Those hanging hams. Ever wondered what process makes them last? Think of how unusual it is that huge hunks of meat should be safe to eat after being at room temperature for long periods of time, but they are safe to eat. We’re going to explore how to smoke cured meat to add flavor.
Both sets of my grandparents had smokehouses where they cured and then smoked their hams. Seems most country people back 50-100 years ago had them and took great pride and care in producing their own cured meats. Salt curing and smoking meat was a common practice.
Today, not so many people keep smokehouses but lots of people smoke meat. Today we are going to talk about smoking a salt cured ham. But let’s look at how you would salt cure a ham “from scratch.” Then we’ll see how to flavor a cured ham with smoke, whether you cure it yourself or buy one already cured.
Preserve Hams with Salt Curing
Accepted as a safe practice, using salt to pull moisture out of pork hams as a curing method has been used for, at least, hundreds of years and maybe longer. This process involves rubbing salt onto the ham, resting the meat for a period of time, repeating the salt rub and rest a few times before covering the meat and allowing it to hang undisturbed for over half a year. These methods require no refrigeration.
After the meat is cured it can then be smoked to add flavor.
How to Smoke Meat
Gather wood to flavor the smoke. Many like to use fruit trees. Only use hardwood trees and never use evergreen trees. The wood’s size, whether it is logs, wood chips or sawdust is determined by what type and size smoker is used. Whether you wet the wood versus dry smoking is a bit controversial and is left to the individual’s smoking experience and taste.
How long you smoke the meat is determined by different things but simply put it is for you to decide and research, experience and your taste buds will be the determining factors.
How to Build a Smokehouse or Smoker
Some, like my grandparents, had dedicated buildings to hold their meat while curing and smoking. Today there are other options like portable smokers to do the smoking in and most people hang curing hams in their climate-controlled homes that have stable humidity and heat with few fluctuations; however, many still prefer the stand alone smokehouse.
Smokehouses and portable smokers can be used to smoke other cuts of meat besides just hams, of course. Any kind of meat that can be dried can be smoked. Smoke adds benefits to the meat besides flavor like killing some bacteria, preventing mold and helping fats not turn rancid.
Learning to salt cure meat and smoke it is well worth the time and effort it takes. As generations before us have known, practical methods of meat preservation have meant meat on the table during lean times. Today knowing how to smoke means we can add flavor to home-cured or store-bought cured hams and other meats. It’s all good!