Our Thanksgiving ham continues to evolve. Yesterday we told you about the curing and hanging process, and today we’ll show you how we’ve been smoking the ham. People have been smoking meats since before recorded history. The original purpose was probably food preservation, as the dehydrating and antibacterial properties of the smoking process allow meat to be stored for much longer. Today, we still smoke meats for preservation, but perhaps even more for the depth of flavor it adds.
There are multiple methods for smoking meats that fall into two main categories: hot and cold. Hot smoking is done in an environment that ranges from 165˚F to 250˚F or so, and results in a cooked product, such as smoked ribs (yum). Cold smoking, on the other hand, uses a temperature below 100˚F which does not cook the meat, but rather adds depth of flavor, this is famously done with salmon. For the Thanksgiving ham, we were looking to smoke the ham without cooking the meat. What we own, however, is a vertical water smoker, which is usually used for hot smoking. So we had to do a little improvising…
We spread the smoking out into daily 1-2 hour episodes over 5 days, allowing the meat to hang and cool between each smoking. We also put ice water in the water bucket of the smoker, to help cool the internal temperature. Finally, we put the ham into the freezer for about 20 to 30 minutes before each smoking, to help counteract whatever heat it would receive in the smoker. In the end, I think it worked pretty well: the air inside the smoker never got too hot (I could put my hand in easily) and surface of the ham was never more than slightly warm. Our neighbors, however, probably thought we were training for the ham smoking olympics as they passed our houseboat to this sight every evening for nearly a week:
We used a combination of hickory and mesquite wood chips. It’s important to soak the chips in water for a while before smoking, otherwise they will combust rather than smolder, and you will get heat rather than smoke. I did find I could use boiling water to speed up the soaking process in a pinch, but you still want to give it at least 30 minutes to soak. The chips are then wrapped in foil with holes poked in it and placed onto the hot coals. Once the smoke was coming steadily, I put the ice water bath above the coals and the ham on the grill, then covered it all up.
After 5 days of smoking, the front porch permanently smells of smoke, and our ham has taken on a lovely mahogany color, especially noticeable in the fat (compare it with the last post). The ham is now preserved and ready to be hung in a cool dry place for up to 4 months, if desired.
We will not be storing the ham, however, as we are now down to the wire! The last time-consuming step before cooking the ham is the soak. So last night, we placed the ham in large bucket of cold water. We’ll change that water once every 12 hours for about 36 hours total in order to get rid of as much excess salt as possible. The water was certainly quite colored this morning when I changed it, so I guess it’s working. Tomorrow, we’ll boil and roast the ham and let you know how it tastes. Stay tuned…
Read about the finished Thanksgiving Ham.