Fresh Christmas Ham Results

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Original poster
Jul 28, 2022
Saratoga Springs NY
Hi and I have been doing one or two fresh hams a year for about 10 years - typically Christmas or New Year's and Easter. I am OK at it - but not like someone that does multiple hams a year.

So thought I would post what I do both to possibly help out people who haven't done it before and to elicit some advice from people are better at it than I am.

I start with a Berkshire half bone in half ham from Fred The Butcher here in upstate NY. I have found I get a much better juicer result with the bone in ham than boneless.

I also ask the butcher to remove the skin. I find the skin just dissolves into a gelatinous mess during the brining process. There are numerous YouTube videos telling people how to make cracklins out of pork skin. I've never made that work. Keeping the skin on may also retard the brining and carrying process.

Then I brought it for about 10 days useing two tablespoons of 1 Prague powder, two cups of Diamond Crystal kosher, quart dark maple syrup (Morton kosher is saltier so if you use that you may need less salt). Dissolve that in a half gallon of boiling water, put into a food safe container with a gallon of cold water, add the ham and fill until the ham is more than covered.

For people not familiar with Prague powder it's a nitrate. Some people cure their ham with just salt, but it won't have a "ham" taste or look.

If it's refrigerator temperature outside I just put the whole thing outside, with the lid bungee corded down, turning the ham every day or two. Make sure it's submerged. You may need to weight the ham to keep it submerged. If I have a full 10 days for the cure I don't bother injecting the brine.

If it's below freezing out, like the single digit temperatures it's been this holiday season here, I put the brining ham in the attached garage, which even on the coldest days stays at refrigerator temperature.

Note the brine will stay liquid until temperatures of much lower than 32°F - but the ham will freeze. That happened to me once. It was not helpful.

The night before the cook I remove the ham, rinse it, dry it, salt, pepper, a little baking powder, and a dry rub on the outside, and let it rest inside the fridge overnight. If you have kept the skin on, this step is really indispensable. Lightly crosshatch the skin with a sharp knife before putting the rub on being careful not to cut into the meat.

I have tried smoking at temperatures from 225 to 325°F. 250°F has worked the best, and from the fresh ham entries on this site that seems to be the consensus for the best temperature.

I cook it to an internal temperature of 145°f at the thickest part, then let the rest it before carving the meat off the bone and slicing it thin.

During cooks where I left the skin on, I have tried crisping the skin on a blazing hot gas grill after taking it off the smoker. That seemed somewhat useful but also somewhat perilous as I might also burn it.

A glaze looks nice but I'm not sure it adds much flavor, especially if you are thinly slicing the ham.

Flipping and rotating the ham every hour or two while cooking seems to help.

And for a 12 lb half ham I plan about 7 to 8 hours at 250° F. Let it rest a 15 to 30 minutes off the heat. I generally start the ham 10 or 11 hours before people expect to be eating it. After I pull it off the heat I put it in a faux cambro - a cooler that I've heated with boiling water, then dump the boiling water out and dried it. This reliably keeps the ham nicely warm for 2 to 4 hours. As the seven to eight hours cook time is kind of an estimate. Sometimes it's done in five or six and sometimes it's been done at ten or eleven hours. So the faux cambro helps you time the ham so it's ready when all those people you invited to dinner are ready.

I use a leave in thermometer and instant read thermometer, and start using the instant read thermometer to check temperature when leave in thermometer indicates 20° shy of the target temperature of 145° F.

I have tried using a rotisserie - but find it challenging to get the rod into a bone in ham, and I'm not sure the results were any better.

Lastly, some years the Christmas or New Year's ham is cooked in very cold temperatures here in upstate New York (not as cold as people get in say Sioux Falls or Winnipeg, but still). My smoker generally has very even heating throughout, but I noticed when cooking in single digit F weather the temperature distribution is much more uneven. So if it's cold out it helps to turn and rotate the ham have more often.

Given this is a smoking meat forum I probably don't have to say this, but it really is worth the extra work to cure and smoke your own fresh ham. is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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