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FAQ Subject: Hot smoking and dry curing hams
Dear Mr. Hale or "Smoky",
I am hoping to cure and smoke some pork hams this summer for a camping event in August. I have been working with recipes that originate in the Middle Ages (in this case 15th C Italian, if you like I can send you the information) and they don't tell you how to do the steps required, they just assume that you know how. This is where I have turned to experienced people like yourself, to ask for some guidance. No one around here does this kind of stuff, so thank goodness for the Internet.
I have made sausage in the past and now I'd like to step up to working with whole hams. Since I don't have my own smoker I am forced to rely on a local butcher who will smoke them for me after I cure them (at a rate of 50 cents/lb). I am wondering if it's advisable to hot smoke them as this is the only option the butcher can give me.
I have read your post regarding a dry cure of 8:2:2 combination of which I am probably going to add honey and maybe some spices (I havent decided yet). What I would like to clarify is that when dry curing you indicate that the meat takes 2 days for every pound of meat if the piece is over 10lbs. The hams I have are around 19lbs a piece, that means 38 days?! Is this correct? I just want to make sure I am on the right track. Can it be done in less? and if not, any advise how to keep it at 40 degrees that long.
In addition, the butcher is expecting to put these hams in for around 24 hours in the hot smoke, not for the days you have indicated. Is this sufficient to give a decent flavour? If I recall correctly the temp goes up to 170 degrees in the meat then it's done.
Thank you so much for being a source for help, I wish I had my grandparents around to advise me of this kind of thing, but at least I'll be able to teach my kids (they help me make sausage).
For more ancient directions, you may want to pick up a copy of "De agri cultura" written by Cato the Elder about 160 BC. (Excerpt from "The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual.")
This may be a project that you want to postpone until you have the equipment, time and information to do properly.
You are correct that a 19 lb. ham would require 38 days for curing. If the ambient temperature is not in the low 40°s, then it must be refrigerated to maintain that temperature.
After the cure, the hams should hang to dry for at least two weeks before smoking, then you need at least 48 hours of smoke and allow the meat to reach 135° internally. But the butcher's offer of giving you 24 hours of smoke $.50 per lb is outrageous.
I encourage you to build yourself a smoker/smoke house (find plans and illustrations in "The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual" in the Barbecue Store at www.barbecuen.com ) Acquire a good used refrigerator which can be used solely for curing and drying meat. Do a Boston butt or two with no time pressures, before drying to do the hams.