Ham with uncured spot in the center - throw it all out, or just cut out uncured spot?

Discussion in 'Pork' started by snorkelinggirl, Jul 5, 2013.

  1. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Hi folks,

    I've made ham from 5 lb deboned pork leg sections several times with good success so far.  However, tonight I sliced into a freshly baked ham which I cured and smoked this week, and found that the cure hadn't quite made it all the way through the center.

    Here are the pictures. You can see the circular spot of uncured meat in the center of the slices in both pictures.

    This was a fast cure, so the pork only started curing last Saturday 6/29. 3 1/2 days of cure, rinse and soak for 1 hour, overnight pellicle formation, cold smoking for 4 hours with temps from 63 - 79 deg F on 7/4, then baking tonight to an IT of 135 deg F with IT reaching 149 deg F after resting.

    I'd already eaten a fair amount of the ham from the outside before I sliced into the center and saw the uncured area. Hopefully I'm not going to die.

    Should I throw out the whole ham, or can I just cut out the uncured part leaving a good margin around it??

    Thanks in advance,

    Last edited: Jul 5, 2013
  2. Hello Clarissa.  I would think the whole ham gotta go, but I'm no expert.  PM Pops and ask him to take a look.  He can tell you what to do with it.  Best advice I can offer.  Good Luck.  Keep Smokin!

  3. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Thanks, Danny. I think you're right, no reason to play around with maybe getting sick. 

    Hope you have a good weekend!

  4. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member


    I'm confused:

    Why only 3 1/2 days in cure, and then cold smoking?

    I would chuck the whole thing.

    Too iffy for me.

    Last edited: Jul 6, 2013
  5. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    Did you inject it or compromise the surface in any way? If not it's still an intact whole muscle and it went to 149* so that's hot enough for pork to be safe. I would think it would be OK, Pops, JJ correct me if I'm wrong!
    Now if you did compromise the surface then it spent way to long in the danger zone and I would throw that thing away!

    Last week a guy at work told me he smoked a brisket and had problems keeping his smoker temp up and it took 8 hours to get to 150*, I asked if he had injected it, he said "yea I always inject my brisket", I said "and you're eating it", he said "yea it's good", I said "have fun with that!". I've explained the 40-140 to him before but he just does what he wants!

    Sorry for the hijack, I just wanted to share that and this looked like a good place!
    snorkelinggirl likes this.
  6. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Hi Bear,

    Thanks for chiming in.  The cure recipe I was following is a high strength brine that is supposed to only need 3-4 days for the weight and thickness of pork I was using. Unlike Pop's equilibrium cure, which takes a lot longer but also has more predictable results as long as you cure for long enough. I've had good luck with the faster cure a few times now, but this time I obviously undershot....looks like I needed half a day longer.

    I tried Pop's brine a few hams back, but got scared when my brine went ropey so ended up chucking everything out.  I think I'll go back and give Pop's a shot again, especially now that I am deboning all of my leg sections so eliminating the bone sour problem.  And I've also learned since then that ropey brine isn't a problem...just rinse off the meat and put it in fresh brine if it happens.

    I did end up chucking out last night's ham. It broke my heart  [​IMG], but way better to play it safe then to make anyone sick.

    Thanks again for your reply!  Hope you have a great Sunday!
  7. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Hey Dave,

    Thanks very much for your reply.  My ham was a whole intact muscle. But just to play it safe I went ahead and threw it out.  My husband puts up with a lot of food experiments and weird food items from me....can't risk getting him sick and making him jumpy about my cooking!

    Thanks for the anecdote about the brisket. Amazing how cavalier some folks are about food safety.  My mother-in-law gets the "flu" on a regular basis....all of us kids know it is because of questionable meat storage and cooking, but she doesn't believe us. She grew up during the depression....can't ever get her to throw something out, no matter how old or warm. [​IMG]

    Thanks again for your response!  Have a great Sunday!
  8. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Sorry I am too late to the party but Dave is correct with one caveat not mentioned. You did not inject and if your pic is a single 5lb piece then your were in fact fine to eat it. However if the boned ham was part of multiple muscles that were rolled and tied together then there would be a risk of bacteria in the cut then tied closed areas. Your pic looks like one piece so you would be fine. General guide line for this stuff is 7 Days per inch with Dry cures and 4-6 Days in a Brine like Pops. That needed to cure A LOT longer...20-30 days with a Dry Cure from the looks of it...

    I am a Certified Food Safety Instructor and am happy to handle questions directly if you are ever in doubt. Many folks around here like Dave have followed me a long time and are also familiar with the guidelines I have posted...JJ
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2013
    snorkelinggirl likes this.
  9. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    Thanks JJ! Yes you have taught me a lot and I don't say anything about safety without thinking hard about what I have learned here! I think I have read you talking about rolled and tied before and I'm sorry I missed that but it's stuck in my head now!

    Clarissa, it's always better to be safe than sorry even if it costs a little money and time!
  10. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Clarissa, evening.....  I don't understand this "fast cure" technique you have posted about.... I've seen you post about it previously...  When cure has to penetrate inches of meat, there is no fast way for the penetration to occur, unless you inject into the meat itself......   every method is equilibrium to one extent or another....  salt, cure, spices etc. have to move, migrate etc. through the muscle... at their own sweet time....   increasing the strength of the brine or cure won't "push" the ingredient faster to the center of the cut of meat....  

    Maybe I'm not understanding this method fully....   

    Sorry if I'm confusing the issue...   Dave

    Looking at the ham, and counting the days, you had it refered for 6 days including the cold smoke.....  looks like the cure etc. penetrated about 1 1/2" from each side.... didn't quite make the center....   that's about right for cure to penetrate...  1/4" per day....  the residual cure in the outer sections of the meat did penetrate farther during the cold smoke and rest period in the refer....  just what it's supposed to do....   whether or not there is enough cure near the uncured portion is a different story...  it may only be at 30 Ppm.. while the outside could be at 250 Ppm or what ever strength your brine was....   If this "fast cure" calls for higher strength of cure than we would recommend, resting the meat for an extended period of time, to allow equilibrium to occur in the meat itself, is a very important step in the process... (cram the outer layer with cure, let it equillibrate  in the refer)... Not very scientific or something I would do.....  
    snorkelinggirl likes this.
  11. s2k9k

    s2k9k AMNPS Test Group

    Thanks Dave! Very informative and makes a lot of sense!

    I've never done a ham but have done quite a few pastramis and I usually use sirloins which are about 4" thick. I always inject the brine/cure all over it very deep from all sides and then let it soak for 10 days in the brine/cure. I want to make sure it penetrates fully.

    When I read 3 1/2 days and a quick cure I really didn't understand, didn't see how it could work especially without injecting.
  12. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Hi Chef JJ,

    Thank you so much for your reply, and I really appreciate the offer to answer questions directly regarding food safety. I guess I should have hung on to the ham instead of throwing it out, but at least now after your reassurance I can stop watching for symptoms of botulism. [​IMG]   

    So, just to make sure I've got this straight.  My pork was 3 1/2 " thick at thickest point. So the center is at 1 3/4". That means 7 days + 2 days for CYA minimum?? Plus of course injecting around any bones, but I like to debone the pork just to avoid bone sour.

    Thanks again for your help, Chef.  Have a great night!


    Hi Dave,

    Your explanation made perfect sense. And you nailed it on dimensions and times. It was about 3 1/2 " thick at the thickest part, and around a 3/4" area of grey uncured meat in the center.  The recipe I was following was from a Bruce Aidells cookbook.  I've followed the recipe a few times before in making ham, but I'd given an extra day in the refrigerator after cold smoking before I baked it to let the smoke mellow. Maybe that extra day was enough to get the cure to the center.  In any case, sounds like I've just been squeeking by on cure times, and a longer cure is needed to be sure nitrite ppm is adequate all the way through.

    I really appreciate you walking me through your thought process. I'm pulling another leg section out of the freezer tomorrow, and will try again with more appropriate cure times. 

    Thanks again!

    Hi again Dave,

    Thanks for sticking with me through this thread!!   I am definitely all for food safety and learning how to cure the correct way.  My husband and others trust me not to be getting them sick, and I want to be sure I never put them at any risk with my meat projects.

    After reading the comments from all of you, I am also puzzled why the cookbook I followed is recommending such short cure times without injecting. I guess it is a good reminder to me that we need to educate ourselves and not to blindly follow any recipe without validating that it is a good recipe.

    As I mentioned above to DaveOmak, I've got more pork leg sections in the freezer. I'll pull another one out tomorrow and give the ham another shot with more appropriate cure times.

    Thanks and have a great night!!

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 7, 2013
  13. webowabo

    webowabo Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I know nothing about curing meats.. only done it a few times exactly as TQ says on some snack sticks... but reading this thread makes me realize. ... ;
    1) I have so much to learn..
    2) every one of you know exactly what your doing!
    3) Thank the Lord I found SMF.... we are lucky to have people like y'all to help ....
    Im not just blowing TBS up anyones behind... im just impressed the more and more I read and research on here!
    ampexian likes this.
  14. webowabo

    webowabo Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    And sorry Clarissa you had to chunk the meat... I do know alot about throwing food out... with all the bad cooks ive done .. :biggrin:
  15. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Below is a "copy and paste" from a magazine article "supposedly" from the author of the recipe....    I am posting this as an example of "Why you need to know more that the folks that print these mistakes"......     Cure #1 does not contain sodium nitrate......   cure #1 does more than keep the meat from turning gray, it adds a certain flavor profile to Corned Beef and without it, you would be eating salt beef....

    I'm not saying Bruce Aidells is responsible for these errors....  

    I am going to assume (yes I know what ass-u-me can really mean) the new hire, being paid less than minimum wage (internship at a big magazine has it's drawbacks) made these errors while readying the copy for the printer, and the proof reader knew less than the intern.....

    And you should know more than all of these folks before you prepare food for your family and friends to consume....

    RECIPE BY Bruce Aidells

    Homemade Irish Corned Beef and Vegetables

    *Insta Cure No. 1 is a mixture of sodium nitrate and salt that is used in cured and smoked sausages to prevent botulism. In this brine, its only purpose is to prevent the meat from turning gray, so you can certainly leave it out. You'll find Insta Cure No. 1 at sausagemaker.com. (A great sponsor of this incredibly great forum)

    Last edited: Jul 7, 2013
  16. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member


    Something that happened to me with a de-boned leg:

    Years ago, I used to get all of my Deer hindquarters turned into a smoked "Dried Beef" type product at the best place around here for that process. They were always wonderful. Then one time I went there to pick my "Dried Beef" up, and the guy told me it went bad. He said he de-boned it, and left all 3 parts of the leg together, and the Brine failed to get into the middle, where the bone had been removed. So I went those 3 months without my favorite sammies.

       From that day forward, I cut the leg apart myself into 3 pieces, while removing the bone, before taking it to him. Every year he complained to me for separating the leg into 3 pieces, as if it was so much extra work for him, but I wasn't going to give him a chance to screw it up again.

       Now as of a few years ago, I got a smoker & learned to cure & smoke my own meat, and I still do it the same way---I cut the leg into the three existing muscles, and cure each piece separately. This makes all 3 pieces small enough to Dry cure with Tender Quick, and there is no place that cure can't get into.

    The only difference is it's now my Son who is harvesting the Deer.

    Here is a link to a Step by Step of the ":Smoked Venison Dried Beef" I was talking about. You will see it is in 6 pieces, because it was two legs I was doing.

    Awesome Stuff:


    Last edited: Jul 7, 2013
  17. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member


    Thanks so much everyone, for sharing your expertise with us.

  18. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    As DaveOmak said above, I guess we all do need to be at least as expert as the experts on this stuff.  Your story really shows that applies not just to following recipes but also with the butchers and processors as well.

    Too bad about your deer hindquarter, but glad you figured out how to bullet-proof that process. A good lesson there on separating out the intact muscle bundles.

    Hope you are feeling well enough to join your son at deer camp this fall!

    Thanks for sharing your story.  Hope you have a great Sunday!
  19. snorkelinggirl

    snorkelinggirl Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I've seen a lot of errors on cure in the books by Ruhlman and Polcyn (Charcuterie and Salumi), so I look at all of their recipes with high scrutiny. Sounds like I should always use the same scrutiny with every recipe by everyone else too. 

    Thanks, Dave!   Have a great day!

  20. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    QUOTE: So, just to make sure I've got this straight.  My pork was 3 1/2 " thick at thickest point. So the center is at 1 3/4". That means 7 days + 2 days for CYA minimum?? Plus of course injecting around any bones, but I like to debone the pork just to avoid bone sour.

    I have looked into this a little further and am finding that the 1/4" per Day +2 is good for Brines and figure an 1/8" per Day with Dry Cure/Rubs. Looks to me like you are talking about two different cuts of meat. Your last one was 3 1/2"...No Bone and 1 3/4" to the center. So in this and only this situation 7 + 2 would be MINIMUM but longer 14 days would be better. If the same has a Bone and you Inject, it changes as the injection cures inside out then the Brine will act outside in and the Min time of 9 days would get it done. 

    In any event different Meats have different Densities and times are going to be different Wet or Dry...Soak or Inject and Soak. I am seeing that the BEST BET is to Err on the side of Caution and just go by 7 days per inch either way to be sure...JJ

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