Preparing a Country or Smithfield Ham

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Preparing a Country Ham or Smithfield Ham. Put Country ham tutorial gives you all the information you need to make a spectacular classic American regional cuisine entree.
Finding and Preparing A Country or Smithfield Ham
It's ironic that in the southern United States, country hams are sold nearly everywhere (I've even seen them all Wal-Marts), but get west of the Mississippi or north of the Mason-Dixon line and, unless you're lucky, you have to special order them.

country ham, recipes, smithfield hamIf all you've ever experienced are the supermarket varieties of ham (also known as city hams), a country ham may be an acquired taste. They are definitely more salty! But underneath the salt you'll get flavor and subtleties that other hams just can't compare to.

All country hams are dry cured with salt. The process involves salting the ham's surface and hanging it to dry for several months to several years until the salt permeates the meat. As salt pulls moisture from the meat, in concentrates the meat's flavor. Some,but not all, country hams are also smoked.

Country hams require no refrigeration until after they are cooked, providing you store them in a cool dry place. Preparing and cooking a country ham requires extra steps not necessary for commercially prepared brined hams. Our photo tutorial should take the mystery out of preparing this all American delicacy.

Smithfield Hams
All Smithfield hams are country hams, but not all country hams are Smithfields. Think of the word "Smithfield" on the label as you would an appellation on a wine label - the ham comes from the area of Smithfield, Virginia. Originally the hogs that made Smithfield hams were fed a diet of acorns, hickory nuts (guess there's a reason we always see hickory smoked ham) and peanuts. Most Smithfield hogs today dine on a whole grain diet. The dry cured hams are aged from 6 months to 2 years, resulting in a dark rich meat that requires no refrigeration until cooked (provided it's kept in a cool, dry place).

Preparing and cooking a Smithfield, or any dry cured country ham requires extra steps not necessary for commercially prepared brined hams. It's not difficult, but you do need to plan several days in advance for soaking. Below you'll find detailed instructions and tips for preparing a fabulous Country or Smithfield ham.

Wanna Buy a Ham?

Click here to shop for Smithfield Hams at

smithfield ham

Cooking Liquid
You can cook your ham in any number of liquids including beer, cider, wine or even soda pop. Television cooking guru Alton Brown cooks his country ham in Dr. Pepper. Betty Fussel uses beer mixed with blackstrap molasses, brown sugar and mustard.

For the ham in the photo tutorial I mixed my own cooking liquid:

  • 1 bottle (15 ounces) molasses, preferably blackstrap
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard

Mix all ingredients and heat until honey and sugar are dissolved. Add to roasting pan, cover and cook according to the Smithfield Ham photo tutorial.

Soaking a Country Ham
The instructions on the packaging of most country hams call for soaking the ham overnight in water. In our experience this is not nearly enough. Country ham is salty! Plan on a minimum of 2 days soaking time, 3 is better.

i hear america cookingWhile water works fine for soaking the ham, I found a great tip in Betty Fussel's wonderful book on American regional cuisine -- I Hear America Cooking . Betty uses brewed tea in the soaking liquid in order to counteract country ham's saltiness. Betty adds a gallon of tea to her soaking liquid and soaks for 3 days.

I used a hybrid of her idea for the ham in our photo tutorial, as I wanted to get as much salt out of the ham as possible. I soaked the ham in water for two days, changing the water 3 times a day. On the third day, I added the gallon of tea, as Betty suggested -- twice (meaning I changed the water halfway through the day and added more tea and water). Even with all this soaking, the ham still comes out salty, so don't skimp on soaking, with or without tea.

Ham Cooking Times and Temperatures
In general terms figure about 10 minutes per pound for baked ham (baked at about 325° F.).

For best results, start the ham in a hotter oven (426°F) for the first half hour of cooking, then lower the temperature to 325°F for the remaining cooking time.

Cook ham to an internal temperature of 135° - 140° F.

If you plan on glazing your ham, bake the ham, without glaze, to an internal temperature of 130° F; apply glaze and continue baking until done.

Click to Page 2 for detailed photo instructions on how to cook a Country or Smothfield Ham.

{pagebreak} Cooking A Country Ham or Smithfield Ham
After you've done your prep work it's time to get cooking. The photo tutorial below details exactly what you need to do to prep and cook your Smithfield or country ham.

Country hams come packaged in nifty cloth bags (photo 1) and require no refrigeration until after they are cooked, provided they are stored in a cool dry place. As the hams are dry salt cured, they have an intense flavor and aroma (in other words, they kinda stink). They also, won't win any beauty contests. Don't be alarmed if there is mold on the outside of your country ham, this is a perfectly normal by product of the curing process. (photo 2)

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The next step is to put the ham in a clean sink and give it a scrub. Use a small brush to get all the mold off. (photo 3)

After the ham has had a scrub, it's time to get rid of the ham hock. If you bought your ham from a butcher or a supermarket, you can ask the butcher to remove the shank or ham hock for you. Otherwise, a hack saw does a good job -- just hold the ham steady and carefully saw through the bone. (photo 4) Don't throw out the ham hock, you can use it to flavor soups (like ham and pea soup), beans, greens and more. If you can't use it right away, wrap the hock and freeze for future use

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Country hams are, by nature, extremely salty. They have also been dry cured and are somewhat dehydrated. As such, they need to be soaked for a couple of days before cooking. You can use a large tub or bucket, or better yet a large cooler chest. Completely cover the ham with water. Change the water 2-3 times a day for 2-3 days before cooking ham. (photo 5) To counteract the saltiness, you can also add brewed tea to the soaking liquid.

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After soaking, remove the ham from the soaking liquid and place in a large roasting pan. Photos 6 and 7 show both sides of the soaked ham.

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Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Add cooking liquid (see sidebar) until it reaches about half way up the sides of the roasting pan. (photo 8) Turn the ham fat side down. Loosely tent the roasting pan with foil and place in the oven. (photo 9) ham, recipes, smithfield ham ham, recipes, smithfield ham

Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Roast for 1 1/2 hours more, then remove ham from oven. Let rest for 5 minutes. Carefully lift the foil and turn ham. Cover and roast until ham reaches 140°F in the thickest part. The color should be deep brown and the meat should be starting to pull away from the bone at the shank end.

Remove the ham from the oven, uncover and let rest for 15 minutes. Carefully carve off the outer thick layer of fat, leaving just a thin layer. (photo 11) If desired, you can pop the ham under the broiler for a couple of minutes to cook the fat on top. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn. Even better, put a thin coating of brown sugar over the ham, return to broiler until sugar is just caramelized. (photo 12) ham, recipes, smithfield ham 11. country ham, recipes, smithfield ham

Carve ham from the shank end up. Slice thinly as country ham has a potent flavor. Enjoy! (photo 13)

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