How to Smoke a Ham
With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, my mouth is already watering for some of my special smoked ham. We eat ham pretty regularly, but for the holidays, I go through the extra trouble of making my holiday ham: my best smoked ham. You wouldn’t believe how awesome it is – seriously! The inside is tender, flavorful, and juicy, and the outside is sweet. The aroma is also simply amazing! The combination of smells from the pork, the smoke, the fruit juices, and the ground cloves will have everyone within nose distance drooling. Oh, how I wish we had a “scratch and sniff” button on this article! That might be dangerous, however, as I’ve seen some recipes on the site that would make me want to claw through my computer screen — and this is one of those recipes. If you want to really impress your holiday guests, or if you just want to please your family, try my smoked ham recipe.
Choosing the Right Ham
You can find smoked hams for sale in practically any supermarket in the United States. Ham is the name given to the thigh and rear leg portion of a pig. In the United States, hams are usually smoked, cured, or both. The curing process involves nitrates, nitrites, salt, or sugar. Smoked hams might have actually been slow smoked over a wood fire, but this can be tricky. Some aren’t actually “smoked,” at all. They might have been sprayed or injected with smoke-flavored liquid.
For the smoked ham recipe I’m sharing with you here today, shop carefully for your ham, as you’ll encounter several versions of hams. Be sure not to buy a “country ham.” These are the super salty hams that usually don’t require refrigeration. Look, instead, for a cured ham, smoked ham, or sugar cured ham. You’ll probably see low sodium smoked hams for sale, too, but I don’t like to use them for this recipe. Ham is supposed to be salty, and when I marinate or soak the ham, some of the salt leaches out. For me and my family, a low sodium ham isn’t quite salty enough after being soaked in liquid all night. Of course, if you’re on a salt-restricted diet, you might prefer using a ham lower in sodium.
You’ll also need to be careful not to purchase a fully cooked ham, so read the label carefully. The size of the ham is important, too. We’ve found that a half ham works best for this recipe because it has more surface area. If a shank or butt portion won’t supply enough meat for your crowd, buy a whole ham and have it sliced in half by the butcher. Place the butt half on the bottom rack of the electric smoker and the shank portion on the top rack.
There are a couple of methods for cooking smoked ham. If the ham is sliced thin, it can be fried in a skillet. Thicker ham steaks can be baked in the oven and are often accompanied by some sort of glaze or sauce. Whole smoked hams are often sold in halves: the butt portion and the shank portion. The butt half is meatier and usually costs a little more. The shank half includes the large leg bone.
Whole and half hams are often baked in the oven, usually at around 325°F. A whole ham should be baked for 16-18 minutes per pound, and a half ham needs to bake for 20-22 minutes per pound. In both cases, the internal temperature should reach 160 degrees.
When cooking smoked ham, many cooks like to add more flavor. This can be done by injection and by marinating, but the most common method is by adding a glaze or coating to the ham. These are often sweet in nature and can be made with honey, molasses, jellies, jams, fruit syrups, sugar, maple syrup, or brown sugar. Fruit juices, butter, and spices are sometimes added, too. The most popular fruit juices for this purpose are apple juice, cherry juice, orange juice, and pineapple juice. Some cooks also like to use carbonated soft drinks, especially colas.
Using a Smoker
Smoking a ham in a smoker is our preferred method. I would bet that if you tasted my best smoked ham and compared it to a ham that had been baked in the oven, you’d much prefer my version. If you’re a ham fan, you might go right out and buy a smoker, if you didn’t already have one, just so you could experience this superb flavor whenever you had a craving for it.
If you’re not experienced with smoking a ham in a smoker, don’t go crazy with the amount of wood you use. You don’t want the flesh to wind up tasting like a lump of charcoal. You want the smoke to enhance the natural flavor of the pork, not to cover it up completely. Not enough smoke is much better than too much smoke. Before you invest in a smoked ham, you might want to experiment with a whole chicken or two. That will give you some idea of the amount of BBQ wood you’ll need.
We’ve used several different types of smokers over the decades, including charcoal smokers, homemade smokers, smoking pits, and electric smokers. Of all these different types, we like an electric smoker best of all. Why? Because it’s the easiest to use, and it provides more consistency in cooking temperature.
We’re currently using a Brinkmann electric smoker, and we love it! We’ve been using it for years, and we’re completely satisfied with the results we get. We use it for pork ribs, beef ribs, beef brisket, beef roasts, crown roasts of pork, prime rib, whole turkeys, turkey breast, pork loins, pork tenderloins, venison roasts, whole chickens, fresh hams, and obviously for smoked hams. We’ve even smoked a wild goose or two on our electric smoker, and it was yummy. In fact, that’s the only way I like goose. The most frequent “visitors” to our Brinkmann electric smoker are smoked hams and fresh pork shoulders. Yeah, we really love BBQ pork and pulled pork sandwiches!
Most smokers have some sort of water pan, and that’s important. Cooking with moist heat is a lot better than cooking with dry heat, especially for larger cuts of meat. Our smoker has a water pan at the bottom of the device. We fill it with water, beer, wine, or fruit juice. Sometimes we might add a little vinegar or bourbon, or some spices and herbs. Just make sure the water pan doesn’t get completely empty when you’re making this smoked ham recipe.
Now for the cooking temperature. Our smoker doesn’t have a way for us to set the heat, but according to the information that came with the smoker, it cooks at around 220-225 degrees Fahrenheit. From our experience, however, extreme weather conditions can slightly affect the heat. That’s why the meat thermometer and the water pan are your friends. Moist heat, made by using the water pan, is pretty forgiving, so you don’t need to be to-the-minute exact with cooking times. The best way to tell when your meat is ready to come off the smoker is with a meat thermometer. You should be much more concerned with the internal temp than you are with the cooking time.
If you love good food that’s been slow cooked with smoke, a good-quality smoker will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. You’ll probably find that you use it all the time. We do! We use our smoker several times a month, especially on the weekends. They’re an absolute must for us during the holidays when we’re feeding a crowd. We have a lot of cookouts and pool parties in the summer months, and the smoker produces some awesome BBQ pork shoulders. At Thanksgiving, we always smoke a ham and a turkey. We place the turkey on the bottom rack of the smoker and the ham on the top rack. As the fat and juices drip from the ham, they automatically baste the turkey. Yum!
BBQ wood is what provides the smoky flavor in the meat you’re going to smoke, and your choices are numerous. Many people who do a lot of smoking and grilling have their own favorite wood “flavors,” sometimes a different wood for each type of meat they cook. Such cooks have probably experimented with several different woods to discover their favorite smoky additions.
We’ve tried several types of BBQ wood for smoked ham, including oak, apple, peach, and pecan. They all produced good results, but our favorite is pecan. Pecan wood is pretty mild, and it gives the meat a fairly subtle nutty flavor. It also imparts a tantalizing aroma to pork and poultry. We don’t use it just with ham. We also use pecan for pork ribs, pork shoulders, chicken, and turkey. And, by the way, we don’t have to buy wood for smoking. Hubby just trims a few small twigs of wood from local pecan trees from branches that have fallen to the ground.
Hubby tries to find twigs that are about ½ inch in diameter, but if those aren’t available, he saws larger branches into discs. He cuts the pecan twigs into pieces that are three inches in length. Obviously, since he used wind-fallen wood, it’s not green, but it’s not super dry, either. He soaks the wood in water, beer, or juice before using it on the smoker. The drier the wood is, the longer he soaks it. In most cases, the soaking time is around one hour.
How to Smoke a Ham
Learning how to smoke a ham isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming. It takes hours of smoking at a low temperature for the meat to cook all the way through without drying out. Fortunately, the smoking process doesn’t require much tending, so you can be doing other things as the meat cooks. You’ll really need to check things only once or twice during the smoking process.
You can get a good smoked ham by just placing the ham on the smoker, filling the water pan, and placing some BBQ wood on the burner. That’s for a good ham. For a great smoked ham, you’ll need to go to more trouble. But hey, I’ve gone through this process many, many times, and I’ve never once doubted that the results were worth the effort. Hopefully, you’ll agree!
Cooking times for smoked hams vary, depending on a few factors. We’ve had smoked hams on the smoker for anywhere from eight hours to more than twelve hours. Remember – the internal temperature of the meat is what’s important.
I urge you to try my smoked ham recipe just once. Read this article carefully and follow all the directions and advice on how to smoke a ham. Soak the ham overnight, as instructed, and add the ham glaze. I can’t promise you that this will be the best smoked ham you’ll ever eat because everyone has different taste buds. If you don’t love this ham, however, you must not be a ham aficionado. Everyone who’s ever sampled this ham – friends, family members, dinner guests, party attendees – loved it. We get many requests for it, too.
Smoked Ham Recipe
Thanks for rating my smoked ham recipe!
- 1/2 cured or smoked ham
- 1 quart apple juice
- 1 quart pineapple juice
- 1/3 cup cherry juice concentrate or syrup, + more for drizzling
- 1 cup brown sugar, + more for coating
- 2 tablespoons whole cloves
- Trim tough skin or hide from ham. Do not remove any more fat than you have to. Place the ham in a bucket, a cooler, a large bowl, or a plastic bag.
- Combine fruit juices and cherry syrup and pour over ham. Marinate, chilled, overnight, turning occasionally. Remove ham from marinade and allow excess to drip away. Drizzle with cherry syrup and pack brown sugar on ham. Let ham sit at room temperature for thirty minutes or so.
- Get the electric smoker ready by filling the water pan with apple juice. Place the BBQ wood on the burner at the bottom of the smoker. Plug the smoker in.
- Once the wood is making smoke, the smoker is ready. Place the ham on the top rack of smoker, fat-side up. Place lid on smoker.
- After four or five hours, open the smoker to check the water pan and wood. Add more wood and/or more liquid, if needed.
- Continue cooking until internal temperature of meat reaches 160 degrees.
Once your ham reaches an internal temp of 160°F, it’s almost ready to serve. Before that, though, you need to coat it with a delicious ham glaze, or perhaps you prefer a crunchy ham glaze. You’ll already have a slight coating from the cherry syrup and brown sugar you put on the ham before cooking it, but now you want a more pronounced glaze, right? Anyway, the ham will need to cook just a little more, in the oven. The recommended internal temperature is 165 degrees. Take the ham off the smoker when it reaches 160. Place it on a foil-lined baking pan.
Recipe and Instructions
To make the ham glaze for this particular smoked ham recipe, combine one cup brown sugar, ¼ cup pineapple juice, 2 teaspoons butter, and two teaspoons ground cloves in a small pot. Bring mixture to a slow boil while stirring, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for about ten minutes. For a crunchy ham glaze, boil the mixture for a longer amount of time.
Brush on ham. Place ham in 350 degree oven. After fifteen minutes, add another layer of glaze. Continue baking and glazing until ham reaches an internal temperature of 165-170 degrees. You might need to make another batch of ham glaze – we like a lot of glaze. Remove ham from oven and coat with one last layer of glaze. Allow ham to sit at room temperature for thirty minutes before slicing. Doesn’t my smoked ham recipe sound awesome?