Country Cured Ham - From Go to Show: Q/View

Discussion in 'Curing' started by mr t 59874, Jan 13, 2013.

  1. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    "Country Ham"  From Go to Show  
    Dry curing is becoming a lost art in America, the true techniques of producing a country ham are about to be lost due to modern industry.

    Country ham is an uncooked ham, dry salt-cured with or without sugar and spices, after the initial cure, and optional cold smoking, it is hung for a long aging process. The aging process can last from four month’s to more than a year or two. The older and better a ham gets, the more it shrinks due to lost water.   The cost per pound at retail, therefore, is much higher than a city ham.

    To be considered a country ham it must have lost a minimum of 18% of its total weight, a loss of 30% is not uncommon.  It is similar to the larger Spanish Serrano and the Italian Prosciutto hams so popular in Europe. Hams from Virginia, Kentucky and other states hold their own against Italian and Spanish hams and should be referred to by their proper designation: Artisanal country hams.

    Curing hams was a necessity in the days before commercial refrigeration.  My childhood memories of the neighborhood farms are the wood-fired scalding tanks, normally located near the windmill, milk cooling building and the smoke house.  Hams and pork bellies, hanging in the smokehouse or in the backrooms and root cellars of the houses, some hanging in flour sacks.   The aroma alone would make my mouth water.

    The hams that are found in the groceries  today are pumped full of water or brine and ready to be cooked with sugar syrup and pineapples. It’s a fast and inexpensive way to produce hams for today's consumer. 

    Many like me have purchased fresh hams, pumped them full of brine and smoked and cooked them with satisfactory results. Although good, they lack the depth of flavor of the country ham. A Country Ham is an entirely different, superior time consuming product produced by artisans for the last four centuries and may have the most complex flavor of any food in the spectrum of human nourishment.


    There are reasons you don’t find dry-cured American country ham at your grocery store deli.

    Producers must invest four months to a year aging a country ham, taking up space and tying up capital. They don’t see a return on their investment until the ham is ready for retail.

    After reviewing publications from Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and others I have gleaned what will be used here. It is my desire in this thread to provide the basic steps to produce a True Country Ham detailing the steps and updating the thread with information  and pictures as time passes. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Success or failure, it will be witnessed here. 

    Some of my research material follows below.

    Processes and data that will be covered include:



    Curing salts

    Soaking and washing

    Cure Equalization




    Morton® Smoke Flavored Sugar Cure®
    Full cure = 2.5 Lbs. cure/ 100 Lbs. Ham, or .4 oz. per pound of ham.
    21 lb. ham uses 8.4 oz. cure per  application.  
    Make three applications at 7 day intervals.
    Curing time: 7 days per inch of thickness. 8" thick, 8 x 7 = 56 days total curing time.
    Equalization period: 20 days.
    Aging period: Up to one year.

    Note  : Cure start 11/26/12 end 01/28/13

               Equalization start 01/28/13 end 02/17/13

    Producing a True Country Ham

    In order for a ham to truly be called a country ham, four criteria must be met.
    1st. It must be dry cured. Not injected with curing solutions nor placed in a curing solution.
    2nd. The combined curing and equalization period must not be less than 45 days.
    3rd. It must age a minimum of four months after curing.
    4th. It must lose a minimum of 18% weight from fresh.


    Purchase a fresh skin-on ham with a long shank that is cut off at the sacral joint and weighing between 20 and 23 pounds. The longer shank makes curing easier although the shorter shank can be used. Only the hind legs of hogs can be called Country Hams.

    Super-lean pork does not make a great ham. A dry-cured ham without fat feels rough in the mouth, is overly salty and doesn’t have the characteristic texture of an old-fashioned country ham.


    Most American producers begin the curing process with hams that weigh in between 20 and 23 pounds. Smaller hams would dry out too quickly, and larger hams could spoil before the cure penetrates the meat. Some Spanish producers of larger Serrano style hams, however, lean toward gigantic hams, which, if cured correctly, have a few advantages: They come from larger, fatter pigs, which have more aging potential and more flavor. The fat ameliorates the saltiness and dryness of the meat, and the hams dry out less over the two-or- more-year aging process used in Spain. A two-year-old American ham tastes great but is drier and saltier tasting than a larger Spanish ham would be.


    It is strongly recommended that a commercial premixed cure be used.

    The curing process begins by rubbing the fresh ham with salt and sometimes sugar, spices and nitrates.

    Extreme caution must be exercised when using cures; never use more than called for in a recipe. In general, all cure mixes are designed to be used at the rate specified in the formulation or recipe.

    It is important to remember that more is not better, it can be toxic. Using curing ingredients in higher levels will result in inconsistency, cured meats may be too salty and the finished product may be unsatisfactory.

    Country Ham must cure for a minimum of 28 days. The combined curing and equalization period shall not be less than 45 days for hams and 25 days for pork shoulders. The total time for curing,equalization and drying shall not be less than 70 days for hams and 50 days for pork shoulders.

    During the curing stage, always keep meat refrigerated (36° to 40°F). the closer to 40° the better; lower temperatures will slow the curing process, and temperatures below 28° will stop the curing.

    There are many different cure recipes that can be used, with or without sugar and spices. Since I had enough * Morton’s Smoke Flavored Sugar Cure on hand to cure more than 20 hams, it is what I am using, although without using the spices.


    Italian prosciutto and Spanish Serrano hams are made with a pure salt cure and no added nitrates or nitrites.  Some American hams are also nitrate free. When used, nitrates ensure a pink color and cured flavor in a short amount of time, and provide some anti-microbial benefits as well. Nitrates are not a modern addition to the curing process; they have been added to hams in the form of saltpeter for hundreds of years and in the form of impure salts for millennia. Meat naturally contains a small amount of nitrates, however, which allow it to take on a beautiful color on its own. The longer a ham is aged, the fewer added nitrates are necessary. Many American hams are cured with brown or white sugar in addition to salt. The sugar is not for sweetness, but rather serves to soften the harshness of the salt and the toughening effects of nitrates.


    City hams are pumped full of a brine mixture—usually water, salt, sugar, nitrates and other chemicals. The brine is often pumped directly into the pig’s femoral artery so that it circulates throughout the ham (industry lore is that an embalmer came up with this method). The process reduces the cure time to almost nothing, giving the meat a cured flavor and color in a fraction of the time of dry aging. The brine also makes the ham sweet, mild and semi-salty, so it can be carved into thick slabs and eaten with a fork and steak knife. And unlike a cured and aged ham, which loses weight over time, the brine-cured city ham often weighs more than it did before brining when it’s sold, adding up to higher profits for the producer. As Americans have adopted this as their de-facto ham, dry-curing has become a dying art.

    There are many different cure recipes that can be used, with or without sugar and spices.  Since I had enough Morton’s Sugar Cure on hand to cure more than 20 hams, it is what I am using, although without using the spices.

    * Morton® Smoke Flavored Sugar Cure® mix is formulated only for dry curing large cuts of meat like hams or bacon, unlike the Morton Tender Quick or the Morton Sugar Cure (Plain) mix or Cure #1. 

    Morton® Tender Quick®, Morton® Sugar Cure® (Plain) mix, these premix cures have been developed as a cure for meat, poultry, game, fish and sausage that require short curing times, and will be fully cooked. They are NOT interchangeable with cure #1; they measure differently. 

    Recommended cures for Country Ham's are Morton® Smoke Flavor Sugar Cure® or Cure #2 also marketed as
    Prague powder #2; InstaCure #2; Modern cure #2; D.Q. powder #2

    Morton® Smoke Flavored Sugar Cure®:  

    This cure premix is not recommended for sausage, but it is listed so that the user does not mistake or confuse this with Morton® Sugar Cure® (plain). This is a slow cure, and the cure reaction takes longer with Morton® Smoke Flavored Sugar Cure® than with cure #2 or Morton® Sugar Cure® (plain) or Morton® Tender Quick®. This premix is formulated especially for dry curing large cuts of meat like hams, or bacon, that need to be cured over a long period of time. 
    It contains salt, sugar, sodium nitrate (1%), propylene glycol, caramel color, natural hickory smoke flavor, a blend of natural spices and dextrose (corn sugar) - it does not contain sodium nitrite.

    Cure #2:

    This has the same curing and food preservative properties as sodium nitrite, and the extended curing time of sodium nitrate. It is specifically formulated to be used for making uncooked dry cured products that require several weeks to several months to cure. Dry curing meat or sausage properly cannot be done with Cure #1 which contains sodium nitrite only; it dissipates too quickly.
    This cure is a blend of salt and sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate.

    Ready for first cure application.

    11/26/2012  First application  

    Trim any loose meat from exposed area. Rub cure well into the shank and exposed meat taking care to cover all the area  including any cracks or crevasses.

    Wrap with a layer of cheese cloth to help hold the cure in place.

    The ham was placed in netting and hung in a cooler at 36-40°, shank end down.
    This position helps improve the shape and conformation and permits better moisture drainage.  Place a pan under the ham to collect moisture dripping from the ham.

    Picture prior to third and final application of cure. Noticed outer meat beginning to firm and skin beginning to wrinkle slightly. Ham will now hang in cooler and continue curing for another 42 days afterword's the equalization period will begin.

    Ham after third and final application​


    Equalization Period:

    This permits the cure adjuncts to be distributed evenly throughout the ham.

    At the end of the 56 day initial cure there was a 10.4 % weight loss, some salt crystal formation and mold begining to form.

    Salt Crystals forming on skin.

    The beginning of the 20 day equalization period begins with a 1 hour soak in cold (41°) water and scrubbing with a stiff brush.  This will dessolve most of the surface curing mix and make the meat more receptive to smoke.  Noticed the meat took on very little if any water.  It was dry shortly after patting with towel.

    After being patted dry, it is placed in a cheese cloth bag and hung shank down in a well ventilated 50° room.

    Started two more hams.

    After 20 days of equalization at 50 degrees the ham and two sugar cured pork bellies ready for cold smoke using hickory pellets.

    At a 17% weight loss, it is 1% away from being considered a Country Ham.

    Cold Smoke

    Ham and bacon after 72 hours in smoke.

    Ham after 128 hours in smoke.



    Used a tray type smoke generator to generate smoke.  Hickory pellets, 14 loads, 16 ounces per load.  In smoke a total of 128 hours.  High internal smoker temperature, 78 degrees. Ham was tacky after long smoke.

    Weight loss during cold smoke was 2%, total weight loss to date is 4# or 19%.

    Ham hanging at room temperature for 7 days to dry outside.


    Ham hanging shank down for long aging process.



      The aging process begins after the curing and equalization processes.  After four months of aging, this ham will officially become a "Country Ham".  While aging develops and concentrates a ham’s rich flavor, it also reduces the ham’s moisture and accentuates its saltiness. Fat inside the ham helps counteract these effects, and is therefore a key part of aging. A ham with generous amounts of fat can be aged longer for more intense flavor, without drying out.


    Slowly, enzymes naturally in the meat will break proteins down into amino acids, which give us the satisfying, taste of umami.


    Hanging hock up, causes the ham to assume a narrow bullet shape.  This helps hams dry out evenly, which the Europeans like. Most Americans hang their hams hock down, because it pulls the ham into a squatter “ham” shape and leads to moister ham, which suits the American palate.

    True Country Ham  

    Christmas Ham 2013
    The ham has now met all requirements to be called a "Country Ham"

    1st. It must be dry cured. Not injected with curing solutions nor placed in a curing solution.
    2nd. The combined curing and equalization period must not be less than 45 days.
    3rd. It must age a minimum of four months after curing.
    4th. It must lose a minimum of 18% weight from fresh.

    Updates to thread

    1/22/13  Additional information
    1/30/13  Beginning of equalization period.
    2/17/13  End of equalization period and begin cold smoking

    2/23/13  Cold Smoke

    3/06/13  Aging

    5/20/13  Official Country Ham

    Commercial products are named in this publication for informational purposes only.

    Varieties of Hams

    Heritage Pig Breeds

    To be continued:
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2017
    dirtsailor2003, disco and thatcho like this.
  2. shoneyboy

    shoneyboy Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    [​IMG] great infromation I can't wait to see how it comes out.....
  3. Nice start!

  4. [​IMG]   I will be following this one for sure  [​IMG]
  5. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Thank You for posting accurate information regarding the process and cure with relevant cautions...JJ
  6. dls1

    dls1 Smoking Fanatic

    Wow! You're on quite a roll Mr T. I've just been following your current photo tutorial on dry aged prime rib as I currently aging one myself.  Now you've got one on curing a country ham, another one of my favorite subjects. As I recall, you've done similar with salmon, cheese, pickling, etc. Looks like you've got a heck of a one man food production facility out there in Trout Creek. Pretty impressive.

    By my calculation, it appears that you're around 85% through the curing period. Next comes a 20 day equalization period, and what do you do, if anything, besides wait during that segment? Beyond that, is there any hands on activity besides an occasional affectionate pat on the butt? Also, do you intend to cold smoke the ham? If so, at what point would you do that, and for how long?

    Great work, and good luck. I'll be following closely.
  7. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Thank you for the very informative post. I'll be following along to see how this progresses.
  8. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    DDF, JJ, dirtsailor, Shoneyboy

    Thank you


    Thank you for the kind words.  Glad you are enjoying the tutorials.

    The curing period is nearing its end.  At the end of the curing period and prior to the 20 day equalization period, the ham will be placed in a tub of lukewarm (60° to 70°F) water for one hour.  This will dissolve most of the curing mix at the surface, distributes the seasoning more evenly, and makes the cured meat more receptive to smoke.  

    I do intend to cold smoke the cured ham after equalization.  This will be covered in more detail later.
  9. chef willie

    chef willie Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    OK Mr T...picked this up from your other thread.....let the lessons commence...Willie
  10. diesel

    diesel Smoking Fanatic

    Yes, very good post here.  I hope to be doing this sooner than later.  I/we all appreciate the information. 


  11. trizzuth

    trizzuth Smoke Blower

    Love this thread.  Trying this myself for the very first time.  having some issues with blueness, check my other thread and offer up some advice if you have any, thanks!
  12. boykjo

    boykjo Sausage maker Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Its funny.... I was talking to a guy in the country store today and he talked about you cant get good country ham anymore. So i did some searching around the mortons site and was going to get the curing book and do a ham with sugar cure and here you are........ I never done one but and want to start one soon so I will be a little behind yours... Will be watching and learning

  13. mneeley490

    mneeley490 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Very interesting. Count me in as one who will be watching closely.
  14. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member


    I would encourage you to go ahead and get the guide as it has some useful information. They only ship it once a week, it took ten days to get mine.

     Will enjoy the company and sharing info.

  15. appwsmsmkr1

    appwsmsmkr1 Meat Mopper

    I think this is awesome! I'm commenting so that i can follow this thread and see how this progresses! [​IMG]
  16. I'm tuned to this channel.

  17. dls1

    dls1 Smoking Fanatic

    Mr. T - You're near the 2 month point and I was wondering if you've weighed the ham along the way and have noticed much, if any, weight loss?
  18. mr t 59874

    mr t 59874 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member


    8 more days of cure then the equalization process begins.  I will weigh the ham at that time. Not counting the liquid that may have evaporated, 1 2/3 cups of moisture has been collected.  
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2013
  19. roller

    roller Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member

    Nice job ! I did that once except I put mine in a Brown paper bag for 4 months...washed it and replaced the cure every month...It has been at least 40 yrs ago...It was the very best Ham I ever tasted. I had it sliced up as Ham steaks...
  20. kathrynn

    kathrynn Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Great pictures and great tutorial!  I love this!  Can't wait to see the final product!

    [​IMG]   Kat

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