is especially true if you’re outside of the south, where country ham is predominantly found.
There are plenty of online markets and resources to help with this. Smithfield Foods is a great online option that does a good job of providing genuine cuts of ham into different categories so people know exactly what they’re buying. Smithfield Food Inc can help narrow down your options and make your country ham experience that much more simple and easy. This is especially true since country hams don’t look like, due to the long-term curing process, most hams.
The first thing to do when prepping your ham is to remove the excess salt that amasses throughout the curing process. In order to do this, the ham needs to be soaked. This can take anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days depending on the size of the ham. The ham also needs to be cool, set around 40°F, during this process. For long-term soaking, the water should be changed out every 12 hours or so. The ham should be rinsed between each soak to help with rehydration.
If roasting your ham in the oven, the ham should be kept at consistent internal temperature of 160° F. Make sure the ham gets into the oven immediately after rinsing off the soaking water to prevent bacterial growth. Although oven-roasting your ham is a fine option, you can achieve maximum flavor and tenderness on the grill or by smoking.
On the grill, a country ham is best kept at 300° F with indirect heat for 3 to 4 hours. Be sure to baste the ham with something sweet and acidic throughout the grilling process; Dr. Pepper and pineapple juice are two popular options.
If you choose to smoke the ham, you want to keep it at a low temperature. Adding too much smoke can leave the already cured ham with an overwhelming smokiness. Baste frequently and keep the temperature around 250° for 5 to 6 hours.
Country ham requires a process that takes time, preparation, and an adherence to traditional country techniques. It’s a process, however, that pays back in spades with flavor and tenderness. If done properly, this southern staple can quickly become a family favourite to be shared with loved ones for years to come.