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How to cure a ham

home-cured ham | Homesick Texan

A recent trip to the store presented me with a beautiful selection of hams, recently brought in by a local pig farmer. As I picked out the one I wanted, the butcher said, “You realize that these hams have not been cured.” No, I did not. I asked for him to explain.

He told me that most of the hams that you buy have already been both cured and cooked—so they’re ready to eat. But he was selling leg joints—the part of the pig from where we get our hams—which had not been cured, let alone cooked. And in order for them to get that classic salty, sweet taste of ham, they would have to be cured first before baking.

My grandparents have told me stories about the hams their parents used to slow cure in the smokehouse. This ham, which after being coated in salt, sugar and black pepper, was hung and left to develop for almost a year. And the result was a delicate, supple meat similar to prosciutto. This is what’s known as country ham.

home-cured ham | Homesick Texan

But the hams that we more often see at the grocery store have been cured in a wet brine for only a few days and then cooked, which leaves it with a more juicy yet chewy texture. This is what’s known as city ham. I don’t have a smokehouse nor do I have a cold basement to cure a country ham, so I decided to make a city ham instead. And you know what? It’s pretty darn easy!

My butcher pointed me towards Michael Ruhlman’s recipe, which calls for simply water, brown sugar and salt. You also use a bit of Insta Cure No. 1 (also known as Prague powder or pink salt, though do not confuse it with Himalayan salt), which is a mixture of regular salt and sodium nitrates, along with added pink coloring so you won’t mistake it for table salt. Be careful with Insta Cure, however, as it can be poisonous in large quantities, (and my butcher would only give me some if I promised not to kill anyone). But in small amounts it helps the ham keep its pink color and prevents botulism from forming.

Once I had my ham, the second challenge was finding a food-grade plastic receptacle large enough to hold the meat as it brined. You can’t use a metal container because the salt can break down its surface, causing your meat to become toxic (while ruining your pot as well). Many people use ice chests; I ended up buying a plastic food container that could hold over a gallon of water yet was narrow enough to fit in my refrigerator.

home-cured ham | Homesick Texan

Making the brine was simple, though I changed the basic recipe by adding some cloves and molasses and substituting turbinado sugar for the brown. I stuck my ham into the liquid, sealed the container, stuck it in the fridge and then waited.

Common wisdom states that a ham should be wet cured for one day per every two pounds. After this period I also soaked it for one more day in clean water to remove some of the excess saltiness.

I baked it for a few hours until the internal temperature was 150 degrees, then I pulled the ham out of the oven. It certainly looked like ham with its rich rosy color. And it certainly smelled like ham as well. I cut off a slice and took a bite.

The texture was tender and juicy, with a flavor both salty and sweet nicely punctuated by the spicy depths of the cloves. I cut off another slice and another. I couldn’t stop eating my ham—it was that good. It was definitely one of the best city hams I’d ever eaten, so wonderful, in fact, that it didn’t even need a glaze—it was ready to be sliced and served as it was.

home-cured ham | Homesick Texan

I highly recommend you give wet-curing a try. Seriously, you’ll never buy a canned ham again. And just think how impressed everyone will be when you serve a slice and say, I made this!

Do you have a favorite glaze? And what what do you like to do with leftover ham? Me? Ham salad.

How to cure a ham


Ingredients:
5-pound ham, uncured and uncooked
2 litres of water (a little more than 2 quarts)
3/4 cups of kosher salt
1 cup of turbinado sugar
1/4 cup of molasses
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 teaspoons Insta Cure No. 1 aka pink salt
A plastic container large enough to contain the ham but small enough to still fit into your refrigerator

Method:
Place your ham in the plastic container that you’ll be using to cure it. On a stove, heat up the water with the salt, sugar, molasses, and ground clove, just until the salt and sugars have dissolved. Stir in the pink salt then pour over the ham, adding more water as need to cover the ham by 1 inch. If any parts of the ham bob above the surface of the brine, place a ceramic plate on top to weigh it down.
Place the container in the fridge, and keep it there for a span that equals one day per every two pounds. Halfway through the brining process, turn the ham over so all parts of it will be submerged.

After the brining is done, rinse the ham and let it soak refrigerated in clean water for 24 hours.

To cook the ham, bake it in a foil-lined roasting pan at 325 degrees for 30 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature is 150 degrees. (I recommend not doing it on a rack as I did because it leaves strange impressions on the meat.)

When done, slice and serve. When figuring what size to buy, I’d say about a pound per person, though that is still a lot of ham!

Note: Your butcher may have Insta Cure No. 1 and may sell you some. You can also order it online.

Author:
Adapted by Lisa Fain from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie


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  1. Wow. It doesn't seem that intimidating after all to make your own ham… This post reminds me of living in Minneapolis actually. We had a back porch that I could brine turkeys in overnight (I used a giant plastic mopping bucket) and because it was usually around 40 degrees on the porch, it worked great for this. Come to think of it – that's about the only thing I miss about living there – that porch:)

    Great post – Happy Easter Lisa!

  2. What a great experience! I cooked an uncured ham once in high school but haven't been able to find one since. We stuck slivers of garlic into small slits all over the ham and it was one of the best hams I've ever eaten. I would love to give this a try again!

  3. Looks great. I love to cure my own ham (and bacon and a salt beef too) but tend to dry cure in a big ziplock bag, saves having to find a huge curing receptacle, although you still have to find a big ziplock bag. Will have to try a brine cure one day.

  4. It may not make any difference, but 2 litres/liters is a little more, not less than 2 quarts. A litre/liter is 33.8 ounces; a quart is 32.

  5. If I can find an uncured ham I will be giving this a try. I've always been interested in curing a ham but didn't know where to start.

  6. Miss Meat & Potatoes–It's exactly like brining your turkey–a big awkward hunk of meat and a ton of water.

    Phoo-D–I'll have to try the garlic slivers next time. Yum!

    Joshua–I've dry cured bacon once, but wasn't pleased with the results. I might try wet curing next time.

    Omnivore–Thank you–corrected.

    Erin–Lots of stores are selling right now because of Easter.

  7. Looks great! Very interesting post. I'm not ready to give up my brown sugar glaze though..

  8. Debbie–I love a brown sugar glaze! And this ham can be definitely be glazed.

  9. Celeste

    Looks divine. My family always cooked a cured ham in a roaster with a 2-liter bottle of 7-Up poured over it. Memories!

    I've been enjoying a cooking blog that's new to me, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, and today they had a recipe for a mustard sauce for ham which is giving me Big Ideas to try it out on Sunday.

    As for leftover ham, I like a ham & Swiss quiche; it's a good way to reheat it without it being dry. Ham salad is truly the only way to enjoy cold ham; I'm just not much for a cold ham steak sandwich. I much prefer thin sliced boiled ham for a sammie.

  10. Reading this post during lunch-time has made me very hungry. Just curious, how much did the ham you bought weigh?

  11. Eddie–Mine was five pounds.

    Celeste–A quiche sounds like a great way to use up leftover ham. And I'll definitely have to try using 7-up next time!

  12. I'm glad to know he made you promise to use that cure only on your ham.
    It sounds like it might cure other problems as well. 😉

  13. I just might have to buy Ruhlman's book after reading this.

    One way I like to glaze my ham is to reduce pineapple and passion fruit juice to a thick syrup and apply at the end of baking.

    Always make a bit extra to serve on the side. Passion fruit is the key.

  14. Can we get your ham salad recipe? For me left over ham goes in to a Ham & Gouda Noodle Casserole; Scrambled Eggs with Ham, Ham Sandwiches, 7-Layer Salad (replace bacon with ham); deviled ham puffs; etc…

  15. I use yellow mustard and brown sugar to glaze my hams. It doesn't take a lot of mustard, just enough to make the brown sugar melt and then pour it on and smear around. Yummy!

  16. I buy a whole leg of pork every christmas, and use brown sugar,blacktreacle,cloves,pepper, ,bayleaves,allspice and salt and just the tinest pinch of saltpetre..it is really easy and extremely tasty.

  17. we did this ruhlman cured ham for christmas and…oh, my! fortunately, we have room for a smoker and smoked it we did. then we drove it to dallas to eat it with the family!

  18. What happens if you cook a ham that's not cured? Is it just less flavorful?

  19. That is so awesome!!!
    I love posts like this where you learns something. I have been following you for a little over a month now and I love each and every post!

  20. to cure a ham of what??? haha cool recipe

  21. Tommy-His book is excellent. And I've never had ham with passion fruit–intriguing!

    California Country–I just make it up but let me write down some measurements and I'll share it with y'all.

    VickiC–I love that combination!

    Mukkerjee–Wow! That's a lot of ham!

    TheCosmicCowgirl–I hope to be able to smoke one next time.

    Alf–It won't taste like ham, it'll taste like roasted pork. Not bad, just different.

    Miranda–Thank you!

    Pants–Ha!

  22. Is enameled cast iron okay for brining, or will that also be destroyed by salt?

  23. annother inspiring recipe!thank-you. i'm thinking liquid hickory smoke might work with this…

  24. Great job, and it looks delicious! I'm not a huge ham fan, but I could go for this. Too late to do for this Easter, I think, but I'm thinking the next big ham holiday, I should totally try it!

  25. Yum! I never thought about curing a ham at home!

    I love using leftover ham for soups and quiche 😀

  26. Anonymous

    I live in Mexico and I doubt I'll be able to find InstaCure. Any ideas/substitutions?

  27. Asriel–I think it's OK, but I'd probably use plastic to be safe.

    Jeff–That would definitely give it a smoky flavor.

    Tasty Eats at Home–Thank you!

    Whisk-Kid–I love it in soup as well, especially the bone.

    Anon–Do y'all have saltpetre? I'd talk to you butcher, surely there's something equivalent in Mexico as ham is served there as well.

  28. My very favorite leftover ham use is ham, peanut, and vegetable fried rice. I basically make a huge stir-fry of a variety of fresh vegetables, flavor it all liberally with fresh ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes, then mix the stir-fry into the fried rice. Season with soy sauce and sesame oil and you're good to go.

  29. I'm inspired by your efforts! I'd given a passing thought to having a go at cooking some pastrami (not sure why but I have a fixation with it). But might even have a go at cooking ham! Good work!!

  30. While we are on the subject of ham… My wife's family is Cuban… traditional Cuban Christmas dinner is a fresh ham. All of the garlic discussed with a lot of salt, then allowed to brine over night in Goya brand "Mojo". You can leave some of the skin on or take it all off.
    I go to the local pig farm and pick up my fresh hams.
    Along with the ham we usually serve black beans, sweet fried platanos, yuca with a onion/EVO mojo and a avocado tomato salad.
    I have loved leaning the Cuban cooking from my in-laws.
    Truly enjoy your blog

  31. do you have to use a leg joint?…or can you use a shoulder?…

  32. Debbie–Yum!

    Deb–Pastrami would be fun to do as well!

    Alaina–I bet you could use a shoulder.

  33. Anonymous

    Nice post Lisa. Your next assignment with pork and pink salt is Canadian bacon! Also very quick, easy and very yummy!!

    Paul

  34. Looks wonderful. I can remember my Grandfather & my Father doing this a couple of times when I was a kid. I believe yours looks delicious. Congrats!

  35. Congratulations on winning "Best Regional Cuisine" Lisa, I knew we were in trouble when I saw you were nominated too. I grew up in Texas and read you frequently. You have a wonderful creation.

  36. Paul–I'm on it!

    Dee–Thank you–it's good stuff!

    Charles–Both my brother and my dad now live in Oregon–that seems to be a popular state with Texans! And thank you for the congratulations. Love your blog as well!

  37. Congrats on your win with Saveur's 1st annual food blog awards for best regional cuisine! Awesome. I follow you but rarely comment. Congratulations!!

  38. Mary–Thank you!

  39. Anonymous

    I've seen fresh pork legs at our Walmart. They're around 7-8 lbs. I've roasted them in my slow cooker. I'd like to try this with a Boston Butt, just need to find the curing salt.

  40. Glaze –

    1 cup of brown sugar

    1 jar of orange marmalade

    1 jar or brown mustard

  41. Anonymous

    My wife is allergic to nitrates/nitrites. Can a ham be cured and smoked without it, using just salt and spices?

  42. Anon–There are ways to do simple salt cures. If you do a Google search you should find the methods.

  43. did something real similar at christmas. it was delicious and i'd suggest smoking it either in a smoker or on your grill to 150F. i used a mix of apple and hickory wood.

  44. Ok! If you want it like the store ham then you cold smoke it for a few hours and then shrink wrap it and poach it until the internal temp reaches 150. A lot more work but that is how you get it like the store. Or just buy one! LOL!

  45. Lisa, I live in Korea and tried this. I added in a 1/4 cup of lapsang souchong tea, it gave the ham a nice smokey flavor.
    James

  46. Our local stores only sell smoked hams now, no salt cured hams. Why?
    We're talking Brookshires, Krogers, Wal-Marts

  47. Anonymous

    If you are looking for a great ham sauce here is one that my mother made and it is delish. Prepared mustard, brown sugar, a dash of vinegar and if you like it a bit spicey a spoonful of hot horseradish, mmm.

  48. Anonymous

    Can this be cooled and frozen?

  49. Anon–I've never tried freezing it, but I'm sure you could.

  50. Can't tell by the picture – did you remove the skin?
    I'm taking my ham out of the cure to soak in water today, and looking forward to smoking it Christmas morning!

  51. Gdwill–There was no skin on this particular ham.

  52. Wow! This sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  53. Sounds so much easier than what I've been researching…

  54. The only difference is my curing salt. I have SEL ROSE pink curing salt. I was sure it said instacure when I purchased online. Can't wait till next weekend 🙂 this is my practice Easter ham!

  55. Ham was AMAZING! Perfectly pink thru the whole ham. I'll never buy another ham again! Thanks for your help! Bit of advice to anyone wanting to try a ham, forget everything you've read on every other site and follow these directions, your

  56. Ron Paskowski

    I shot this wild boar on Saturday and had pre-ordered the cure but didn't know which recipe I wanted to try first… let me tell you that after this I no longer need to try any other method for curing and cooking a ham.. this is the best ham I've ever eaten (domestic or wild). Thanks for the recipe.. I'll treasure it

  57. Just an FYI, the dose for #1 Prague powder is 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat. We probably cure around 100 pounds of bacon alone each year, and that's the ratio we go with. And you won't kill anyone if you overdose it a little bit. You'd need to eat about a teaspoon of straight sodium nitrate to go toxic. Prague #1 is only 6.25% sodium nitrite so you can see how much you'd have to gobble down to get sick. Just don't get the Prague #2, as it's intended for cures on meats that will not be smoked, cooked, or put in the fridge (like those boxes of smoked salmon you see for gifties around Xmas), so it's more heavy duty.

  58. Nice. I created a similar recipe to make pork loin "ham," with 2 quarts water, 3/4 cup salt (kosher), 1/4 cup coconut palm sugar, and 1 tablespoon Prague powder. A loin or tenderloin brines in 4 days, then is ready to smoke. I like to grind up the leftovers with a little olive oil and then use it for all sorts of things, like a pizza topping, omelets, or stuffed sandwiches. My favorite is probably ham stuffed chicken breasts, which are then breaded and baked. Fantastic!

  59. Can you add things to the basic brine such as the gsrlic slivers and liquid smoke or other things to bring more and different flavors to a sometimes boring piece of meat. I don't care for sweet glazes or any kind actually. Maybe extra spices to make it spicy like cayenne or serrano peppers onions. I play with my regular brines just wondering if I can with this curing process…. thanks

  60. Chrissyd76–While I haven't done that, I think it would be fun to experiment with different flavors in the brine.

  61. Thank you so much for this awesome recipe. I followed it very closely and the results are awesome. The recommendation to soak for 24 hrs in cold water was spot on; the resulting salt level was perfect. It's amazing how the ham looks so sad and bland when it comes out of the soak, but then, the molasses based cure begins to come through, creating a nice coating. Perfect hot or cold. I also really appreciated the cure measurement: 3 teaspoons were perfect.

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