Episode 108: Hog Wild

Smokehouse Shoulder Ham

Smokehouse Shoulder Ham

This is it, the Big Kahuna: a whole ham you cure and smoke yourself. The process involves four classic techniques: curing in brine, injecting with brine, cold-smoking, then hot-smoking. Each adds a distinctive layer of flavor. The brine gives the pork a characteristic sweet, salty, hammy, umami flavor, while injecting accelerates the curing process. Cold-smoking drives the wood smoke flavor deep into the meat. The hot-smoking cooks the ham.

Smokehouse Ham Recipe


Smokehouse Shoulder Ham

Recipe Notes

  • Yield: Makes 1 shoulder ham, enough to serve 12 to 16 as a starter, 8 to 10 as a main course
  • Method: Cold-smoking followed by hot-smoking
  • Equipment: A meat injector; jumbo heavy-duty resealable plastic bag; wire rack; large food-safe plastic bucket or stockpot; sturdy butcher’s string (optional); instant-read or remote digital thermometer; hickory and/or apple wood (enough for 24 hours of smoking)


  • 1 fresh shoulder ham (aka picnic ham; 9 to 10 pounds)

For the brine:

  • 1 pound (3¼ cups) coarse salt (sea or kosher)
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pink curing salt (Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1)
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 3 quarts hot water
  • 2 quarts ice water

Additional flavorings (optional):

  • 10 whole cloves
  • 5 juniper berries, smashed with the side of a chef’s knife or cleaver
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 strips orange zest (½ inch by 2 inches)
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed with the side of a cleaver

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Make the brine: Place the coarse salt, sugar, pickling spice, curing salt, and 3 quarts hot water in a large nonreactive pot. Stir in additional flavorings, if using. Bring to a boil over high heat and continue boiling until the salts and sugar are completely dissolved, stirring from time to time, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the ice water. Let cool completely, then refrigerate until cold.

Step 2: Strain 2 cups brine into a measuring cup. Using a meat injector, inject this portion of the brine deep into the ham at 1½-inch intervals along the bone. Continue injecting until all the measured brine is used.

Step 3: Place the ham in a jumbo heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Place it in a roasting pan or a large, deep nonreactive container, such as a clean food-grade plastic bucket or a deep stockpot. Add the brine to the bag (the ham should be completely submerged), then squeeze the air out and seal the bag. Cure in the refrigerator for 7 days. Turn the ham over daily so it cures evenly. Halfway through the curing time (3½ days), measure out 2 more cups of brine, strain it, and reinject the ham with it. A properly cured ham will look pink (like commercially cured ham).

Step 4: After 7 days, drain the ham well, rinse thoroughly with cold water, and dry with paper towels. If you plan to hang the ham in your smoker, securely tie the shank (narrow) end with butcher’s string; make sure the string is substantial enough to support the weight of the ham. You can also smoke the ham on a rack in your smoker. No string needed.

Step 5: Set up your smoker for cold-smoking following the manufacturer’s instructions; the temperature should be below 100°F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer. Hang the ham in the smoker or place it on one of the racks. Cold smoke the ham at no more than 100°F for 12 hours. (Cold-smoking infuses the meat with smoke flavor without cooking the meat.)

Step 6: Set up your smoker for hot-smoking following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225° to 250°F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer.

Step 7: Hot-smoke the ham until cooked through (the internal temperature should reach about 160°F), 10 to 12 hours. I use a remote digital thermometer, but you can also check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer. In either case, insert the probe deep into the meat but not touching the bone.

Step 8: You can serve the ham hot out of the smoker, or let it cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate it until you’re ready to serve. Refrigerated, it will keep for at least a week. Glaze and reheat it as you would a commercial ham.

Recipe Tips

Note: A true ham would be made with the hind leg of a hog. However, you’ll be facing an 18- to 20-pound hunk of meat. Double the amount of brine and brining time. You’ll need 24 hours for cold-smoking and 16 hours for hot-smoking.

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