How to cure and smoke country ham...the old fashioned way. (Video)

Categories: Food, Recipes

Curing hams used to be the best way to preserve pork before there was reliable refrigeration.  Curing and smoking pulls the moisture from the ham to make it safe to store at room temperature.  We don’t cure for this purpose anymore, but rather to give the ham a great flavor and color.

If you don’t have a fresh ham from your own hog you can find fresh ham at a meat market or packing house.  Remember the ham you buy at the grocery has already been cured and/or smoked.  A fresh ham is exactly that, a ham fresh from the hog.

You recreate the seasons when you cure country ham,” says Rufus Brown, proprietor of Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina. Country ham heark­ens back to a time before refrigeration, when meat was rubbed with salt, hung to cure, and, in the process, underwent the changes in temperature typical of any agricultural year, with the ham finally ready to eat at Christmas.

In the interests of production, nine months are compressed into three, as Rufus and his small team of processors move the hams from one temperature-­controlled room to another to replicate climate changes. But other than time compression, the method remains the same. Rufus learned the craft from his father, who was a master curer, and he insists on keeping things hands-on, just as his father did.

Hand-salted and hand-rubbed, one ham at a time. Linwood Raynor, working along with Gary Williams and Mario Mauricio, massages a dry rub into hams fresh from the slaughterhouse.

This ham is salty, but it also has a sweet, buttery edge that’s unique to slow curing and aging.

In this video, 90 year old Bill Dixon of Kentucky shows us how to cure and smoke country ham...the old fashioned way.

Bill learned from his grandfather during the depression, just as his great-grandfather had taught him.

Mr. Dixon takes us step-by-step through the process, from hog to ham.

(Video courtesy of Kentucky Afield)
Like this video and want to see more? Check out their Youtube channel at:

Supplies Needed to Salt Cure Ham at Home

  • Fresh Ham
  • Curing mix–you must use a curing salt to make this mix, not regular salt. Note: Salt used to cure meat has to be non-iodized.  If you use iodized salt it will make the meat have a metallic flavor.
  • Plastic tray to use during curing process. (Do not use metal)
  • Sharp knife to cut in around joints
  • Refrigerator (preferably an old refrigerator that can be sacrificed to the salt curing process. The salt will ruin the metal parts inside of the unit including the gills that disperse the cool air.)
  • The Joy of Smoking and Salt Curing The Complete Guide to Smoking and Curing Meat, Fish, Game, and More (optional)

Ingredients for Homemade Salt Curing Mix

This dry rub mix recipe has been in my family and handed down for generations. ~Melissa, does anyone else get giddy over these kind of things? I may be a family recipe addict, doesn’t matter from whose family either. I know those recipes that get handed down are because they’re just that good. 

  • Curing Salt
  • Red pepper
  • Black pepper
  • Brown sugar

For every 2 cups of curing salt add:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

How to Salt Cure Ham at Home

  • For one ham start with 6-8 cups of mix.
  • The temperature will need to be between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Take a fresh ham with skin on, wash off in water and pat dry.
  • Put a layer of curing mix on the tray to act as a bed for the ham. This bed of curing mix should be ¼” – ½” deep.
  • Place the ham on top of the layer of mix.
  • At each joint, cut slits down to the bone. These slits are needed because you have to pack extra salt around the joint so the fluid will draw out.  Otherwise, you could spoil the ham.  There are two joints, the H-bone(hip) and the hock.
  • Pack the slits you made at the joints with the curing mix.
  • Rub and cover the rest of the ham with the curing mix.
  • Leave the tray in a cool place such as a refrigerator for 18 days at 36-40 degrees.
  • After 18 days check the ham.
  • If you are going to put this ham in the smoker it has to be firm to the touch. If not firm to the touch it is not ready to come out of the curing mix.  If it is not firm it is because there is still too much fluid left in the ham.
  • If ham is ready to be smoked, thoroughly rinse off the salt and pat dry before smoking.
  • If you are freezing then firmness does not matter. You can go on to the next step.
  • If freezing, slice the ham and freeze or freeze whole.
  • If ready to eat, slice and fry or bake the whole ham. Soak the ham slices before cooking in cold water for up to an hour.  Or, simmer the ham slice in a little water in the frying pan and then remove the water and continue cooking.

Here on the homestead, cured hams are just one of the products we make from our own hogs.  Other products include lard, bacon, ham, ham hocks, sausage and souse meat.  If you are unable to raise your own hog many local custom slaughterhouses can help you find a producer you can purchase a hog from so you too can have your own fresh pork and enjoy the process of curing your own meat.

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