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Curing, Drying and Smoking Ham


This is a tutorial based on the steps we took to fully prepare, cure and smoke two Hams for a traditional Polish Easter Dinner. For both Hams we used the 10lb. recipe for Schinkenspeck found in Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas (pg. 308). For each process we gave the approximate time it took us to do it, just like in the Sausage-Making Weekend. We also made 25lbs. of Fresh Polish Sausage. The steps involved in making the sausage are identical to the Sausage Making Tutorial page, except after stuffing, the sausage will be placed in a refrigerator or cool garage overnight (to let the seasonings better envelop the meat). No Smoking Step. Then, all you have to do is fry, grill, or boil them. The items we needed for the Hams are located on the Checklist Page for quick reference. Also, just as in the Sausage Making Tutorial, this was my first time being involved in the entire Ham making process so I am in no way an expert. I included each step in the process, what we did and how we did it, the finished product was successfully delicious for us but, that doesn't mean the results can be so easily duplicated (could have been beginner's luck). This play-by-play of our experience is also a Tutorial for beginners, being written by a beginner makes this presentation of the process (I think) easier to understand, I sincerely hope it is. Enjoy!

Buy the Ham 20 MINS

We went to our trusted local meat market and asked for two boneless fresh Hams (or Leg of Pork). Not many people buy raw Hams so make sure to tell the person behind the counter that you plan on curing, smoking and cooking it yourself, so there isn't any confusion. We bought two, each weighing in around 11 pounds. This ended up costing us only about $50 (for two Hams), compare that to a smoked Ham behind the glass counter... Your Hams are likely to taste just like those and will cost you MUCH less.



Preparation 45 MINS

For this step we used: a Brining Bucket for each Ham (any cleaned food grade plastic or stainless steel pale), the Hams, a Compact Food Lug, a Meat Pump with Perforated Needle, ingredients in the recipe and water (Picture#1). The recipe we used defined exactly how much salt to use in the brine so there was no need for a Brine Tester (aka Salometer). The rest of the ingredients were INSTA CURE™ #1 , Dextrose, White Ground Pepper and Ground Juniper Berries (details at Checklist Page, Picture#2). Unfortunately for us we had whole juniper berries, so we placed them on a tray and laying a plastic bag on them, we hammered them into tiny crushed pieces. This recipe is similar to the Schinkenspeck, only that we are leaving out the belly (bacon). Added the amount of water to the bucket that the recipe called for and then added all the ingredients (Picture#3). Mix well for a few minutes to disperse ingredients thoroughly (Picture#4). The amount of the brine to be pumped into the Ham is 10% of the weight, so for our recipe it turned out to be about 4-5 full capacity loads from our meat pump (one Ham = 11 lbs., 10% = 1.1 lb., 1 lb = 16 oz., Pump Capacity = 4oz., so 4 pumps of 4 oz.). Temperature of Ham prior to pumping should be 38-40°F. So, we loaded up the brine and gave 4 pumps into different areas of the Ham, try to pump into the tougher sections (this will help cure penetration later, Picture #5,6). We used a perforated needle for our pump, which distributes the brine much more efficiently through 12 holes instead of 1 like on most needles. If you are preparing a Ham that has not been deboned, make sure to pump around the bone. When the pumping is done, put the Ham into the brine bucket which should have enough brine to entirely drown the Ham. Since we had two Hams we used two separate buckets, each with the same amount of brine. It is alright to place one Ham on top of another (if both are using the same cure) so long as the top one is also completely immersed in the brine, the limit according to Great Sausage Recipes is 4 Hams, at which point the bottom one will begin to lose much of its natural juices as well as the pumped cure. If stacking, rotate top-to-bottom and vice versa once a day.


Picture #1
The Table of PreCuring Supplies
Picture #2
Ingredients Labeled
Netting, 5 Gal. Brining Bucket, Hams in Food Lug, Meat Pump and Ingredients
Description of Ingredients in Schinkenspeck (for details, see Checklist)
Picture #3
Pouring the Ingredients
Picture #4
Mixing the Ingredients
Beginning the Brine. Pouring in the Ingredients
Making a Brine, Mixing the Ingredients thoroughly.
Picture #5
Pumping the Cure
Picture #6
Pumping and Pumping
Make Sure to get cure into the Tougher Spots too.
Pump Slowly and While Removing Needle.

Curing 5-7 DAYS

The only reason we are taking 5-7 days to brine the Hams is because we don't have commercial meat pumps that have dozens of needles which get the cure into every square inch of the Hams. We shot the cure through enough to take some time off the waiting period but, the penetration through slow saturation takes time. The brining of the Ham should be done in a cooler where the temperature can stay relatively constant at 38-40°F the entire time. It's really 5-7 days of doing nothing more than leaving the Hams alone. Let the cure do its job and get fully into each crevice by itself. If you want, you can check on the brine each day and stir it up a little, just make sure you put the top back on the container. The longer it stays in the brine, the saltier the finished product is bound to be, so for us we will be removing it on the 6th day, personal taste should be the determining factor on when you want to remove it (after the minimum required time for curing has passed). Take good notes and the next Hams you make will be even better!



Drying 12 HRS

We removed the Hams from the brine solution and immediately took them to the sink. With cold water, rinse off the excess salt that is on the Ham and using a hard bristled brush that has NEVER been used, brush thoroughly for a good 3-5 minutes (the surface tends to hold the salty brine a little too well). Don't even chance brushing the Ham with a used brush, it can be dangerous for you and anyone else eating. Rinse, Do Not Soak. After your done brushing, place the Ham into a Netting (Picture#8,9) or into Stockinette Bags that have been moistened with Vinegar, Peel-Ease or Liquid Smoke (this will make it much easier to remove the Ham from the stockinettes when its done smoking). Tie the net / bag onto the Stockinette Hook securely. Preheat your Smoker to 120°F, with the Smoke Diffuser or Drip Guard secured over the Heating Element (we recommend using the Diffuser). On the top brackets place the Dowel that will be the hanging off point for the Ham. Our 30 Lb. Capacity Smoker has a top-loading option, which made inserting the bulky Hams very easy. Just as in smoking Sausages, spacing is important, be sure the Hams are neither touching each other, the interior walls of the smoker nor the Diffuser. Don't forget to insert the Thermometer probes into both the Ham and one into the smoker. The dampers should be wide open for the entirety of the drying process. We put ours into the Smoker at 8:00pm. The temperature set at 120°F, we checked often for 2 hours to make sure the temp. was steady and when it was, we checked on it once an hour (see note on Thermostats at end of document). Leaving a Smoker alone for an extended amount of time is potentially dangerous, there are fatty meats that could drip onto an already smoking sawdust or red hot heating element, use caution. Aside from the potential for danger, it could ruin your Hams! Check Often.What we did was take turns checking on it through the night; the next morning was Sunday so nobody had to work (plan well). The Drying Process was completed successfully.

Smoking 8 HRS

About 8:30am. Its been 12+ hours since putting the Hams in the smoker for drying. Its time to start smoking. Leave dampers half-way open. Set the temp. to 130°F and add a full pan of dampened Sawdust or Chips. One smoke application lasted a little over 2 hours for us, at which point we substituted the pan with another prepped one and increased the temperature setting to 140°F (wear an oven mitt when removing the pan). On the third application (our last) we increased the temperature to 150°F. When the smoke stopped it was around 4:00pm, about 8 Hours from the beginning of the smoking process. So, we removed the ash encrusted pan and bumped the temperature to 165°F. Internal temperature of the Hams were 130°F and we want it in the 152 - 155°F mark. Leave the smoke diffuser(which also disperses heat evenly) over the heating element. By itself, the heating element would produce too much heat and it would concentrate in the center, burning the meat directly above it. Its perfectly normal for the smoke to be thick at times then seemingly stop. It momentarily stops when the heating element is no longer needed to bring up the internal temperature but, when it starts dropping towards the minimum thermostat setting it will turn back on and produce smoke again. If the heating element were always ON during smoking it would be uncontrollably hot in the smoker and the sawdust would completely scorch in 20 minutes; the ON/OFF toggling of the heating element creates a balance with the median as the set temperature.


Picture #7
Hams Cured, Ready for Wash
Picture #8
Insert into Netting
Done Curing, Wash Under Sink With Clean Brush
Tie Netting onto Stockinette Hook Securely
Picture #9
Hanging off Dowel by Hook
Picture #10
Drying Phase Finished

Don't want too much slack. Hams or Net shouldn't touch Diffuser or walls.

At end of 12 HR drying cycle, first Smoke application.
Picture #11
Smoking Hams2
Picture #12
Smoking Hams
Second Smoke, Looking Great!
Third & Last Smoke

Initial Cooking 7 HRS

Now that the smoking process is over, its time to bring up the Internal Temperature of the Ham. Completely close the dampers and bring up the temperature between 165 - 170°F. Be careful not to let it go beyond 170°F (the fat will start to melt in the Ham and drip out, which could in turn ignite into flare-ups and the loss of juices will make a less succulent finished Ham (and nobody wants that!). When the temperature steadied at around 167°F, a perfect temperature, we kept it there for a few hours. At the start of smoking, the Internal Ham temperature was increasing approximately 3°F every hour, now it was going about a single degree per hour. This was a problem for us since it was closing in on 9:00pm and the internal temperature was only 140°F. A quick reference of Great Sausage Recipes showed that when their temperature reaches 142°F, the Hams can be removed from the smoker and cooked up to 155°F later. So, as soon as the temperature reached 143°F (always go a little over, be safe) we removed the Hams and shut down "the Machine" that has been running for 27 hours straight. Until they are fully cooked, they will not be edible. Even if they look incredibly delicious, don't be fooled, we almost fell into the temptation with our weary glazed-over eyes but, we restrained ourselves. They looked and smelled amazing, but we had to wait 2 more days before we could eat them for Easter Dinner. We wait...


Easter Sunday

The time has finally arrived, the suspense has been building since we started the process a week ago. The dinner table is being prepped for the feast, aside from the Hams we have 2 Easter Babkas (similar to a pound cake), Pan-Fried Polish Sausage, White Barszcz with chunks of Sausage, Beet and Horseradish Salads, Deviled Eggs, Rye Bread, 2 types of Pierogi; one with cheese and potato, the other with Sauerkraut. The table decoratively adorned with Tulips, Lilacs, Pussywillows, "the nice tablecloth", and strong drink. The Hams have been sitting in pots filled with water mixed with Bay Leaves and Whole Allspice, the flame underneath is on medium. In two hours the internal temperature of the Hams was above 160°F, they were ready and so were we. The family starts arriving and the first Ham is placed in the center of the table, of course nobody had eaten a thing all day (why waste the stomach-room?), and we dig in. The Ham was the talk of the table and once it was getting to it's end, the second one was brought out to the delight of everyone. It was a wonderful traditional Polish Easter Sunday dinner, filled with family, laughter and great food. Regretfully we didn't get pictures of the family gathering or the beautifully prepared dinner table, we did however take pictures of the Hams after they were finished cooking, how delicious does that look? The Hams were a hit so we brought what was left into work the next day (Smingus Dyngus!) and everyone loved them. The process was long but, just like at a nice restaurant; the longer you wait, the greater the reward. It was well worth the work and wait, it was fun, and we gained a new family tradition of making our own Hams instead of spending an arm and a leg on a mass produced one. The Hams are sliced, in plastic sealed bags and in the deli locker of our refrigerator as of this writing (03.28.08), they are still delicious and we plan on keeping them around for at least another week. We aren't going to make Ham for any little occasion or if we get a hankering for a Ham sandwich. It's for special occasions, like holidays that give you some time to plan and prepare for the endeavor, like an Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Picture #13
Hams Finished!
Picture #14
Hams Looking Good
The White Pepper & Juniper Berries, Delicious Combo for this Ham.
Another Picture of the Hams.
Picture #15
Picture #16
Lookin' Good
Picture #17
Close Top View
Looks Great, Tasted Better.


The Preparation, Curing, Drying, Smoking and Cooking of the Hams was a very interesting experience but, all would have been lost if the Hams didn't taste great. This was the second major project I was fortunate enough to take part in and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Even when the temperature in the Hams started to slow its climb and we didn't get to finish the Hams in the smoker as I hoped (I really wanted to cut it up that night). Easter was only 2 days away though, and sure enough I got my fill of Ham that day. The next time we are going to make Ham will likely be Christmas, the experience from this learning process will be very helpful when that time comes around but, til then we are storming up our next projects. What's coming up on the future menu? I would like to experiment with Dry-Curing Meats and making a variety of sausages like: Bratwurst, Beer Sausage, Mettwurst, Liver Sausage and of course Kiszka! We'll see how it goes. Hope this tutorial was helpful, if you decide on making Hams in the future, be sure to figure in the amount of time it may take. I would recommend you start the Curing / Brining process at the start of the week so that the actual time-consuming Drying and Smoking is saved for the weekend, just bare in mind the 2nd half of the process will take time and patience, and Have Fun!


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A tip on smokers(thermostats): All temperature settings have a maximum and minimum temperature setting built into the Thermostats. Since the heating element gets red hot, it automatically turns itself off when that max. temp. is hit on the Thermostat's Probe (the probe is usually against the back interior wall). You can see the min. & max. temps by looking at the inside smoker temperatures and for those with a keen sense of hearing you can actually hear a *CLICK* when the heating element is toggled ON and when the max. temp. hits there is another *CLICK* which turns OFF the heating element. When changing the temperature, it generally takes 2 cycles to steady itself, wait for the steady temperature before adjusting the temp. setting again. No smoker is perfect at first, but when you get the feel of your smokehouse, (its quirks and tendencies) then you truly are in control and can relax a little.