Are you ready for the holidays? It's a slippery slope after Halloween. First up, of course, is Thanksgiving. And we'll be your resource for that as we'll be posting a couple of options for turkey. (Spoiler alert: One speaks Italian.)
But what would be more traditional, more welcome than a house-cured, house-smoked ham to sustain the household through the coming days? The seasonality of food, a given for our ancestors, mandated that meat be preserved through a variety of methods. In colonial times, hogs were dispatched in the fall, and hams were cured in smokehouses.
Which brings us to the big kahuna: a whole ham (it starts with pork shoulder) you cure and smoke yourself. And just in time for the holidays.
The brine gives the ham (technically, a "city ham" as opposed to a dry-cured "country ham"), a sweet, salty, umami flavor as well as its rosy color. Injecting with the barbecue equivalent of a hypodermic needle efficiently delivers the brine to the interior of the pork shoulder and accelerates the curing process. Cold-smoking drives wood smoke flavor deep into the meat. Hot-smoking cooks the ham to food-safe temperatures.
You may ask, "Why bother curing and smoking your own ham? Can't you buy ready-made hams?" The short answer? Doing it yourself is so gratifying. (I'll never forget my first time--I was inaugurating my brand-new smokehouse.) You'll produce a ham with incomparable flavor, a ham with soul. One you'll be so proud to serve to family and friends. A ham they'll never forget.
When you pull this big boy off your smoker--the exterior bronzed with smoke, the cured meat pink as a cherub, with smoke and salt flavors that won't quit--you'll feel a sense of pride money just can't buy.
Not only that, but you'll control the quality of the pork. My first choice is always heritage-breed pork from trustworthy purveyors--local, if you can find them.
The process of curing and smoking a ham takes about one week from start to finish. But there's little actual labor, and what there is--let's just say it's richly rewarded.
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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Project Smoke on public television. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.