How to Smoke a Ham
This is the recipe for my best smoked ham. You wouldn’t believe how awesome it is—seriously! Some recipes make me want to claw through my computer screen to get to them—and this is one of those recipes.
- 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 meat in a bucket, a cooler, a large bowl, or a plastic bag.
- Combine fruit juices and cherry syrup, and pour them over the ham. Marinate, chilled, over night, 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.
Making the Ham Glaze
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 light 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 in the oven just a little more. 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.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup pineapple juice
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 2 teaspoons ground cloves
- Combine one cup brown sugar, ¼ cup pineapple juice, two 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 10 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 30 minutes before slicing.
Tips and Tricks for Smoking Ham
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! If you want to really impress your holiday guests, or if you just want to please your family, try my smoked ham recipe.
If you need some more help, I cover these topics in more detail below:
- How to Pick the Best Ham
- How to Best Cook Your Ham
- Smoked or Regularly Cooked Ham?
- The Best Smoker for Smoking Ham (hint: it's an electric one)
- BBQ Wood
- Smoking the Ham
What's the Best Ham for Smoking?
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 and nitrites, salt, or sugar. For the smoked ham recipe I’m sharing with you here today, shop carefully for your ham, as you’ll encounter several versions.
You Do Want
- A Cured Ham: Look, instead, for a cured ham, smoked ham, or sugar-cured ham. You’ll probably see low-sodium smoked versions 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 mine, 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 lower-sodium version.
- A Half Ham: 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.
You Do Not Want
- A Smoked Ham (Smoked Doesn't Always Mean Smoked): 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.
- A Country Ham: Be sure not to buy a “country ham.” These are the super salty hams that usually don’t require refrigeration.
- A Fully Cooked Ham: You’ll also need to be careful not to purchase a fully cooked ham, so read the label carefully.
What's the Best Way to Cook a Ham?
There are a couple of methods for cooking smoked ham.
- Thin-Sliced: If the ham is sliced thin, it can be fried in a skillet.
- Thick Steaks: Thicker ham steaks can be baked in the oven and are often accompanied by some sort of glaze or sauce.
- Whole: 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 cut needs to bake for 20-22 minutes per pound. In both cases, the internal temperature should reach 160 degrees.
Adding Flavor While You Cook
When cooking this dish, many cooks like to add more flavor. This can be done by injection or marination, but the most common method is by adding a glaze or coating to the meat. Glazes 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.
Does Smoked Ham Taste Better?
We prefer to cook our meat in a smoker. I would bet that if you tasted my best smoked ham and compared it to an oven-baked one, 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 meat, 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 pork's natural flavor, not to cover it up completely. Not enough smoke is much better than too much smoke. Before you try your hand at a 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.
Not enough smoke is much better than too much smoke.
How Do You Smoke a Ham in an Electric Smoker?
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 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!
How Do I Get My Meat to Taste Smokey?
BBQ wood, also known as wood chips, is what provides the smoky flavor to the meat you’re going to smoke, and your wood 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.
What Kinds of Wood Can I Smoke With, and What Do They Taste Like?
Different woods will taste different. Like I mentioned, my favorite for ham is pecan. If you'd like more information, BBQer's Delight has put together a splendid, simple guide to the various woods you can get and what they taste like.
Some Advice Before You Get Started
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 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 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 dish—friends, family members, dinner guests, party attendees—loved it. We get many requests for it, too.
How Long Do I Smoke My Uncooked Ham For?
Minutes per Pound
Whole leg, bone in
12 to 16
22 to 26
Whole leg, boneless
10 to 14
24 to 28
Half, bone in
5 to 8
35 to 40
Can you smoke a ham that's already cooked?
You can. It's perhaps not the best idea though. You risk adding next to no flavor and/or just drying out your ham.
Can you smoke a ham in an oven?
Nope. If you cook a ham in the oven, you're baking it. There's no way to get the smoked flavor naturally that way. You could, theoretically, buy a pre-smoked ham and bake it in the oven, inject the ham with smoke flavoring, or add smoke flavoring to your glaze—but this wouldn't taste the same as cooking your meat in a smoker.
Can you smoke a spiral ham?
"Spiral ham" refers to a way that a ham is cut, not a way that it's cooked. So, you could smoke a ham, and then spiral cut it.
What should the internal temperature of my smoked ham be?
Your smoked ham is done when its internal temperature is between 165-170 degrees. It's okay if it's slightly below that when you take it out because the meat will continue to cook (and the internal temperature will continue to raise) for a few minutes after it's removed from the oven.
Do I need aluminum foil to smoke a ham?
You don't need tin foil to smoke a ham. Using tin foil will change the flavor and texture of the meat because it effects how much of the smoke permeates the meat and the way the fat cooks. Using tin foil is likely to result in a less smokey-flavored but more moist end result. Not using it is likely to result in a robust, smokey flavor and meat that's still tender. I recommend experimenting with and without, and deciding what makes your palette happier!
Should I brine my ham before I smoke it?
It's up to you and your palette. Some people like to brine it before; some people don't. You should cook your meat the way you like it! The purpose of brining meat is to help the cut retain moisture as it cooks. Brining means you're more likely to have a succulent, moist cut of meat.